At a Glance:
Ali’s Surf Camp is technically a hostel/surf camp but it happens to house what we believe to be one of the best restaurants in town. It is located on the lagoon which makes it home to a large civilization of mosquitos, so don’t forget your bug spray, but it’s well worth it for the atmosphere as well as one of the best vantage point for sunset gazing. Tucked away in a corner of Pro-cab–a semi-gated mostly residential part of Cabarete–the place is best described as laid-back, discreet, playful, and friendly; the fact that it’s a hostel means you will find lots of travellers, mostly in their mid twenties, although not exclusively, as well as families. Long tables create a chatty group atmosphere very conducive to conversation, perfect for welcome and going away parties, which is handy when you have a revolving-door type clientele. It’s an endless vacation at Ali’s; no matter what time of year the air is scintillating with the excitement and freshness of a long and sunny vacation.
There is an intoxicating energy at all the long, candle-lit tables, basking in the cooler evening air, air heavy with humidity which dances to the melody of latin tunes, barely audible over the cricket and frog colloquy.
The restaurant is open for lunch, while mosts guests are out surfing or roaming the beaches, so expect exclusive service and and a near empty dining room, a sort of “while the cat’s away” feel; but at night, once everyone is exhausted from the day’s activities and the throbbing sunburns, the place transforms and every table fills. It becomes the perfect place for everyone to cheers the day’s accomplishments over ice-cold Presidentes. The evening atmosphere sort of reminds us of the dining hall at Hogwarts. Sure the ceiling isn’t actually see-through to the sky above (although part of it is painted with stars on a blue tarp) but the sunset reflecting in the water has a similar effect. There is an intoxicating energy at all the long, candle-lit tables, basking in the cooler evening air, air heavy with humidity which dances to the melody of latin tunes, barely audible over the cricket and frog colloquy. It is full of the kind of magic you can only feel when the day has both exhausted and revitalized you, and you’ve surprised yourself with your own accomplishments; as if you’ve discovered super-powers in yourself you previously didn’t even know existed in the world.
None of this magic would amount to much if the food was mediocre, but trust us when we say that the the dishes here will be lighting up your taste buds like a pinball arcade. The specialty is without question the Churrasco. Sure Ali’s is not the only place to serve Churrasco, but here it’s especially tasty and tender. If you’re not familiar with it, Churrasco is a general term used in latin countries to describe barbecued meat, and here at Ali’s it’s a thin slice of juicy tender beef seasoned and coal-braised to perfection. Of course, everything else on the menu is just as tender and tasty. Fish, chicken, beef, potatoes, vegetables, all melt in your mouth as if they were made of flavoured butter. The onions are perfect. This isn’t the type of almost scientific fine dining served in geometric, white plates in perfectly sculpted little mounds, drizzled in coulie, found in the dining rooms of five star restaurants. No, the cuisine here, although just as subtle, is brought to life with a home-made sort of love that makes you feel as cozy as your grandmother’s famous apple pie. It’s a swampy voodoo white magic that makes your soul move by way of your palate. We shared the churrasco and sea bass, with sides of papas salteadas and vegetables, succulent.
Jimmy served us. Jimmy is in his mid-twenties and speaks Spanish, French, and some English through a deep creole accent. He’s as dark as the night and dread-locked, and listens with a genuine and attentive stare. His laugh is contagious and kind. He’s worked here for at least as long as I’ve been in town and I’ve only ever seen him in a full-toothed smile. It’s not our first time here though, we’ve been served by almost all of the staff and they will all treat you like family. One lunch time my father asked the staff what the trick was to their tender churrasco, they all chuckled tenderly as if they knew of some great tradition passed down through secret societies. And that was that. Sometimes when it’s a really packed evening you have to be patient with your service as wait times do increase, but it’s such a relaxed setting that the wait never seems to be a bother, and besides, the food is well worth the wait. Don’t expect to be brought a menu, the menu is written on chalkboards set around the dining-room, take a glance before you sit.
One lunch time my father asked the staff what the trick was to their tender churrasco, they all chuckled tenderly as if they knew of some great tradition passed down through secret societies.
We love this place (as do my parents, and pretty much everyone I’ve ever met) It’s one of those rare finds you go home missing because it has wrapped itself around your heart and refuses to budge. Whether you’re on a romantic evening out, by yourself, or in a group, it’s hard to be let-down by the atmosphere, but if you really can’t stand your company you can rest assured that you’ll enjoy a quiet break as soon as the food is served and until the plates are licked clean. The little pier dining area on the water is its own secluded mini-getaway. The bugs and sounds of the marsh will not let you forget that you are not at home, but rather in the sweltering tropics. You can find cheaper food in town, but Ali’s isn’t so hard on your wallet. Our meal was 900 pesos with tip, about the same as our meal at Uno Mas, about 20 bucks. In all, you won’t be disappointed here. Feel the magic, and enjoy your meal.