Review: Ms. Martha’s Caribbean Kitchen

Nikki BuchananMarch 3, 2022
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Find down-home Caribbean cooking at this priceless Phoenix mom-and-pop. 

But for a lone bright blue wall featuring a tropical beach scene, nothing about Ms. Martha’s Caribbean Kitchen – a small, underlit restaurant at 19th and Northern Avenues – exudes an upbeat, island vibe. But when you taste Martha Laurencin’s hella spicy yet comforting Caribbean food, which the owner-chef learned to make growing up on the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, you know you’ve found the real deal, the kind of accomplished, from-the-heart cooking that takes decades of watching, learning and practicing to acquire. 

Because seating is limited, most people do takeout or place their order at the counter and find a table on the oversize patio. Also in short supply: vegetables and fish dishes (but be sure to ask, because off-menu dishes are common). What the restaurant does have is a slew of Caribbean classics, including turmeric-tinted Jamaican meat patties filled with curry chicken, jerk chicken or beef. They’re akin to empanadas, only lighter and flakier, and the smooth, almost melting beef, sparked with chile, is outstanding.

Crunchy deep-fried wings are just as good. I love the Calypso version, bathed in a sauce so garlicky, peppery and tangy-sweet I could drink it. I mop up the leftover sauce with golden-brown Johnny cakes, as light yet dense as NOLA’s famous beignets but not nearly as sweet, a puffy, faintly greasy flatbread to eat with everything.

Meat dishes are offered in bowls with one side or as entrées with two. I love the oxtails bowl, its beefy, gelatinous meat so supple I pick up each piece and gnaw at the bone. The savory-sweet brown sauce that coats it seeps down into the rice and peas beneath, making the dish so rich it curls the toes. That same sauce blankets juicy brown stew chicken, which is wonderful with yellow rice, fragrant with saffron and turmeric. Tender curried goat, another favorite, is insanely good – funky, spicy, savory and faintly sweet at once. Meanwhile, Jamaican jerk chicken, coated in a rub of chiles and aromatic spices, comes black and smoky from the grill, heady with allspice and emphatically hot. 

Deep-fried plantains play sweet foil to the spicy meats, while cornmeal fritters called festivals serve as wispy-crisp mops for the sauces – all of it so deeply satisfying you’ll be whisked away to the land of Ms. Martha’s upbringing. Absence of tiki torches and plastic parrots notwithstanding. 

Calypso wings. Photography by Melissa Valladares.
Calypso wings. Photography by Melissa Valladares.
Johnny cakes
Johnny cakes
Oxtails bowl
Oxtails bowl

Cuisine: Caribbean

Contact: 1820 W. Northern Ave., Phoenix, 602-675-2212,

Hours: W-Th 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m.,
F-Sa 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m.

Highlights: Meat patties ($3.75); Calypso wings (half dozen, $7.99); oxtails bowl ($16.99); curry goat bowl ($13.99); jerk chicken entrée ($11.99); Johnny cakes ($5)


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