Whalers Seafood Restaurant & Bar (9am-8pm daily) is located in a second-floor unit at the center of the Ocho Rios Fishing Village, which received a makeover in 2019. The restaurant serves well prepared dishes like steamed, escoveitch and brown stewed fish, as well as lobster, conch and chicken (US$15-25), with indoor seating with A/C or outdoor on the balcony overlooking the beach. Loud music blaring in seeming competition from multiple restaurants in the complex can be bothersome on Sundays, but otherwise the venue is pleasant enough for couples and families alike.
Ocho Rios and the Central North Coast
St. Ann is full of rivers and gardens, thus its well-deserved nickname, “the garden parish.” Locals will pronounce Ocho Rios as any incarnation from oh-cho ree-os to oh-cho ryhas or, most commonly, simply “Ochi.” Ochi is the biggest town in St. Ann; its name is a creative derivation of the Spanish name for the area, Las Chorreras (Cascades), in reference to the abundance of waterfalls. Before the Spanish conquest, the area was known as Maguana by the Tainos. There are indeed several rivers in the vicinity, but not necessarily eight as a literal translation of the Spanish name might suggest. Four major waterways flow through the town area of Ocho Rios: Turtle River, Milford River, Russell Hall River, and Dairy Spring River. Just east of town are Salt River and White River, the latter forming the border with St. Mary, and to the west is the famous Dunn’s River, Jamaica's top tourist attraction.
Tourism became important in Ocho Rios in the late 1970s, taking over for bauxite as the area’s chief earner. The old Reynolds Pier just west of town is now used to export limestone aggregates, the industrial wharf sharing a small bay with the town’s cruise ship terminal. The cruise ship industry has been a key component of the city’s tourism boom, bringing mixed results. The steady income is appreciated by many businesses, especially those concentrated around the pier, but the enormous volume of passengers flowing through each day creates a huge demand for services that has not been met with adequate housing for the thousands who have arrived to work the tourism sector over the past few decades. Many of these arrivals are professionals who have been given little choice but to resort to living in squatter settlements. Still others come to Ochi with few credentials and earn their living hustling any way they can, making harassment of tourists a widespread problem.
Just west of Ocho Rios is St. Ann’s Bay, on the outskirts of which the first Spanish capital was established at Sevilla la Nueva, or New Seville. Today Seville is an archeological site and Great House complex where several heritage events are held throughout the year. Farther west along the coast are the communities of Runaway Bay and Discovery Bay. Runaway Bay is a small town with a golf course, a few resorts, and a small commercial strip along the highway, whereas Discovery Bay is likely Jamaica’s most exclusive villa enclave—where rentals go for upwards of US$10,000 per week. Again the tourism offering stands in the shadow of one of the island's largest bauxite terminals operated by US-based Noranda. The large domed storage facility attached to the wharf by a conveyor belt was cast as Dr. No's lair in Ian Fleming's first James Bond film.
Popular for locals to congregate to take in a cricket match, eat jerk, and vibe out, Ultimate Jerk Centre (9am-10:30pm Sun.-Fri., 9am- midnight Sat., US$1-5) does stewed chicken and pork, curry goat, stewed conch, potato, festival, bammy, fritters, rice-and-peas, and french fries. The bar serves a variety of liquor, and an oldies party is held the last Saturday of the month. The jerk is the best in the area and doesn’t linger on the grill thanks to a steady flow of traffic.
Luvinya Foods is a vegan café (US$5-10) and juice bar (US$3- 5) at Eastern Container Plaza. Dishes include mixed platters with ackee rundown, coconut curry plantain, steam veg, and vegan omelets with garbanzo bean flour substituted for eggs. Raw food dishes include plantain carrot salad, beet seaweed salad, or raw okra salad as well as veggie burgers and vegan egg sandwiches.
The most authentic French restaurant in Jamaica is L’Escargot (tel. 876/973-5589) however out of place it might feel in the center of Runaway Bay. The dimly lit dining room has a baby grand piano gracing the entrance. Start with the sig- nature escargot sautéed in garlic butter, herbs, and white wine, smoked marlin topped with mousse (US$12) or pâté de foie gras (US$9). For mains, try the coq au vin (US$18), the porc aux champignons, lamb chops, filet mignon, giant prawns in orange curry sauce, or stuffed grilled eggplant (US$14-35).
Seaside, opposite the turnoff to St. Ann’s Bay, the Roxborough Restaurant Bar & Grill (10am- 10pm daily) specializes in reasonably priced seafood like brown stewed conch, steamed fish, coconut crusted, or grilled lobster (US$16-25) served with sides of festival, rice- and-peas, fries, bammy, or creamed potatoes.
Inspired vegetarian and seafood farm- to-table lunch and dinners at Stush in the Bush (by reservation only Sun.-Fri., from US$55) include a tour of the hosts’ Zionites Farm and medicinal plants. Quarterly moon- light dinners and yoga brunches are held throughout the year.
Angler’s (US$12-35) serves shrimp, conch, octopus, fish, lobster steam, brown stew, and grilled shrimp kebab. Try the seafood combo for a taste of almost everything on the menu, or shrimp feast or lobster feast platters to feed nine or so.
Bamboo Blu (10am-10pm daily, by reservation only, US$12-40) is a beachfront bar and restaurant serving soup, breadfruit chips, saltfish bammy bruschetta, crab wontons, spicy shrimp, and heavier dishes like grilled lobster, coconut rundown snapper, and fish-and-chips. To get here, go through the gate marked Mammee Bay Estate adjacent to the entrance to Riu; the entrance is about one kilometer (0.6 miles) in on the right.
Natural seasonal juices are prepared at Reggae Pot Rastaurant (9am-9pm Mon.-Sat., 10am-8pm Sun., US$3-5), serving vegetarian ital food on a rotating menu with dishes like brown stew, curried or stir-fry tofu, and split peas with veggie chunks.
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