Intricate tile work adorns this restaurant’s floors and walls, and a natural stream divides the open-air dining room, which overlooks the lagoon. Chef Alex Rudin’s contemporary menu changes often, but is consistently imaginative: choices might include Thai duck satay or panko-crusted softshell crabs as starters, or entreés like lobster-and-truffle lasagna or sesame-blackened ahi tuna. On Friday and Saturday, the prime rib special is a showstopper. The wine list is excellent, too.
Gustino Italian Beachside Grill
From the moment you walk down the dramatic staircase to enter this restaurant, you know you’re in for a memorable dining experience. The dining room has sleek leather furniture, artistic lighting, and views of the wine cellar and open-air kitchen, where chef Richard Sylvester works his magic. The ostriche alla provenzale (black-shelled mussels in a spicy tomato sauce) appetizer is a standout, as are the salmon-stuffed ravioli and seafood risotto entreés. The service here is impeccable; the violin music adds a dash of romance.
Kick off your shoes and settle back with a cold beer at this charming beachside restaurant right near the ferry docks. You can watch the fishing boats come and go while you wait for some of the freshest seafood on the island. The grilled fish and grilled lobster with garlic butter are both magnificent here, as are the shrimp fajitas, but the real showstopper is the mixed seafood ceviche, which might include conch, shrimp, abalone, fish, or octopus.
This restaurant is more expensive than others downtown — and worth every penny. The magic starts at the footpath, which leads over a small stream before entering the three-tier circular dining room overlooking the bay. As you watch the sunset, you can choose your fish — salmon, Chilean bass, tuna, snapper, or grouper — and have the chef prepare it to your individual taste; or you can pick out a lobster from the on-site pond. Be sure to save room for the key lime pie. It’s the house specialty. The restaurant is named for its waiters — all of whose names end in the letter “o.”
Playa Lancheros Restaurant
One of Isla’s best and most authentic restaurants, this eatery is worth taking a short taxi ride for. It’s right on the beach, and its menu fuses traditional Mexican and regional cuisine. The house specialty is the Yucatecan tikinchic (fish marinated in a sour-orange sauce and chili paste then cooked in a banana leaf over an open flame) — and there are also delicious tacos and grilled fish, fresh guacamole, and salsa. The food may take a while to arrive, so bring your swimsuit, order a beer, and take a dip while you wait. On Sunday there’s music, dancing, and the occasional shark wrestler.