Island Fever

Written by M.V. Moorhead Category: Food Reviews Issue: September 2018
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When it comes to the Valley’s expanding repertoire of Caribbean cuisine, we’re sharing the same dream.

When it comes to the Valley’s expanding repertoire of Caribbean cuisine, we’re sharing the same dream.

West Valley
Caribbean Cuisine
Opened: May 2013
A common complaint about Caribbean restaurants, verging on an affectionately accepted foible, is that they’re always out of something on the menu. This was true at three of the four places I visited, but they had everything I asked for at this hot, smoky Glendale cranny, colorfully decorated with the flags of the region and the requisite portrait of Bob Marley. Admittedly, I went for lunch, and kept my order simple: brown stew chicken ($9.95) and a beef patty ($2.78). The former, which included generous chunks of chicken in luxurious gravy atop rice and “peas” (what we would call red beans), was the delicious definition of comfort food. The beef stuffing in the latter was maybe a little spicier than my palate prefers, though the golden pastry dough was satisfying.
Must try: Champagne Kola ($2.50 a bottle), a Puerto Rican soda pop, looks and tastes like neither Champagne nor cola, but is a great way to wash everything down.
6031 N. 67th Ave., Glendale
623-476-2401


East Valley
Caribbean Queen
Opened: March 2010
Formerly known as Caribbean Spice, this Guyanese/Jamaican eatery in Tempe was recently rebranded as the object of Billy Ocean’s ’80s adoration. Here, too, there was some discrepancy between the tempting items listed on the menu and what the server – who, though friendly, seemed a bit perplexed at actually having a midday customer – was able or willing to actually bring to my table. We finally agreed that I would start off with the jerk mango wings ($10), tastily coated, as the name suggests, with the region’s signature fruity and punchy sauce, and from there I would forge further into the world of poultry with the chicken roti ($10), a heap of bone-in bird stewed in a fine, mildly chile-hot curry gravy, and enfolded in the titular Indian flatbread.
Must try: A lunch order of the oxtail ($15), cooked to such a state of tenderness that it all but lunges off the bone and served with shredded veggies, rice and peas, was the regal pinnacle of Caribbean Queen’s menu.
219 E. Baseline Rd., Tempe
480-361-7445, caribbeanqueenaz.com

 

Caribbean Palm; Photography by Candace DorseyScottsdale
Caribbean Palm 
Opened: January 2014
With the Phoenix Suns’ No. 1 draft pick Deandre Ayton, a native of the Bahamas, soon to be a part of the Valley community, I found myself wondering where he might go to get some good Caribbean cooking. I couldn’t find a specifically Bahamian restaurant, but this Jamaican eatery, which recently moved around the corner from its previous location in Papago Plaza, might offer a cure for his island homesickness. You’ll like it, too: Start with the hearty red pea soup ($4-$8), loaded with hefty, bready “spinner” dumplings and corned beef, and the saltfish and conch fritters ($6.50) generously slathered with curry-coconut sauce. Another Caribbean perennial, the beef patty ($3), is a flaky pastry stuffed with spiced – but not too spiced – ground beef. The bone-filled but savory curry goat ($14.50) is a good bet if your stomach is calling for a full entrée.
Must try: The terms “fish” and “strudel” are strange bedfellows, but the ackee and saltfish strudel ($6), which layers the lychee-like fruit with cod on filmy filo dough, is a treat.
1334 N. Scottsdale Rd., 480-947-4343, caribbeanpalmscottsdale.com

North Phoenix
Cool Vybz
Opened: February 2018
Nowhere was the Caribbean tradition of depleted menus better demonstrated than at this newish North Phoenix place, where we were promptly and pre-emptively informed that at least half of the selections on the little menu card had already been devoured for the day by less tardy diners. What we were served, however, was flat-out delectable: The beautifully balanced brown stew chicken ($9.99), vivaciously but not overwhelmingly seasoned, was a highlight of my vicarious island-hopping. No less tasty was the fry chicken ($9.99), available with either jerk (delicious) or curry sauce. Much less tasty was cow foot ($9.99) – a pile of hoof chunks in light sauce, the edible part being flavorless scraps of fat and tendon. For all I know, it was an excellent execution of a scarcity-diet classic. If so, it’s an acquired taste.
Must try: Festivals ($2), elongated and slightly sweet fried dumplings, are great for mopping up the various curries and gravies.
2340 W. Northern Ave., 602-601-5731, coolvybz-jamaican-restaurant.business.site