by Khanya Brann | August 2, 2018 9:00 am
At Freddy and Tony’s one night, a customer leaving the crowded Dominican restaurant in Fairhill turned to a man plopping carne frita into a to-go box behind the counter. “I’m not gonna tell you again man,” he said. “You gotta expand!” The two started laughing and joking in Spanish, with other patrons in line chiming in.
Only 1.6% of Philly’s population is of Caribbean descent according to the 2010 Census. But for decades, the city’s Caribbean restaurants — representing Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico — have become some of the most important community hubs and gatekeepers of culture and tradition, a responsibility the proprietors carry out with pride. (Barbados also has a sizable representation, but there aren’t any restaurants here specifically serving the island’s food.)
Here’s our ultimate guide to the Philly area’s Caribbean restaurant scene. And if you’re looking to try lots of different Caribbean foods in one place, check out the 32nd Annual Philadelphia Caribbean Festival on August 19, from noon to 8 p.m. at Penn’s Landing.
Note: Be sure to bring cash. Many of these spots don’t accept credit.
Philly has one of the largest Jamaican populations in the country — not to mention a solid slate of Jamaican restaurants. Various influences have had a hand in shaping the island’s rich and vibrant food culture. The renowned Jamaican jerk evolved from the Taino practice of spicing meat with scotch bonnet pepper and all spice (pimento) before grilling it. Introduced by the Spanish, escoveitch fish is as delicious as it is colorful, usually consisting of a whole fish fried and simmered with peppers and onions in a spicy vinegar dressing. The curry legacy – brought over by indentured servants from India in the mid 1800s – is still going strong, with curry goat remaining a staple on Jamaican menus at home and abroad. Note that these are just a few of the popular Jamaican spots in Philly. Other great options include Reggae Reggae Vibes, Jamaican D’s, Quality Taste, and Side of the Road Jerk Chicken.
Ron’s Caribbean Cuisine
With its bright green, yellow, and black walls, Ron’s is hard to miss. Snuggled between a strip of stores near Broad Street and Olney Avenue, it’s been a local favorite and a destination for guests from neighboring states for years. Stop in to try their fried fish or oxtail, or stock up on beef patties and roti skins. Take your order to go or chow down at the restaurant’s high tables in the dining area. 5726 North Broad Street, Logan
Jamaican Jerk Hut
What’s the Hut’s secret to over 20 years of delicious jerk dishes? They make their jerk sauce from scratch, grilling the chicken over a built-in jerk pit in their kitchen. Bring a six pack of Red Stripe and try any jerk option with a side of rice and beans, cabbage, plantain, and fresh juice for an authentic experience. 1436 South Street, Center City
Serving hot platters of authentic Jamaican cuisine since 1986, Caribbean Delight is a great place to go for smoky, spicy jerk anything. Bright murals cover the walls and ceiling in this tiny restaurant, which also offers a variety of baked goods, including coconut bread (yum). Patties and pepper steak are popular among regulars. Cut your wait time short by calling ahead to order during peak hours. 1124 South Street, Center City
Little Delicious is a Jamaican food classic here in Philly, serving national favorites with authentic flavor for over two decades. Grab a drink from the fresh juice bar before getting a platter — they don’t skimp on anything here, so you get more bang for your buck. What’s good? Pretty much everything, but try the ackee and saltfish with dumplings and banana or the beef stew. 4821 Woodland Avenue, Kingsessing
48th Street Grille
This vibrant restaurant is chef Carl Lewis’ first solo venture after a career working in corporate kitchens and upscale restaurants. His BYOB has a more relaxed atmosphere, with sweet calypso music playing in the background to accompany your jerk chicken cheesesteak or braised oxtail. Come earlier for their brunch options, or stick around for dessert and try the bread pudding with signature rum sauce. 310 S 48th Street, Walnut Hill
The food scene in Trinidad and Tobago, the two southernmost islands in the Caribbean, reflects its diversity: Callaloo, made with crab, okra, and the stewed leaves of the dasheen plant in Trini cooking, and pelau (a one-pot rice dish with meat, pigeon peas, and coconut milk) are popular dinner staples with roots in West Africa. Favorites like roti, stuffed or served with with chicken, duck, goat, shrimp, pumpkin, or chick peas and potatoes, and street food favorites like doubles, pholourie, aloo pies, are mostly Indian in origin. Pepper sauces, chutneys, and fruity, spiced chows are ubiquitous condiments. Wash it all down with sorrel, a cold, sweet tea made from the petals of a hibiscus-like plant and mixed with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
Flambo Caribbean Restaurant
In addition to staples like roti (the goat curry roti is a customer favorite) and souse (pig’s feet served in a seasoned broth), Flambo offers Chinese fusion dishes, including pepper shrimp chow mein. Pop in on Friday and Saturday to try pholourie, soft, fried balls of spiced dough served with sweet, tangy tamarind sauce. The upscale, two-story space is adorned with vibrant carnival costumes and accessories, sprouting feathers and glistening with sequins, with an upbeat soca playlist to keep the vibe light and fun. 820 North Broad Street, Fairmount
Brown Sugar Bakery and Cafe
This no-frills Trini eatery has been around for nearly 30 years, and it’s among the city’s most popular Caribbean restaurants.Try their lunch platters with stew beef, oxtail or curry goat, grab quick bites like aloo pies, patties, and currant rolls between meals, or start your morning off with some yummy bake and saltfish (dried codfish sautéed in tomatoes, onions and peppers). Wednesday through Saturday, they serve pholourie and doubles, curried chickpeas and tamarind laced with pepper sauce to taste and sandwiched between two lightly fried pieces of dough. Seating is limited, so Brown Sugar makes a great takeout option. 219 South 52nd Street, Cobbs Creek
Callaloo Trinidadian Kitchen
If there was a Best BussUp Shut in Philly Award (and there should be), Callaloo would win it. The silky, buttery roti – served with big griddles of curried chicken, veggies, or beef – alone is worth the drive out to this lively restaurant in Lancaster. Call ahead and make a reservation, because it gets busy fast and wait times can be long. The concise, vegetarian-friendly menu is an essentials-only offering of Trini eats like bake and shark soft, house-made coconut bread with fried swai, garnished with tamarind sauce and pickled fruits or veggies. Owners Amos and Amanda Kinert include creative options like guava BBQ chicken and ginger-lemongrass crème brûlée. Don’t leave without trying their crispy golden cassava fries dipped in spicy habanero sauce. 351 North Mulberry Street, Lancaster
Ibis Lounge & Restaurant
Head to this casual dine-in or take-out spot for a platter of stew oxtail or fried fish, or a roti with a variety of curried sides. The restaurant serves specials, like curry crab and dumplings on Saturdays and bake and shark on Fridays, on certain days of the week — call ahead to pre-order. Ibis has a full bar, so you can follow your ginger beer up with something a little stronger. 5420 Lancaster Avenue, West Philadelphia
Heavily influenced by Taino, African, Spanish, and French cooking styles, Haitian food is bold and adventurous. Thick, savory stews seasoned with warm spices and herbs are often served over rice or cornmeal. The staple legume dish is a tomato paste based stew made with eggplant, spinach, onion, and optional meat. Pikliz, a pickled cabbage and carrot slaw, gives most meals an extra kick, and fritays (fried foods) like bannann peze, twice-fried slices of plantain, acra, rounds of shredded malanga (a cousin of taro root), and patat, thick slices of fried white sweet potatoes, are popular sides or street bites.
Owner Rosaire Fortune has been serving generous portions of favorites like griot (pork chunks) and mayi moulen ak sos pwa and poul an sos (cornmeal with beans and stewed chicken) for 13 years. Most people order to go, but there’s a small, cozy seating area if you’d like to dine in. First time trying Haitian food? Don’t worry — Rosaire will walk you through the menu and make suggestions based on your taste. Whatever you do, be sure to get a side of her big, crispy fried plantains. 121 West Tabor Road, Olney
Zulyka Haitian Restaurant and Bakery
You can order Haitian-style breakfast plates like foie (sautéed liver served with yam, potatoes, and bananas), maii (cornmeal with saltfish) and espageti (pasta with sautéed turkey sausage, onions, green peppers, and boiled eggs) at Zulyka every day except Monday, when the store is closed. Try riz djon djon (also known as “black rice,” cooked with mushrooms) and their fritay options like fried fish and fried goat. Try akasan, a traditional drink passed down from the Tainos, made with corn flour, milk, cinnamon and vanilla. The bakery is always churning out colorful cakes and cupcakes, but for a more authentic dessert option, ask for a slice of Haitian pound cake with your order. 136 South 60th Street, Cobbs Creek
Head over to this new takeout spot in the morning to try items off their breakfast menu, or grab traditional dishes like légumes, lambi (conch stewed in a spicy tomato sauce) and tassot goat (fried goat) for lunch or dinner. While you wait, sip on one of their blended juices, made with fresh pineapple, papaya, melon, or mango. 7315 Oxford Avenue, Rhawnhurst
Sylva Senat, chef-owner at this stylish and modern new restaurant, included a few Haitian items as a nod to his birthplace on his mostly French-influenced menu. Spend happy hour in the cocktail lounge upstairs (two words: retractable roof), sip on the Haitian Rum Punch, and snack on the island taro lollipops, potato and Kobe beef balls served in a curry sauce. Stay for dinner to try the griot a pikliz appetizer, fried pork belly chunks with a spicy cabbage and carrot slaw. 208 South 13th Street, Midtown Village
In the Dominican Republic, lunch — referred to as la bandera (the national flag) — is the most important meal of the day. A traditional plate is packed with the basics: white rice, red beans, stewed meat, salad, and slivers of plantain fried to crispy perfection. Sancocho, a rich, flavorful stew loaded with meat and root vegetables, is one of the island’s most prized dishes. Mangú con los tres golpes – the epitome of Dominican comfort food – is a big scoop of velvety mashed plantains garnished with rounds of sautéed red onions soaked in vinegar and accompanied by the “three hits”: fried salami, fried cheese, and fried eggs (sometimes sausage, too). It’s typically eaten for breakfast, but you can stuff your face all day long at one of these authentic Dominican restaurants.
The name of this modest BYOB is a trip down memory lane for owner Jose Rafael, who has fond memories of making stops (parada means “quick stop”) in Maimon, a coastal city in the Dominican Republic, for seafood during road trips on the island. Coming for the first time? The menu has a lot of great seafood options, but Rafael says no matter what you order, you have to try a side of the sweet plantains. He swears he buys the most expensive ones on the market. 345 North 12th Street, Callowhill
El Principe Restaurant
What’s good at this hole in the wall on Lehigh Ave? The pollo guisado (chicken stew) and pernil (slow-roasted pork) platters are popular, and both come with a side salad and generous servings of rice and beans. The menu offers a variety of inexpensive lunch and dinner options for anyone searching for the mouth-watering flavor Dominican cuisine is known for. 111 West Lehigh Ave, West Kensington
Cibao Fried Chicken Restaurant
Do they serve fried chicken? Yeah, and it’s good — but it’s not their specialty. This small Dominican restaurant is a lunch go-to for locals. Stock up on fried or baked goods or get a platter with rice and beans, salad, and your choice of juicy meat. 3382 Frankford Avenue, Harrowgate
La Parada II
Good service and good prices have helped make this take-out restaurant a popular and reliable spot for 11 years, and big meal portions mean you can save some of that fried fish and yucca (cassava) for later. Order extra empanadas or pastellios and take them home with you to share. 1543 East Luzerne Street, Juniata
Restaurants specializing in cocina criolla (creole food) — the local term used to refer to the fusion of Indigenous, African, and Spanish influences in Puerto Rico’s cuisine — have devoted local fans who stop in often for traditional favorites like empanadillas (meat or fish turnovers) and pastelón (think lasagna with layers of sweet plantain instead of noodles). Soups like frijoles negros (black bean soup) or sopa de pollo con mofongo (chicken soup) are popular appetizers to big plates of lechón asado, smoky, pit-roasted pork shoulder seasoned with adobo. Tripleta, a triple-threat sandwich with pieces of succulent steak, ham, and pork nestled between pan sobao, a soft, semi-sweet bread, are popular for good reason.
Freddy and Tony’s Restaurant
Don’t be intimidated by customers ordering in Spanish. If you’re overwhelmed but looking to try a basic Puerto Rican meal, order the pernil (tender, slow-roasted pork shoulder) with rice and beans, a side of platanos (fried plantain) or alcapurrias (fried plantain stuffed with ground meat), and a glass of parcha, a passion fruit drink. If you’re somehow still hungry afterward, pick up a slice of flan from the dessert fridge. 3001 North Front Street, Fairhilll
Loco Lucho’s Latino Kitchen
After years of running Loco Lucho’s as a catering company, co-owner Luis Liceaga is now serving up chicarrones de pollo (Puerto Rican deep-fried chicken) in Reading Terminal Market, bringing the island’s street food to the masses from a stall located at the intersection of Avenues C and 5. The restaurant’s opening is historic, too — it’s the market’s first vendor specializing in Latin American food. Stop by for pinchos de churrasco (skewers of marinated steak with chimicurri sauce), chicken and sausage paella, or a Philly cheesesteak empanada. Even better? Liceaga recently told KYW that he created a foundation called Philly Love Puerto Rico, through which he plans to get other restaurants to join his in giving a percentage of their profits to Hurricane Maria relief efforts. 51 North 12th Street, Market East
Lechoneras — restaurants specializing in roast pork — can be found all over Puerto Rico, and this tiny, family-owned Kensington spot has been serving up a variety of tender and flavorful pork meals to boricuas craving a taste of home for years. If you’re looking to try authentic Puerto Rican eats, like chicharrónes (fried pork skin), mofongo con camarones (mashed, deep-fried plantain with shrimp), and arroz con gandules (yellow rice and pigeon peas), check this place out. 237 Cecil B. Moore Avenue, Kensington
Porky’s Point Take-Out Restaurant
Generous platters with tender, well-seasoned meat are popular among the loyal crowd of customers at this no-frills take-out window in North Philly. You can’t go wrong with their frituras (fried quick bites) like rellenos de papa (stuffed fried mashed potato balls) or the chicken pastellios (almost like an empanada). 3824 North 5th Street, North Philadelphia
Old San Juan Restaurant
This small buffet-style restaurant is a great place to sample a bunch of different Puerto Rican dishes. Get plates of tostones, mofongo con pernil and alcapurrias, and then go back for seconds. Try the bread pudding for dessert. It’s also great for grabbing to-go, but the line can get long, so come here with time to spare. 217 Marlton Avenue, Camden
El Coqui Panaderia
It’s not just a bakery: In addition to satisfying sweet tooth cravings since 2001, this small, family-owned business also offers daily specials on traditional meals like carne frita con guineos (fried pork with boiled green bananas) and carne guisada con arroz y habichuelas (beef stew with rice and beans). They bake a variety of breads and rich Puerto Rican desserts, and make fresh natural fruit juices with passion fruit, guava, tamarind, and soursop. Looking for an authentic dessert? Try the tembleque, a traditional coconut pudding. 3528 I Street, Juniata
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