The Food Guide to the Cook Islands: Places to Eat, Food Tours & More©
The Food Guide to the Cook Islands: Places to Eat, Food Tours & More

The Food Guide to the Cook Islands: Places to Eat, Food Tours & More


The Ultimate Guide to Food in the Cook Islands

Welcome to one of the most significant parts of your Cook Islands experience – even if you haven’t realised it yet. There’s an eclectic array of gastronomical experiences to be had in the Cook Islands, where your tastebuds can take a trip around the world but with fresh local ingredients on Rarotonga to the truly authentic flavours of Polynesia out in the islands of Aitutaki, Atiu, Mangaia and beyond.

This ultimate food guide to the Cook Islands covers just about everything: the best places to eat, food tours and experiences, where to try traditional Cook Islands food, self-catering and even vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. It’s the only food guide to the Cook Islands you’re ever going to need.

The 10 Best Places to Eat in the Cook Islands

This food guide to the Cook Islands is pretty damn detailed, so let’s ease into it with a nice simple list of the best places to eat in the Cook Islands according to our team!

  1. On The Beach (OTB) Restaurant & Bar (Manuia Beach Resort, Arorangi, Rarotonga)
  2. Avatea Cafe (Tautu, Aitutaki)
  3. Wilson’s Beach Bar & Restaurant (Castaway Resort, Arorangi, Rarotonga)
  4. Beluga Cafe (Arorangi, Rarotonga)
  5. Antipodes (Nikao, Rarotonga)
  6. The Anchorage Restaurant, Bar & Cafe (Sunset Resort, Arorangi, Rarotonga)
  7. Sandals Restaurant & Barefoot Bar (Pacific Resort Rarotonga, Muri, Rarotonga)
  8. The Kai Guy (Avarua, Rarotonga)
  9. Muri Night Market (Muri, Rarotonga)
  10. Kura’s Restaurant (Atiu Villas, Areora, Atiu)

Scroll down to “About The Best Places to Eat in the Cook Islands” to learn more about our top picks!

The Food Guide to the Cook Islands: Places to Eat, Food Tours & More©

The Best Islands for Food in the Cook Islands

Where is the best destination for food in the Cook Islands? Well, that totally depends on what style of food you’re looking for. Rarotonga is the most popular pick, the largest and most populated of the Cook Islands. Its cosmopolitan-meets-island vibe means that the restaurant and cafe culture is pretty important to the locals and many tourists that visit, so you’ll never have to dine in the same place twice!

For authentic food tours and experiences, one of the best islands to visit in the Cook Islands is Atiu. The island has its own boutique coffee industry with a delightful coffee tour available, while the traditions of the island can be experienced through culture tours. The drinking culture is also very welcoming with special “tumunu” huts inviting visitors to try potent “bush beer”.

If you want to truly experience authentic local cuisine, however, it’s worth booking a trip to one of the outer islands, locally known as the “Pa Enua”. Accommodations on these islands almost always provide all meals for guests due to the lack of other dining options. The result is an array of traditional meals using local ingredients and they always give you more than you will ever be able to eat! Learn more about eating locally in the “The Best Homemade Meals and Homestay Meals in the Cook Islands” section below.

Discover more about the best islands for food in the Cook Islands in our complete foodie guides:

Food is also mentioned, although not quite extensively, for the other outer islands in our travel guides:

The Food Guide to the Cook Islands: Places to Eat, Food Tours & More©

The Best Food Tours in the Cook Islands

Make indulging your palate part of your getaway by partaking in one of the amazing food tours in the Cook Islands. From cultural affairs, such as island nights and the progressive dinner, to touring local coffee roasters, the Cook Islands’ food tours are certainly a treat for the senses.

Rarotonga Progressive Dinner Tour

A must-do for foodies on Rarotonga, the Progressive Dinner Tour removes the barrier between “tourist” and “local” for an evening of authentic cuisine. Join Cook Islands Tours as they transport you across the island for a three-course dinner with each course in a different local home.

Island Nights in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Atiu

The energetic dancing from the island’s warriors and princesses is only part of the experience of a cultural show, otherwise known as an “island night”. The other part is devouring plate after plate of all kinds of traditional Cook Islands dishes from the buffet prepared in an umu, i.e. a Polynesian underground oven. Rarotonga, Aitutaki and Atiu‘s cultural shows can be found in various resorts, as well as at the historical site of Highland Paradise or the overwater venue of Te Vara Nui Village. See the 7 Best Island Nights in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands to compare your options.

Markets: Punanga Nui, Muri Night Market, Mangaia Friday Morning Market and More!

There are many opportunities to sample street food and local treats at the markets of the Cook Islands. The most popular is the vibrant Punanga Nui Market on Saturday mornings in Avarua (Rarotonga), while the Muri Night Market and Arorangi Night Market both offer Asian and Pacific street food with entertainment also on Rarotonga. On the outer islands, markets can also be found on Mangaia bright and early on a Friday morning, as well as on Mitiaro. Find out more about the location of the markets and when they take place in the 5 Best Markets in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.

Rarotonga Brewery Tour

Brewed on Rarotonga, Cook Islands Lager is the signature brew of the Rarotonga Brewery. Just across the road from the Edgewater Resort, the brewery is open Monday to Saturday for free beer tastings and from Monday to Friday for brewery tours.

Private Dining Experiences on the Beaches of Rarotonga and Aitutaki

A foodie experience essential for couples, imagine it’s just you and your loved one indulging in a lovingly prepared meal under the stars with your toes in the sand! Choose a candlelit dinner in a private pavilion on the edge of the Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort or dine under the stars on a secluded private deck at Aitutaki Escape. On Rarotonga, the adults-only Crown Beach Resort & Spa offers private dining under a gorgeous decorated gazebo on the beach. Many more resorts with private dining are listed in the 11 Best Foodie Experiences on Rarotonga and Aitutaki.

Atiu Coffee Tours

Who would have thought that the tiny island of Atiu was the best place to go in the Cook Islands for a cuppa?! Join Atiu Island Coffee for a delightful coffee tour allowing you to learn about the coffee bean growing process, what makes Atiu perfect for growing arabica beans and how to hand roast them. You’ll also learn about the secret ingredient that makes Atiu’s coffee unique! The tour concludes with a taste of the good stuff along with yummy pikelets and coconut cream!

Umu Tours on Rarotonga and Atiu

For a hands-on experience where you learn how to make traditional Polynesian cuisine, join a culture tour with Tumutoa Tours and Umu Experience on Rarotonga or Punarea Culture Tours on Atiu. These tours encourage you to prepare an umu, an underground oven where food is slow-cooked wrapped in banana leaves, as well as taste the good stuff once it’s complete! Learn more in the 12 Best Foodie Experiences on Rarotonga and Atiu.

More Food Tours in the Cook Islands

And that’s not all the food scene of the Cook Islands has to offer. Check out alternative food tours, such as:

  • Making some “fruitful” discoveries on an inland walk with Ariimoana on Rarotonga
  • Hitting all of the hottest cocktail spots with Tik-ebikes & Tours on Rarotonga
  • Joining an Atiu tumunu bush beer session or a tumunu tour with Atiu Safari & Fishing Tours
  • Indulging in a gourmet platter anywhere on Rarotonga with Island Platters
  • Fishing for dinner on Rarotonga, Aitutaki or Atiu
  • Hunting for dinner on Atiu with Punarea Culture Tours
  • Trying a famous Mangaian doughnut on Mangaia
  • Treating the tastebuds at Rarotonga’s cafes, food trucks and restaurants

… For elaboration on most of these activities, check out the 10 Best Foodie Experiences in the Cook Islands.

The Food Guide to the Cook Islands: Places to Eat, Food Tours & More©

More About the Best Places to Eat in the Cook Islands

Admittedly, the outer islands of the Cook Islands have a pretty limited choice when it comes to dining options, but Rarotonga (and Aitutaki to some extent) more than make up for it with an array of restaurants, cafes, markets and more. Here are more details about the best places to eat in the Cook Islands in categories of the best restaurants, best cafes, best vegan and vegetarian options and more.

The Best Restaurants in the Cook Islands

Check out some of our top picks for the best restaurants in the Cook Islands.

On The Beach (OTB) – Rarotonga

Easing you into the fine dining scene while still remaining casual enough with your feet in the sand, On The Beach (OTB) (Arorangi) is not to be missed! Fronting the Manuia Beach Resort, the beachfront restaurant is renowned for its NZ$60 three-course menu most days and five-course menu on a Friday.

Wilson’s Beach Bar & Restaurant – Rarotonga

Wilson’s Beach Bar & Restaurant at the Castaway Resort (Arorangi) claims to have the most comprehensive menu in the South Pacific and they have the 25-page menu to prove it! With seven chefs serving up Japanese, Italian, European, Indian and, of course, Cook Islands cuisine, you’re sure to find something to suit even the fussiest eater.

The Anchorage Restaurant Bar & Cafe – Rarotonga

For a night of Pacific cuisine done right, head to The Anchorage Restaurant Bar & Cafe (Arorangi). Nestled in gardens beside the Sunset Resort, the restaurant offers a relaxed undercover dining atmosphere, as well as staff with smiles. Their seafood options are a highlight, especially the sesame seed-crusted tuna with coconut rice, but there’s plenty on the menu to suit all tastes.

Sandals Restaurant & Barefoot Bar – Rarotonga

The restaurant of the Pacific Resort RarotongaSandals Restaurant & Barefoot Bar (Muri) is open to guests and non-guests alike. Dine alfresco by Muri Beach, in an elegant dining hall or at the casual Barefoot Bar. Either way, you have access to the same Pacific and internationally-inspired menu with something for everyone. Try the “Pacific Sizzler”; you’ll hear it before you see it coming!

RSC Beachfront Bar & Brasserie – Rarotonga

Home of the Rarotonga Sailing Club, RSC Beachfront Bar & Brasserie (Muri) offers a casual setting for a relaxed meal with friends and family. While the general crowd is catered to with burgers, wraps and some decent vegetarian options, the dishes that really “wow” are the seafood, meat lovers and antipasto platters.

Rapae Bay Restaurant – Aitutaki

When it comes to fine dining in Aitutaki, book yourself a table at the  Pacific Resort Aitutaki‘s Rapae Bay Restaurant (Amuri) at least once. Elevated over the beach and gazing across the lagoon on Aitutaki’s sunset coast, Rapae Bay offers the ideal setting for a more sophisticated evening, as well as the menu to match.

The Boat Shed Bar & Grill – Aitutaki

For a casual dinner, entertainment and drinks, head to the local watering hole of The Boat Shed Bar & Grill (Ootu Beach).

Flying Boat Beach Bar & Grill – Aitutaki

Take the Aitutaki Lagoon Private Island Resort ferry over to the Flying Boat Beach Bar & Grill for one of the island’s most creative cocktail menus and a vibrant dinner menu that changes daily.

Kura’s Restaurant – Atiu

A must-do at least once on Atiu is dining at Kura’s Restaurant. Located on the grounds of Atiu Villas, the restaurant is open to visitors across the island with a set two-course menu or a buffet is served under the thatched restaurant and bar area adorned in flags. The occasional “island night” is sometimes arranged.

For more restaurants to choose from, check out The Best Places to Eat on Rarotonga: 10 Best Restaurants and The Best Places to Eat on Aitutaki: 10 Best Restaurants on Aitutaki.

The Best Cafes in the Cook Islands

For coffee, sweet treats and lunchtime delights, check out these cafes in the Cook Islands.

Charlie’s Cafe – Rarotonga

Behind the colourful shipping container seen from the roadside hides a cool beachfront cafe. Charlie’s Cafe (Titikaveka) offers irresistible prices to go with their irresistible burgers, salads, huge sandwiches, snack plates and sharing plates.

Deli-Licious Cafe – Rarotonga

Home to the best custard squares on the island, Deli-Licious Cafe is a must-try in Muri. Dine here for their big breakfast, plant-based salads and omelettes or simply pop in for your morning coffee and custard square (FYI, they usually sell out by 10 am).

The Lucky Rooster – Rarotonga

The place to be in Avarua town centre is The Lucky Rooster. Enjoy contemporary cuisine, as well as local choices like ika mata, among the seating areas decorated with plants both inside and out. They also offer a wide range of beverages, from coffee to smoothies to cocktails.

Le Bon Vivant – Rarotonga

Another cafe option in Muri is Le Bon Vivant, which most know as LBV! The cafe is a good place to pick up a fresh baguette, cake or antipasto skewer from the counter or have something made to order to enjoy among their gorgeous gardens.

Avatea Cafe – Aitutaki

Within a week on Aitutaki, you can hit all of the culinary highlights, such as the charming Avatea Cafe serving up contemporary fusion food with an island twist. Enjoy the alfresco atmosphere and quaint gift shop at its secluded inland location near the village of Tautu.

Koru Cafe – Aitutaki

Koru Cafe (Ootu Beach) is not to be missed with its generous offering of cooked breakfasts and magnificent platters for lunch – all made primarily with sustainable ingredients from Aitutaki.

Get more inspiration from the 10 Best Cafes on Rarotonga and the 9 Best Cafes & Takeaways on Aitutaki.

The Best Vegan and Vegetarian Restaurants in the Cook Islands

For more sustainable food choices, these are our top picks for vegan and vegetarian food in the Cook Islands.

Beluga Cafe – Rarotonga

While the team at the Beluga Cafe (Arorangi) are happy to curate vegan alternatives to dishes across the menu, their “vegan plate” is to die for with chickpea fritters, seasonal produce, hummus and more tempting finger food.

Kai & Co. – Rarotonga

Delicious vegan smoothie bowls and falafel/sweet potato patty vegan burgers and wraps are on the menu at Kai & Co. (Avarua)!

Nautilus Restaurant – Rarotonga

While the choice for vegans/vegetarians isn’t extensive, Nautilus Restaurant’s (Muri) vegan option is usually quite creative like vegetable and tofu timbale or green Thai curry. There are sometimes vegan desserts on the menu – like vegan chocolate mousse, but not always – check first.

Flying Turtle Cafe – Rarotonga

The hole-in-the-wall container cafe at the Ariki Adventures base offers all items on the menu as “plant-based” with adding meat as only an optional extra. Build your own sandwiches, wraps and enjoy vegan granola bowls and almond milk smoothies at the Flying Turtle Cafe (Arorangi).

Captain Andy’s Beach Bar & Grill and Bluewater Grill – Rarotonga

We are coupling these two restaurants together as they are owned by the same resort company (The Rarotongan and Sanctuary on the Beach) and essentially have the same menus, just the latter is an adults-only restaurant. Captain Andy’s Beach Bar & Grill and Bluewater Grill (Aroa Beach) both have a generous vegetarian and a separate vegan menu ranging from vegan pizza to vegan ice cream and beyond!

Find more vegan and vegetarian options, also in Aitutaki, in the Rarotonga & the Cook Islands for Vegans & Vegetarians + 10 Best Restaurants.

The Best Markets and Food Trucks in the Cook Islands

As for street food and affordable takeaways, some of the highlights include the following.

Muri Night Market – Rarotonga

The best market for local and international street food is the Muri Night Market, happening on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday evenings from 5 pm. It’s when the island’s food trucks gather together for a whirlwind of tastes.

Punanga Nui Market – Rarotonga

The vibrant Punanga Nui Market (Avarua) is the place to be on a Saturday morning. Try an array of tropical produce, smoothies and other treats at the food stalls, as well as browse plenty of locally-crafted souvenirs.

The Kai Guy – Rarotonga

For your food truck fix, we recommend The Kai Guy (Avarua). Indulge in fresh ingredients used to make affordable tacos, gyros and burritos. They also do some wonderful vegetarian options.

Palace Takeaways – Rarotonga

And don’t miss Palace Takeaways (Avarua) for their famous Wednesday NZ$3.50 burgers!

Aquila Takeaway – Aitutaki

For those on a budget or wanting a more locals experience, try the cheap and cheerful takeaways of Aitutaki, such as Aquila Takeaway (Amuri) which uses relatively high-quality ingredients, especially for the price.

Kai Tari Takeaway – Aitutaki

We also like Kai Tari Takeaway (Amuri) which has a more limited menu but occasionally spruces up more local dishes, like fried fish in coconut cream.

For more street food options, check out The Top Cheap Eats on Rarotonga and The Top Cheap Eats on Aitutaki, while more market listings can be found in the 5 Best Markets in the Cook Islands.

The Best Homemade Meals and Homestay Meals in the Cook Islands

That’s right, you don’t have to go to a restaurant to sample the cuisine of the Cook Islands. For an authentic cultural experience surrounding food, stay at one of the homestays/guesthouses on the outer islands or join the Progressive Dinner Tour.

Progressive Dinner Tour – Rarotonga

Just about the only way to experience “homemade meals” in the tourist hotspot of Rarotonga, the Progressive Dinner Tour takes you to various local homes to dine on an entree, main then dessert.

Babe’s Place – Mangaia

Babe’s Place includes three meals a day for guests: breakfast is a selection of local fruit, bread/cereal and jam (sometimes Mangaia doughnuts), while dinner is a small buffet of local dishes with something different to try each night. Lunch is less exciting, usually sandwiches.

Divine Retreat – Mitiaro

While breakfast is included at Mitiaro’s most contemporary guesthouse, your hosts at Divine Retreat are happy to put on a spread of local food for an affordable extra cost.

Vivian’s Homestay – Mitiaro

Another homestay on Mitiaro, Vivian’s Homestay not only provides ample food for guests to power them through the day (and the next) but the guesthouse is also famous for its Friday “bush beer” nights.

Many more guesthouses and homestays across the Cook Islands offer just-as-scrumptious meals, most of which you can find listed in the 10 Best Guesthouses in the Cook Islands.

The Food Guide to the Cook Islands: Places to Eat, Food Tours & More©

Local Food in the Cook Islands and Where to Try Traditional Food

The Cook Islands caters to a wide range of tastes and international styles of cooking, predominantly Asian but also including European and American. When it comes to the roots of the Cook Islands; the traditional meals and ingredients that have gone mostly unchanged for centuries, the Cook Islands certainly has its fair share of dishes.

Traditional Meals of the Cook Islands

One of the easiest dishes to find is ika mata, raw fish marinated in coconut cream with a few other spices or chillis for extra flavour. You’ll find ika mata available as an entrée at many restaurants across the Cook Islands, hopefully, presented in a coconut shell for a truly authentic island look!

Pronounced “po-kay”, poke is a sweet traditional Cook Islands dish usually made with banana but can also be made with pawpaw, pumpkin, sweet potato (kumara), breadfruit or taro. The banana is baked with arrowroot (maniota) and coconut cream.

A refreshing side to any dish in the Cook Islands, curried pawpaw or banana salad is a concoction of either pawpaw (papaya) or banana with mayonnaise, curry powder and mango chutney or some other variation. It’s a sweet-tasting sensation that surprisingly works!

Rukau is a traditional favourite in the Cook Islands, which is taro leaves cooked in coconut cream with a few other flavourings to lift the dish. The taro leaves have to be cooked just right or else the natural prickly texture won’t feel so good on the way down. Luckily, all of the “mamas” in the Cook Islands are highly skilled when it comes to cooking up the perfect rukau.

Where to Try Traditional Food in the Cook Islands

The best places to try traditional Cook Islands food is at “island nights” – see the 7 Best Island Nights in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands, the Progressive Dinner Tour, as well as on the outer islands while doing homestays or staying in guesthouses (see “The Best Homemade Meals and Homestay Meals in the Cook Islands” above).

Some restaurants across Rarotonga and Aitutaki feature dishes like ika mata and curried pawpaw salad on their menus, such as Sandals Restaurant & Barefoot Bar (Rarotonga), Kikau Hut (Rarotonga), Tuakata Café (Rarotonga), The Brasserie – Edgewater Resort & Spa (Rarotonga), The Boat Shed (Aitutaki) and Avatea Cafe (Aitutaki) – just to name a few.

See more dishes to try, as well as where to try them, in the Traditional Rarotongan Food: 10 Foods to Try in the Cook Islands. You can also check out some fruit to sample in the 15 Exotic Fruits in the Cook Islands You HAVE to Try!

The Food Guide to the Cook Islands: Places to Eat, Food Tours & More©

Self-Catering in the Cook Islands

So, what about if you want to cater for yourself? Perhaps you have food allergies that you’d like to keep in check (if it’s a gluten allergy, then check out The Gluten-Free Guide to the Cook Islands). Or maybe you just want to save some money. Whatever the reason, self-catering is totally viable on the islands of Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke and Mitiaro but not on any other outer islands. You have the most choice of grocery stores on Rarotonga and Aitutaki, so these are your best islands for a fully self-catered holiday.

As mentioned, food and ingredients are available to buy at supermarkets and grocery stores across selected islands, typically stocked with New Zealand and Australian imports with the occasional local baked goods and local produce.

As self-catering is such a big topic to cover, we have a separate guide in A Guide to Supermarkets & Food Shopping in the Cook Islands. You also might like to know about bringing food to the Cook Islands, which you can read up on in our guide, Taking Food to the Cook Islands: What You Need to Know.

Food Itineraries for the Cook Islands

By now, you’re probably wondering how you’re going to bring all of these restaurants, food tours and destinations all together?! Well, we’ve done the hard work for you with our complete foodie itineraries:

Finally, anything else to do with organising a trip to the Cook Islands can be found in The Best Cook Islands Travel Guide.


Laura S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Cook Islands Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in the South Pacific over 10 years ago with nothing but a backpack and a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to explore a paradise such as the Cook Islands. She knows the islands inside out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience Raro’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also the editor of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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