Punta Gorda offers mainly cheap, local eats, with the added benefit of fresh seafood and a few excellent vegetarian options. Many restaurants are closed on Sundays and for a few hours between meals. The town has several good bakeries, and fruit and veggies are cheap and abundant on market days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday).
Some of the best breakfast and lunch joints in the market building—the most delicious of which is Marril’s—are also only open these days. Ask at any corner store for a sampling of the local Mennonite yogurt and bread. Also be sure to try a seaweed shake, which you can buy fresh and cold at Johnson’s Hardware Store, across from the market.
Keep an eye out for Mr. Buns, who pedals around on his bike with homemade cinnamon rolls and cheese buns. Or stop by the Corner Bakery (Mon.–Fri. 7:30 a.m.–9 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–2 p.m., and Sun. 5–9 p.m.) on the south end of town by the university. Every day you’ll find a variety of baked goods, including brownies, cookies, bagels, creole bread, and honey whole wheat oatmeal bread. Try grilled sandwiches or pizza for lunch and dinner specials such as ginger teriyaki chicken or lasagna; there are also a few vegetarian options on the menu.
The tortilla factory, just south of the bank, makes fresh tortillas every day; they also make tacos, panades, and the like. The shack next to the immigration dock has excellent tacos and sometimes coconut fudge—convenient for that early morning boat trip. The best johnnycakes are baked across the street from the fire station. There are some great fast-food places surrounding Central Park, too, including Jamal’s.
The Reef Bar (tel. 501/626-1429631-7968, 11 a.m. to .–midnight) is a convivial rooftop affair on the water’s edge, above the market, with nice views and frequent drum sessions. Lunch and dinner are offered, with a nice selection of fish specials, including conch and lobster in season. There’s Garifuna drumming and dancing on Friday nights.
Another popular spot is the Snack Shack (near BTL parking lot, 7 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Sat., 7 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Sun.), with breakfast, US$3 burritos, fruit shakes, pancakes, and sometimes bagels.
For Jamaican I-tal food, veggie burritos on whole-wheat tortillas, homemade hummus, fish dishes, and a mellow Rasta-flavored bar/lounge scene, stop by Earth Runnins Cafe and Bukut Bar (13 Main Middle St., 7 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5–11 p.m. Wed.–Mon.). There’s a barbecue on Sunday and occasionally live music. Earth Runnins has some of the best cocktails in town and offers a few computers for Internet (as well as wireless access). Very tranquilo atmosphere.
On the same Ital vibe, but in a smaller, humbler space, Gomier’s Restaurant (at the north entrance to town, right across from the Punta Gorda welcome sign, tel. 501/722-2929, www.gomiers.com) offers a delicious veggie and seafood menu oozing with whole grains, homemade tofu, and good karma. The restaurant is tiny and has tasty and creative daily specials, such as barbecued tofu served with baked beans, bread, and coleslaw, plus a veggie grain casserole served with a salad (about US$5), a bulging soysage burger (only US$3), and tofu pizza. There are also fresh fruit juices, soy milk, and soy ice cream. Gomier opens around 8 a.m. and closes around 9 p.m. (though he often closes up shop at random times). It’s closed on Sunday.
Look for the Cotton Tree Chocolate Shop (2 Front St., just south of the Texaco Station, tel. 501/621-8772, www.cottontreechocolate.com). They make milk, white, and dark chocolates; in addition to free chocolate samples, tours are available by appointment. A small gift shop sells chocolates, cocoa mix, cocoa butter, whole vanilla beans, and handmade soap by Dawn and Jo’s Soap Soap Company, which looks good enough to eat.
Upstairs, you’ll find Punta Pizza (a.k.a. Déja View Café, tel. 501/633-4205, 8 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Sat. and noon–9 p.m. Sun.), offering pizza by the slice or whole pies hot out of the wood-fired oven. Aside from pizza, there’s local grown coffee, espresso drinks, brownies, homemade ice cream, and exotic fruit juices. The covered outdoor seating area faces the sea.
Emery’s (11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., with a few breaks between meals) serves a solid lunch or dinner when it’s open; slow service makes it easy to meet people over daily seafood specials.
An easy place to recommend is Marian’s Bayview Restaurant (11 a.m.–2 p.m. and 6–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat., noon–2 p.m. and 6–10 p.m. Sun.), located on a rooftop over the water, on the south edge of Punta Gorda (across from Nature’s Way). Marian’s serves East Indian cuisine, seafood, or a good ole plate of rice ’n’ beans for US$5—all with a view of Guatemala and Honduras across the water.
Nature’s Way Guest House (tel. 501/702-2119) and the Sea Front Inn (4 Front St., tel. 501/722-2300, www.seafrontinn.com) both serve filling breakfasts, although you need to make a reservation with Nature’s Way and the Sea Front may make you wait a while for it. Another option is D’ Restaurant, in the large corner building by Charlton’s Inn, open for breakfast and dinner, with Belizean and American dishes. Around the corner, El Café has cheap, diner-style Belizean food all day long.
Merenco’s (10 a.m.–2 p.m. and 5:30–10 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 4–10 p.m. Sun.), next to the Ice Cream Parlor (1.5 blocks south of the park), has super-cheap burritos, famous fishbowl-size natural fruit juices, and a selection of dinners, as well as sandwiches and snacks. Grace’s Restaurant (6 a.m.–10 p.m. daily) is a longstanding joint with typical Belizean fare like stew chicken (US$4), tasty conch soup (US$9), and eggs and beans with fry jacks.
If you don’t have the time to visit the Maya villages, be sure to stop by Fajina Restaurant for traditional Maya fare, typically a bowl of caldo served with corn tortillas hot off the comal. The restaurant is run by the same women’s group that operates the craft shop downstairs. Occasionally you’ll find calaloo or cohune cabbage on the daily menu.
A few Chinese restaurants offer reliable chop suey, especially Tai Song and Fei Wang, although the latter is sometimes frequented by sloppy drunks. Some expats call Hang Cheon, on Main Street next to Merenco’s, the best Chinese in town.
As you follow the highway north out of Punta Gorda, look for a driveway and sign on your left just as the road is about to turn away from the sea, and you’ll find Mangrove Inn and Restaurant (tel. 501/722-2270 or 501/622-1645, open from 5 p.m. every day). This is a family affair—literally! You have to walk through your hosts’ living room to get to the dining balcony. Your cook, Iconie, has worked in fancy resorts across Belize but prefers working at home these days. Expect savory fish dishes, pot pies, lasagna, fresh salads, and rolls; it runs roughly US$6–10 per plate.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition