A single picnic table is the extent of the seating available at Caribbean Grill in Johnson City, so I usually order my food and take it with me. The intense aromas wafting from the plastic carryout bags, however, make it almost impossible to resist ripping into the food while driving.
The eatery, which is basically a brightly painted food truck set up as a permanent location in a parking lot near Mahoney’s in Johnson City, provides a tasty selection of ethnic foods from Puerto Rico, Peru, Cuba, Jamaica and Mexico.
According to Caribbean Grill’s Facebook page, the eatery is owned and operated by David and Maria Ramos.
This delightful and innovative eatery opened for business in February of 2012. Some of the daily specials are so popular with fans that they sell out quickly. I’ve tried on several different occasions to sample the Puerto Rican Pork Platter, but it always seems to sell out before I arrive.
On a recent Friday afternoon, however, I did discover another amazing dish — the Curry Oxtail Platter. Each time I visit, I discover a new favorite — Peruvian Steak Sandwiches, Chicken Fajitas, Caribbean Hot Dogs, Beef Empanadas — that are each just as tantalizing a treat for the taste buds.
On the occasion of my most recent visit, I also introduced a friend to Caribbean Grill. He ordered a Fried Shrimp Sandwich. Other available sandwiches include Steak, Chicken and Fried Fish, and they can be prepared with a range of seasonings, including Cajun, Curry, Jerk, Sweet Jerk, Barbecue and Peruvian. My friend chose to try the Jerk Seasoning.
His sandwich, served on a French roll, was heaped with wonderfully seasoned shrimp, which are breaded and fried to a golden-brown, as well as lettuce, tomato and onions.
The eatery offers a variety of side dishes, but they seem to be available on a rotating basis. One of my favorites has been the thick-cut Yucca Fries, which are fried to a crispy, golden perfection. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Caribbean Grill also introduced Arroz Chaufa, or Peruvian Chinese Rice, as a side dish. Slaw, potato salad and bags of chips are also among the other side items available to pair with the sandwiches or daily specials.
The oxtail platter I ordered on my recent visit was served with white rice (I asked about the new Peruvian Chinese Rice, but it wasn’t available that day), corn on the cob and a choice of cole slaw or potato salad.
If you’ve never tried oxtail, know that the Caribbean Grill’s flavorful version is tender like a slow-cooked roast and the meat slides easily off the bone. The generous helping is served over the white rice with some sweet corn on the cob. I chose the potato salad as my other side. This creamy potato salad is made with red-skinned potatoes and paired nicely with the oxtail. The entire platter is a perfect example of comfort/soul food at its best.
Allow some time for your order to be prepared. Trust me — it’s worth the occasional wait. I’ve actually found that the crew at Caribbean Grill run a smooth operation, which is even more amazing considered their limited amount of work space. They’re always helpful when taking my orders, and despite sometimes hectic conditions, service with a smile seems to be the rule.
Everything on the menu is flavorful, but not everything is particularly spicy. If you have a low tolerance for heat, know that the Caribbean Grill provides three levels of spice — mild, medium and ghost-hot. I haven’t been quite brave enough for the ghostly level of heat, but I have had no problem at all with a medium-level of spice.
I loved the oxtail, and I’ve never been steered wrong with any of the sandwich offerings. I’m still determined, however, to try that pork platter. If it sells out so swiftly, I suspect it has to be really good.
Be sure to pick up a couple of fruit empanadas to provide a sweet dessert at the end of your meal. Caribbean Grill offers Peach Empanadas and Apple Empanadas. The peach is my favorite, but they’re both fantastic and served with a drizzling of caramel sauce and dusting of powdered sugar.
The only thing that would be better in my mind is if the Caribbean Grill could provide weekend hours. But, it’s a mom-and-pop operation, so I suppose they are entitled to some rest and recuperation after four busy days of serving some fantastic food-truck fare with a Caribbean twist.
Rating the atmosphere of Caribbean Grill is something of a challenge, as it consists exclusively of take-out only or outdoor seating at a picnic table in a parking lot at a food truck — albeit a bright, colorful one.
If you haven’t visited the Caribbean Grill, don’t keep waiting. Believe me. You’ll love it. When you go, be sure to let them they come highly recommended.
AT A GLANCE: Caribbean Grill, 824 Sunset Drive, Johnson City. 218-5184. Tuesday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Wednesday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Friday, 11:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Menu items $10 and under. Cash only. Carryout available. Catering services available.