Phoenix may not be the first place you think of when dreaming of jerk chicken with a side of Jamaican rice and peas or braised oxtail stew with deep-fried plantain. But Caribbean cuisine has slowly become a staple in the Valley’s food scene. From casual, affordable eats, to courtyard dining in historical surroundings, it’s easy to satisfy those island food cravings. Here’s our list of the top Caribbean spots in the area.
Island Sensation Cuisine
830 East Indian School Road, Phoenix
This Phoenix New Times favorite for quality inexpensive lunches has been serving delectable island cuisine since June 2018. “We try to be as authentic as possible,” says business owner Lorraine Campbell, who runs the restaurant with her husband, Chef Lloyd. Through the support of the local community, this Black-owned restaurant has kept its doors open through the highs and lows of the pandemic. What sets Island Sensation apart is an in-house blend of spices and original recipes that keep the flavors as close to home as possible. The jerk chicken ($ 7.99) is marinated in that Caribbean spice blend and hand-grilled to fiery perfection. “The longer the better,” says Lorraine when describing the marination process for an ideal grill. We recommend a revered Caribbean favorite: the island fried chicken ($ 12.99), a crispy cut of meat with a luscious interior marinated in the eatery’s secret spices and served with rice and peas and your choice of sides. No matter which dish you try, enjoy it with a refreshing bottle of ginger beer. The only problem here is deciding what to order.
Caribbean Palm Scottsdale
2515 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Hailed as Arizona’s slice of the Caribbean, this upscale restaurant / bar is the perfect spot for casual and romantic dining. Now in their eighth year as restaurant owners, Tony and Mackenzie Brown attribute their success to one essential ingredient: “We put a lot of love into our food, and we try to make it right,” says Tony. As the pandemic hit Phoenix restaurants especially hard, the Caribbean Palm remained open and serving its patrons, from takeout-only to partial capacity and back to a full house. The service is attentive, and the menu presents an array of options for any gourmand. We like the can-not saltfish and conch fritters ($ 10.79), which are pan-seared, seasoned to perfection with fresh herbs and served with coconut and curry sauce. For a side, try the sautéed spinach and callaloo ($ 7.79) – verdant greens with hints of garlic and low-level spice. When asked about his favorite dish, Brown says that while every item on the menu is tasty, his favorite is the curry goat. With tender, lean cubes of goat meat bathed in the curry’s fragrant and spicy vegetable base, it’s an excellent place to start.
Ms. Martha’s Caribbean Kitchen
1820 West Northern Avenue, Phoenix
What started as a Caribbean market on the corner of Northern and 19th avenues has transitioned into a picturesque indoor-outdoor restaurant housed in one of Phoenix’s revered historic buildings. At the Caribbean Kitchen, Ms. Martha Laurencen and her son Robert have focused their efforts on putting flavor first. “Preparation is what makes food so tasty,” says Robert when describing the signature oxtail dish ($ 23.99), which is marinated a day in advance and cooked for two hours before serving. The flavor is rich, and the meat falls off the bone in delectable chunks. For a quick bite or appetizer, try the selection of baked patties ($ 3.75) – delicate handheld turnovers with an airy outer crust, stuffed with your choice of beef, curry chicken, jerk chicken, beefy cheese, or vegetables. Ms. Martha strives to infuse every dish on the menu with the maximum amount of love and attention. Even for a simple side dish like plantain, the process matters the most. “Timing is key when preparing the perfect plantain,” she explains, noting the fruit’s color and how to avoid detracting from its natural flavor. Patience is crucial in this business, and Ms. Martha and company have it in spades. Whether you’re taking out or dining in, the service is stupendous.
D’s Jerk Hut
15220 North Cave Creek Road, Phoenix
Decked out in the black, yellow, and green of the Jamaican flag, D’s Jerk Hut invites a steady stream of customers who are here for more than just the island vibe. Spice is the specialty here, and D’s coconut curry shrimp ($ 16.99) is not for the faint of heart. Steamed veggies and coconut milk work together to make this dish bright and fragrant, enhancing the perfectly cooked crispy shrimp. It’s one of the best things on the menu. The lunch special runs from 11 am to 2 pm and includes your choice of curry, jerk, or brown stew chicken served with a side of rice and peas or white rice for $ 6.99. The stews are a standout, starting with the brown stew chicken ($ 10.99), which is slow-cooked with tender bites of meat swimming in a caramelized mix of herbs and vegetables. The oxtail ($ 19.99) includes piquant braised meat in a rich fatty stew that pairs nicely with a side of fried plantain and steamed vegetables. Be sure to pick up a bottle of D’s homemade natural juice ($ 5.25), which comes in two flavors: The sorrel is made from dried hibiscus flowers and adds a tart and tangy punch, while the ginger version has a spicy kick that will enhance your meal until the last bite.
2340 West Northern Avenue, Phoenix
Adorned with pictures of the Jamaican state bird, state flower, and the country’s coat of arms, this Caribbean gem is difficult to miss. The lunch special at Cool Vybz is similar to that of D’s Jerk Hut, with a jerk, curry, or brown stew chicken served with a side of rice and peas and cabbage for $ 7.99. The curry chicken, a slow-cooked dish coupled with Jamaican rice and peas, has a delicious woodsy flavor that heightens the whole meal. With Rastafarian music playing and a continuous flow of regulars popping in to chat and pick up to-go orders, it’s clear this is a local favorite. Come for the flavor, stay for the “vybz.” This Jamaican spot is sure to impress.