Tahiti has a plethora of excellent French, Italian, and Chinese restaurants. Those I recommend are but a few of many; don't hesitate to strike out on your own.

Food is relatively expensive in French Polynesia, whether on the shelves of grocery stores or placed before you at a restaurant or snack bar.

Downtown Papeete has a McDonald's at the corner of rue du Général-de-Gaulle and rue du Dr. Cassiau behind Centre Vaima, and there's a second on the main road in Punaauia. If you want to make your own meals or a picnic, the downtown Champion supermarket is on rue du Général-de-Gaulle in the block west of the Eglise Evangélique. On the west coast, head for the huge Carrefour supermarket in the Centre Moana Nui, south of the Sofitel Tahiti Maeva Beach Resort.

Dining with a Belle View

I like to spend my last evening on Tahiti up at Le Belvédère (tel. 42.73.44), for this innlike establishment has a spectacular view of the city and Moorea from its perch 600m (2,000 ft.) up in the Fare Ape Valley above Papeete. The restaurant provides round-trip transportation from your hotel up the narrow, one-lane, winding, switchback road that leads to it (I don't encourage anyone to attempt this drive in a rental car). Take the 5pm pickup so you'll reach the restaurant in time for a sunset cocktail. They'll drop you back at the airport if you're leaving that night. The specialty of the house is fondue Bourguignonne served with six sauces. The 5,600CFP (US$70/£35) fixed price includes three courses, wine, and transportation, so it is a reasonably good value. The quality of the cuisine doesn't match the view, however, so treat the evening as a sightseeing excursion, not as a fine-dining experience. Reservations are required; American Express, MasterCard, and Visa are accepted. Closed Wednesdays.

Don't Miss Les Roulottes

Although prices in some hotel dining rooms and restaurants here can be shocking, you don't need to spend a fortune to eat reasonably well in French Polynesia. In fact, the best food bargains in Papeete literally roll out after dark on the cruise-ship docks: portable meal wagons known as les roulottes.

Some owners set up charcoal grills behind their trucks and small electric generators in front to provide plenty of light for the diners, who sit on stools along either side of the vehicles. A few operate during the daytime, but most begin arriving about 6pm. The entire waterfront soon takes on a carnival atmosphere, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. So many cruise-ship passengers and other tourists eat here that most truck owners speak some English.

The traditional menu includes charbroiled steaks or chicken with french fries (known, respectively, as steak frites and poulet frites), familiar Cantonese dishes, poisson cru, and salade russe (Russian-style potato salad, tinted red by beet-root juice) for 900CFP to 1,700CFP (US$11-US$21/£5.50-£11) per plate. Glassed-in display cases along the sides of some trucks hold actual examples of what's offered at each (not exactly the most appetizing exhibits, but you can just point to what you want rather than fumbling in French). You'll find just as many trucks specializing in crepes, pizzas, couscous, and waffles (gaufres). Even if you don't order an entire meal at les roulottes, stop for a crepe or waffle and enjoy the scene.

Although they now have permanent homes, the open-air restaurants at Place Toata, on the western end of the waterfront, were born as roulottes, and they still offer the same fare and prices as their mobile siblings. They're open for lunch Monday through Saturday, for dinner Friday and Saturday.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.