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Where to Eat in
Rarotonga, Cook Islands


Alberto's Restaurant, RarotongaBy Richard Moore

I was pleasantly surprised by the food and restaurant choices available on Rarotonga.

We had heard a number of tales about eating out - how expensive it was, the limited choice of dishes - but while we were there for 10 days we didn't have a problem eating well.

That was five years ago and now, having lived in the Cook Islands since mid-2016, I have to say you can get almost any food style you want.

And the prices are pretty much what you would pay in New Zealand. So they are not cheap but, in general, they are good meals.

Things to remember when eating on Rarotonga is that the excellent tuna, wahoo and swordfish will be freshly caught, the steak generally imported from New Zealand and the seafood (such as prawns, shellfish) is mostly brought in from Asia.

So basically stick to what is fresh and if you get the chance to try Ika Mata - which is a raw fish salad done in lime juice and coconut cream - do so as it is sensational!

The best way to inform people about eateries on Rarotonga is to say where we have eaten and where we would recommend visitors try a meal.

Trader Jacks in Avarua is a good place to start. There is a restaurant that serves up a really good variety of quality meals at good prices and a bar where you can get some damn fine pizzas. It is right on the water and the hours are good.

On Rarotonga it is important to check whether restaurants are open because they have a funny habit of being closed on Saturdays - and definitely Sundays.

Trader Jacks is closed on Sunday while its nearby sister restaurant, Bamboo Jacks, is closed on Saturday.

As you would suppose Bamboo Jacks is more Asian food oriented - excuse the pun. We've have eaten there a lot and while there have been a couple of disappointing dishes, overall the quality is good and if you ask for extra heat the chilis you get will make your eyes water!

And the Steamboat looks excellent - that is a contraption that basically let's you cook the seafood yourself.

Between the two Jacks is a new venture - Vili's Hot Wok. This is a terrific takeaway place with top Chinese fare and excellent curries. Prices are also very affordable.

Very close to Trader Jacks is the 24-hour takeaway chicken place Raro Fried Chicken. Don't laugh, having been caught out a number of times with early Saturday closing hours this is the only place to get a meal in downtown Avarua at times.

Here we need to send out a warning. When on Rarotonga make sure you have eaten by 1pm on a Saturday otherwise be prepared to go hungry as the place just closes down.

Across town near the port of Avatiu is the takeway place known as The Palace. The fish and chips are excellent and people rave about the burgers. This is a locals favourite and that always says a lot about a place.

Near The Palace is Sea Salt and all I will say about it is the thickshakes are good and the noodles are awful. It took us some hours to remove the taste from our mouths. This has changed hands in mid 2017 and we cannot comment on the new offerings.

If you go to the Punanga Nui market in Avarua on a Saturday morning make a beeline for the crepe stand.

The girls there make terrific crepes and the custard and banana offering is magic. People could get very fat visiting the place too often.

Mind you, my favourite is the smoked marlin mornay crepe!

Also at the market is the Waffle Shack - perfect spot to meet for brekkie and a good coffee.

Among the little eateries nestled at the back of the market is Michelle's. The sashimi here is among the best on the island. Fab food, excellent value.

Bite Time next door is also worth considering.

Cafe Salsa, Avarua, offers good breakfasts and lunches, although the seafood chowder is not a winner.

Heading out of town on the main road near the airport is the Islander Hotel.

The Islander offers excellent value for money and seems to always have a happy hour on with cheap beer and wine. The restaurant meals are very good and the bar pizzas more than acceptable, although not as good as the ones from Trader Jacks.

During whale season July through October the Islander offers superb views of the humpback highway over the other side of the reef.

The Kikau Hut in Arorangi was under new ownership when we visited and was a bit of an unknown quality when we had dinner there.

It was a good experience. The round restaurant is nicely set out and the attention is immediate, but not in your face. The swordfish was fresh and superbly cooked, and the stack of filled profiteroles were chosen by many guests as the perfect way to finish a meal. Two mains, a dessert and bottle of bubbles. $115.

Next up on our 32-kilometre drive around the island is Alberto's. The eatery is an unpretentious building - with a fun booking system of an outside blackboard - but the meals are great.

The swordfish dish was excellent, but our recommendation is the steak deal.

For $35 you can get a three course meal - garlic bread, main, dessert - that includes a truly fabulous NZ steak that you couldn't buy in NZ for the price.

And, if you are lucky, your dessert of the night will be the pavlova. I say that because while I'm not a sweets sort of guy, but this thing went down faster than the Titanic!

If you are staying at the Edgewater Resort there are several places near there - on the north-west side of Rarotonga - that are worth a mention.

Tumunu is a bar/restaurant within easy walk of the Edgewater that has an interesting decor of just about every part of the world their guests have come from. It has an acceptable seafood platter deal for two people.

At the corner of the main road and the Edgewater is the Spaghetti House where you can get - yes, you guessed it - Italian food. The meals are fine and certainly offer a change from tuna.

And we should mention eating at the Edgewater itself, which has both a la carte service and buffet dinners.

The buffet has a good assortment of dishes with some yummy roasts, while the a la carte menu will suit most tastes,

Waterline Restaurant in Arorangi is a highly recommended restaurant - actually one of the best on the island - to be found down a long drive and overlooking the lagoon.

The atmosphere is excellent, small tables give an intimate feel, and the meals are tasty and stylish.

The staff are friendly and efficient and the wine list is primo.

The lamb shank off the bone on a bed of sweet potato was perfect and the only thing that made it better was the cheesecake that followed.

Three courses for two, a couple of single malts and a bottle of wine. $120.

On the Beach at Manuia Resort is also one of Rarotonga's best restaurants. It not only has superb food, but an amazing view out over the lagoon and reef.

For creativity this place is a must-visit and if you get the chance to try the Veggie Degustation do so. Even meat eaters will enjoy the amazing dishes offered up that do not even try to replace meat, but give your tastebuds a remarkable twist.

In fact any degustation meal that chef Phillip Nordt assembles is worth the journey to OTB. He is a magician.

We have also just had a meal at Flambe at the Crown Resort and it was right up there with the best. Best dishes include an entree of oysters and sashimi (for two), complete with its own little igloo icesculpture, and the ostrich in bourbon.

At another popular tourist spot - Muri Beach, we ate at Sails restaurant and the Kai Kai Cafe.

Sails was nice, but a little more pricey than most places, although the Ika Mata was excellent.

There are regular nights markets at Muri where you can choose from a huge range of foods. These are very popular with visitors.

Almost back in Avarua is The Tamarind House. It is regarded by many as the best restaurant on the island - the setting is superb - but it will need to be at the top of its game to keep the others from its heels.

Now we shouldn't forget to let you know that if you do tours - such as the Raro Safari Tours, Captain Tama's Lagoon Cruise, or the Vaka Lagoon Cruise on Aitutaki - you will get lunch. And they are good lunches too.

The 4x4 team puts on a fabulous spread - the tuna steaks were amazing - and Captain Tama's wahoo steaks were yummy.



Copyright 2011 RICHARD MOORE