The Caribbean island of Anguilla has a well-deserved culinary reputation. The 100-plus restaurants on this tiny British territory benefit from a bounty of locally caught fish and spiny lobsters.
Gourmet fare can be pricey, though, with dinners averaging $100 a head at the Hollywood magnet Cap Juluca or the CuisinArt Resort & Spa. And the real food story here is the boom in lunch trucks, where locals line up at midday for tasty homemade meals. Educated and savvy, the trucks' entrepreneurs bring the island's culinary expertise to the street: A former five-star chef now dishes out lobster soup from a lime green truck, while a former pig farmer makes the smokiest ribs around. That's what I call fine dining.
THE DRIVER Irad Gumbs wears a winning smile and a Bluetooth earpiece as he dishes out made-to-order meals. He's been here four years, after working as a chef at most of the island's top-drawer restaurants.
THE DISHES Soups (from bullfoot to pea with pigtail), salads, quesadillas (11 kinds) and pastas. This is the only lunch truck that serves the local lobster - in a creamy pasta, tucked into a quesadilla, or in the soup I tried, made from a lobster stock full of tender pieces of lobster meat, marble-sized dumplings, squash and fresh corn. It's light, generous, filling and delicious. And only $6.
THE LINEUP Around noon it can hit 30 people: A man in his customs officer uniform, some well-dressed women, and a trio of teens in basketball jerseys drinking beer while they wait. 264-235-8907.
THE DRIVER Ken Wanterpool, a former schoolteacher and pig farmer, found his true calling - barbecueing - a decade ago.
THE DISHES Chicken ($3.40), ribs or pork ($7.40), with sides of toasty garlic bread and johnnycakes - flat and fluffy discs of fried dough. The chicken is the best seller, but all the barbecue I tried was juicy, well seasoned and boasting just enough smoke. And then there's Ken's addictive homemade sauce.
THE LINEUP "I come here whenever I want to spoil my diet," a retiree jokes as she leaves with a bag of barbecue and a bottle of Ting. Ken barbecues from 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and business never slows. Still, within five minutes you're usually eating authentic Caribbean barbecue.
Across the road from the People's Market, the Valley. No phone.
HUNTER'S FOOD VAN
THE DRIVERS Owners Romel and Laurel; Dorise was minding the van when I stopped by.
THE DISHES The chalkboard menu offers up stew chicken, stew goat, bake chicken, stew turkey, stew pork (all $11), and fish ($12), grilled or fried. All are served with heaps of rice and beans, soulful potato salad, garlicky penne pasta salad, green salad, sunny corn on the cob, and a mound of stew. It's all ridiculously tasty. Tip: Call ahead to reserve the conch stew, which isn't always listed on the menu.
THE LINEUP We arrive later in the afternoon; a few stragglers come and go, one with a three-pound meal and a Heineken. As he leaves, he tells me: "All right then, you be safe. And if you can't be safe, be careful." 264-729-2841.
THE DRIVERS Carl and Clair, a middle-aged married couple.
THE DISHES Clair's fried patties ($1.50), which look like calzones, are filled with beef, fish, oozing cheese or chicken. The flakey fish ($10) is pan-fried on hot coals, sided with sinfully fried johnnycakes and topped with Carl's homemade pepper sauce and lime. Tip: When I ask about a giant squash on the table, Carl offers: "If I have anything from my garden - breadfruit, papaya - I sell them too."
THE LINEUP This is another weekend spot, open Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m. or so. A feeding baby waits along with her mother; twentysomething friends play cards and have dinner at the picnic tables.
THE DRIVER Murray starts seasoning his chicken on Thursdays and serves on weekends. Otherwise he's running a wholesale and retail store selling all things Jamaican.
THE DISHES Jamaican jerk chicken, pork, and johnnycakes. I get the chicken ($3). He picks out a plump leg and thigh. It's jerked with a dry rub, further jerked with sauce on the barbecue, and I finish it off with more jerk sauce on the side. It's great. There's a little heat, but it's manageable.
THE LINEUP Regulars seeking a taste of their home island. Says one man before I pop my first of many Jamaican-style johnnycakes: "Those taste wonderful. I wouldn't lie to you."