Ocean on the Ridge (Mon-Sat 9am-2am, Sunday 9am-11:00pm, US$8-30) sits on a hill overlooking Ocho Rios just outside the old Shaw Park Hotel and Gardens boasting a panoramic view of Ocho Rios, the bay and Caribbean sea beyond. A large open-air deck has seating for 100 at tables and around the bar. Sandwiches, burgers and dogs, wraps and Jamaican seafood and meat dishes like curry goat, jerk chicken, steam fish and escoveitch lobster.
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.
Seaside Dutchie (11a.m.-11p.m. daily, US$3-20) opened 10 October 2017 in an unassuming seaside lot adjacent to Fantasy Beach Club at Priory Beach. Husband-and-wife team Mark Cole and Taydeen Oliver created an extensive menu that adds flair to Jamaican favorites like steamed fish and red pea soup, all served in traditional aluminum Dutch pots. Starters range from conch fritters to wings, ackee and saltfish spring rolls, tostones and escoveitch or blackened sprat. Soups also include goat head, pumpkin and the "Swim Around" with fish, corn salsa and veggies.
Miss T's Kitchen (US$8-36) offers scrumptious homestyle Jamaican food in the heart of Ocho Rios. Located on an unassuming lane opposite Ochi's open-air market, restauranteur Anna Kay Tomlinson, affectionaly known as Miss T, created a cozy ambiance that pays homage to the typical Jamaican zinc roofed board house and singular stylings of the island. Colorful paintings, vintage Marley photos, hanging gourd and wicker lamps and musical instruments adorn the walls.
Passage to India Restaurant & Bar (Shop 2, Fisherman's Point Resort, next to Ocho Rios Cruise Ship Pier, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily, US$11–26) serves authentic North Indian cuisine, with dishes like palak paneer, mala kofta, chicken vindaloo, lamb, lobster, and shrimp, as well as South Indian favorites like masala dosai and idli. This is the real deal, as good as India.
Almond Tree Restaurant (7:30 a.m.–10:30 a.m., noon–2:30 p.m., 6–9:30 p.m. daily) serves a mix of Jamaican and international dishes like lobster (US$24), a variety of chicken (US$14), and fish (US$21), pork chops (US$15), lamb chops (US$17), and butterfly shrimp (US$30). A full bar in the restaurant serves the typical Heineken, Guinness, and Red Stripe (US$2.50), as well as mixed drinks. Indoor and outdoor dining areas overlook the water.
Margaritaville (9 a.m.–4 a.m. on club nights Mon., Wed., and Sat. and 9 a.m.–10 p.m. on Sun., Tues., Thurs., and Fri.) is Ochi's most popular club with the tourist crowd. This is one of Jimmy Buffet's chains, and it sees a lot of debauchery--the pool party on Wednesdays attracts a large crowd. It's also a venu for Fame FM's annual road party, which takes radio disc jocks to various venues around the island over the course of several weeks.
Scotchie's (11 a.m.\11 p.m daily, US$4\11) is easily the best jerk in Jamaica, serving pork, chicken, and steamed fish. Sides include breadfruit, festival, and yam. Scotchie's was forced to move back from the expanded highway and took the opportunity to redesign the dining area, adding a nice bar in the open-air courtyard. Scotchie's founder Tony Rerrie used to have parties where he would bring a master jerk chef from Boston Bay in Portland, where locals claim jerk originated, and patrons would beg him to make the jerk offering a regular thing.
Almond Tree Club Restaurant open (9 a.m.–11 p.m. daily, US$2–6) is the best bet in Port Maria, serving typical Jamaican dishes like curry goat, fried chicken, oxtail, stew peas, and stew pork. Other dishes like chicken chop suey and shrimp fried rice are cooked to order. This Almond Tree claims to be the original, predating the one in Ocho Rios. Dawn Gibbs is the friendly and helpful manager.
Lyming at Walkerswood (US$5–10) makes a great pit stop for authentic jerk chicken, pork, and sausage, accompanied by breadfruit and festival.
Mystic Dining offers a Saturday night (6–10 p.m.) prix fixe three-course dinner (US$33.50 per person including lift, gratuity, and taxes) in what is perhaps the most affordable way to experience Mystic Mountain, albeit without sun, and eat some of the best food served in Ocho Rios. There's a surcharge on lobster and steak, and beverages are sold at an extra cost.