First Dish: Ms. Martha’s Caribbean Kitchen

Nikki BuchananJanuary 21, 2022
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Photo by Nikki Buchanan


I don’t know about you, but a Caribbean vacation sounds pretty good to me right now. Short of hopping a plane to Jamaica, the next best thing might be a trip to Ms. Martha’s Caribbean Kitchen at 19th Avenue and Northern.

The restaurant sits on the west end of a lovely ’40s-era Spanish Colonial building (the former Good Shepherd Home for Girls), and owner Martha Laurencin keeps the religious theme going by posting two biblical passages under her logo. Both address wealth and blessings from God.

But if your interests lean more toward the temporal than the eternal, rest assured, Ms. Martha can cook. My friend and I start with a Jamaican patty, kept warm in a glass-enclosed case, just as is true in gas stations and roadside stands throughout Jamaica. Its flaky, tender crusty is tinted yellow with turmeric, and inside, the beef filling is faintly spicy, its texture almost melting.

Photo by Nikki Buchanan


Although I could handily put away two or three of them, I’m glad we’ve decided to be circumspect. Our bowls, both set on a bed of rice and served with one side dish, are generously portioned. Mine contains oxtails, slow cooked in the brown sugar-based concoction, loaded with spices, that is simply called “brown sauce.”

Each chunk of meat contains a bone (this is the tail of a cow, after all), and the meat surrounding it is rich and beefy with a silky, gelatinous texture. I’ve chosen a base of rice and peas, a classic dish made with red kidney beans, not peas, for one simple reason: Jamaicans call kidney beans “peas.”

I’ve had this dish on many occasions, but none as fantastic as Ms. Martha’s wonderfully rich version. Who knows what makes it so good? The brown sauce seeping down from the oxtails? A bit of coconut milk? A few sprigs of fresh thyme are scattered throughout the dish.

Photo by Nikki Buchanan


My friend’s brown stew chicken is almost as good, a little sweeter and milder. His bowl has an underpinning of yellow rice, seasoned with saffron and turmeric. Like mine, it’s more silky than fluffy and decidedly rich. These dishes may also be ordered as entrees served with two sides instead of one.

A side of ripe, deep-fried plantains, caramelized and sweet, would make a dandy dessert with a little cream (which is exactly what I do with the leftovers at home), but what really rocks my world are the festivals, crispy cornmeal fritters as dense as cake doughnuts but not half as sweet. Their golden-brown color makes them look a bit like mini baguettes. They’re fantastic and hard to come by here in Phoenix.

If you love Caribbean food, try marvelous Ms. Martha’s. I’m going back soon for the jerk chicken, the curried goat, more rice and peas, and, of course, more festivals.

1820 W. Northern Ave, Suite 110, Phoenix, 602-675-2212,