The best meal of my life happened halfway up a volcano. My wife and I were on our honeymoon, enjoying an Olympian view of the calm, silvery Caribbean from the leeward side of Nevis Peak. The restaurant, Bananas, a local favorite, had come highly recommended. Under foxtail palms, our table groaned with roasted-pumpkin gnocchi, Moroccan lamb, ceviche of squid fished from the balmy waters far below. The air was bursting with jasmine. It was all ridiculously romantic.
Sometime after dessert — cardamom panna cotta and Bollinger with bits of passion fruit — I felt so happy that I started singing Drake’s “Passionfruit” loud enough to make the bride reconsider her recent decisions. Luckily, one of the chefs, named Katie, emerged from the kitchen, warmly shook our hands, and shared the centuries-long story of how African and South Asian flavors flowed around the region during the slave trade and the colonial era, leaving traces in Nevis’s diverse cuisine. I said I couldn’t get over how delicious even the yams were at this place. Katie nodded up at the volcano. “Good soil,” she said with a wink.
Those who know and love Nevis — a gem-shaped isle off the wispy tail of St. Kitts — regard it like a long-treasured friend. My wife and I have returned multiple times since our honeymoon, and each trip, culinarily speaking, has been more dazzling than the last. Whether it’s that volcanic soil, the skills of the chefs, or the memories of distant homelands in every island kitchen, Nevis has emerged as an essential destination for travelers who believe great meals are the key to falling in love with a place.
On our most recent visit this past October, we were eager to tour our favorite spots while also making time for some new ones. We arrived via speedboat at Pinney’s Beach, where Sunshine’s Beach Bar & Grill has held court for over 30 years. Originally the operation of Llewellyn “Sunshine” Caines, who started out making sandwiches for construction workers building a nearby resort, it’s become renowned for its jerk and barbecue as well as its signature rum cocktail, the Killer Bee. The scene at Sunshine’s is also a signature — I once saw the entire contestant roster for Miss Caribbean Culture wander through, sashes and all.
A soccer ball’s kick away are the breezy, open-air cabanas of Lime Beach Bar, where Wednesday-night bonfires feature arguably the freshest fish on Nevis as well as a martini that tastes exactly, and I mean exactly, like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. I had two, mostly out of disbelief. The next morning in the neighboring village of Charlestown, all gray stone and jalousie windows, we grabbed a table at Sip on the Square, known for its Gen-Z vibe and matcha lattes, to sit in the shade of a bright-red flame tree and watch Nevisians greet another day.
Looming regally at the top end of Pinney’s Beach is the Four Seasons Resort Nevis, the island’s largest hotel, where we stayed this time around. The property was recently renovated; the pier, once a narrow jetty, is now wide enough to host either a rum tasting or a tennis tournament. Gone are the clapboard shutters and fusty colonial style of the common areas, which have been upgraded to embody a lighter, 1960s vibe of patterned fabrics and polished Carrara marble. The dining options have been upgraded, too. At On the Dune, with its mahogany bar and ballroom steps leading to the sand, Indian-born chef Picco Alapatt explores the Caribbean’s unique mash-up of culinary traditions: queen snapper ceviche, mutton curry with johnnycakes, and a savory spiny lobster that he convinced me was far superior to the North Atlantic variety. (“Which one requires a big side of butter?”)
Nearby, above a stretch of rocky shoreline, Mango serves everything from octopus carpaccio to coconut-milk curry and a West Indian stew (butternut squash, deliciously burnt, with sweet-potato mash). The Kendie’s Kick is unmissable: house rum with vanilla, tamarind purée, and other things it’s easy to lose track of once the kick kicks in. On the terrace, we took in the slow dissolve of sunset on one side, and the nightlife of St. Kitts glittering away across the Narrows on the other.
Taxis are a must, everywhere on Nevis. We grabbed one the next day for the five-minute ride to the roadside joint Indian Summer, featuring the best saag paneer I’ve had this side of the subcontinent. (A small percentage of the population of St. Kitts and Nevis can trace their ancestry to Indian indentured laborers brought by the British in the 19th century.) There’s also an exquisite butter chicken favored by Nevisians, more and more of whom kept approaching the steamed-over kitchen window and leaving with noses happily buried in takeout bags.
Nearby, the Yachtsman Grill serves a variety of surprising pizzas — try the one with grouper — and, sometimes, a spit-roasted pig marinated in a tub of mangoes. At the front bar, I ordered the Brinley Gold Shipwreck rum — made in St. Kitts — which was as cool and sweet as a glass of ruby port.
Curving around the island’s northernmost point, the newly opened Drift is a rustic, white-walled cabana and art gallery with a distinctly private air — after dark, getting to our dinner there involved turning down a bumpy dirt road behind the charter airport. Pesto linguine from Nevisian chef Ricky Finch sits beautifully beside his West Indian curry of the day, warm gingerbread cake, and the ginger-based Alexander Hamilton cocktail, named after a local boy who made good.
Farther into the interior, past the stray donkeys and goats browsing roadside, you’ll find the Golden Rock Inn, one of many former sugar plantations in the forest surrounding the volcano. The Rock’s famous lobster roll, pillowy and buttery, was more than worth our trip up the mountain for lunch, as was the roti with a glass of Château Gloria St. Julien Bordeaux, served — even in a rain forest — at 54 degrees. Flora throbbed with life on the recently revamped grounds, from towering banyans to dozens of Technicolor species straight out of Avatar. On a visit to the Cades Bay Food Orchard, we wandered an acre that supplies kitchens with an abundance of guava, sugar apples, and yellow starfruit, which I picked, inhaled, and ate right off the tree.
Slowly emerging from one of the strictest and most successful lockdowns in the region, Nevis promises still more cuisine to try next time. Even on such a tiny island, it was too great a bounty for a single trip. But my wife has made it plain from the beginning: I’m not allowed to come back on my own. The honeymoon continues.
A version of this story first appeared in the February 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline No Place Like Nevis.