Whether you’re searching for that perfect spot to sit while watching the sunset or the best place for poisson cru (Tahiti’s signature cured fish dish), French Polynesia serves some deliciously exotic food experiences. During your island holiday, venture beyond the resort dining rooms and sample what’s distinctive and delicious on Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, and beyond. We’ve got the scoop on what, where, and how to dine.
Restaurant Matira Beach, Bora Bora
Overlooking the long sandy beach of the same name, this stylish Bora Bora restaurant is furnished with local wood furniture, carved Tiki sculptures and red walls, blending Asian and Polynesian design. It’s lovely midday, when you can enjoy the over-the-water views, and in the evening, the soft lighting and gentle sounds of the waves are ever so romantic. If you’re craving sushi, you’ll find super-fresh versions here, alongside grilled New Zealand meats or seafood such as the tuna mi-cuit, seared outside and buttery red within.
Painapo Beach Paradise, Moorea
While many French Polynesian resorts offer evenings of traditional Tahitian food, one of the best places to sample ma’a Tahiti — a bountiful buffet of fish, pork, chicken, breadfruit, plantains and more, all cooked in an underground pit oven — is this open-air restaurant overlooking Moorea’s Painapo Beach. Owner and animated impresario Ronald Sage presides over these lunchtime feasts, typically held on the last Sunday of the month. Arrive by 11 a.m. to sip a Tahitian punch and enjoy the live music, before the staff uncovers the oven and hoists out the metal crate where the meats and vegetables have been roasting since the wee hours. As you load up your plate at this all-you-can-eat buffet, save room for the sweet finale — po’e, a pudding-like concoction made from roasted papaya, pineapple or banana doused with creamy coconut milk.
Les roulottes (food trucks), Tahiti
On the island of Tahiti, one of the most popular dining experiences is a casual dinner at les roulottes (French for caravans or trailers), the food trucks that set up shop nightly at Papeete’s Place Vaiete. Pull up a chair at Chez Romy for simple grilled mahi mahi, at Crêperie Kerbrehan for a classic Breton-style buckwheat crêpe, or at nearly any truck for the Tahitian version of Chinese chow mein.
You won’t find roulottes only in Papeete, though; these outdoor eateries are the casual go-to spots across the islands. Moorea, in particular, has several standouts. At the Lilikoi Garden Café, near the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa in Papetoai, French-born chef Laurence Anzai parks her purple-and-aqua truck in her garden and whips up everything from grilled sandwiches and Japanese-style soba noodles with swordfish to mango tiramisu. In Hauru Point, try the excellent rotisserie chicken or the poisson cru at La Paillote, where you eat at outdoor tables with your feet in the sand.
Place To’ata cafés, Tahiti
Papeete’s roulottes are fun, but if you want a peaceful outdoor meal with more upscale food, venture along Boulevard Pomare past the Pā’ōfa’i Gardens to Place To’ata, where you’ll find a cluster of open-air restaurants that cater to locals as well as visitors. Here, Snack Mado specializes in seafood, both raw and grilled; good choices include mito (garlicky cured tuna), chevrettes crue (fresh shrimp cured in coconut milk), and koua vea tee (shrimp topped with olive oil, onion and fresh tomato). Next door, the lunch spot Chez Jimmy, which is positioned perfectly in the shade, serves crisp salads and a first-rate poisson cru à la javanaise, combining fresh tuna with slices of juicy pineapple.
Les Relais de Joséphine, Rangiroa
Should you find yourself on the island of Rangiroa, one of the Tuamotu atolls (ring-shaped coral reefs), you’ll find the best food in a somewhat unlikely location — a family-run hotel with seven rustic-chic bungalows and an open-air restaurant overlooking the Tiputa Pass. The three-course dinners might start with korori, a local specialty prepared sashimi-style from the muscle of pearl oysters, and continue with other Tuamotu seafood, perhaps parrotfish in vanilla sauce served with a green papaya gratin. The desserts channel both Paris and Papeete; the chocolate fondant might be topped with shredded coconut, while the tart of local mangoes is topped with chantilly cream.
Photos Courtesy of Carolyn Heller and Alan Albert