Editorial: Food Review – El Caribe

photo by Mars Leslie

photo by Mars Leslie

Mars Leslie, Staffer

El Caribe (the Caribbean) is a restaurant located in an inconspicuous building off of North Lamar Boulevard. Next to the restaurant was a sushi market which had been shut down years ago, and on the other side, a wireless data store. Upon approaching El Caribe, the front door and windows were littered with serious, but also funny signs, such as one sign that was up during the pandemic that said “If you are not wearing a mask, you are a persona non grata” in assorted color capital letters. The inside of the restaurant was also littered with detailed, caribbean inspired decorations and more funny signs, which highlights the humor-filled, community-focused reputation of the restaurant. 

I went to eat with my family on Halloween night. The night was special for the restaurant, which was celebrating its 21st anniversary. Owner Karla Martine, has been working at the restaurant the whole time it has been open. Martinez’s incredible sense of humor and passion for her business has kept it going through rough times, even when they were short staffed, and it was only her and a chef. Martinez’s energy-filled presence and attitude can scare people off if they don’t know what to expect, but when you get to know her, she’s incredibly nice. My parents have been going to the restaurant since college, over 20 years ago, and now have a pretty close relationship with Martinez. 

I ordered a combo meal, an entrée option which comes with a taco, a chicken enchilada, and a tamale. On the side, I had rice and beans, chips and queso, and an assortment of award-winning salsas. Their iconic salsa bar was, unfortunately, removed during the pandemic due to safety concerns and high costs, but not before it was given a proper funeral. The restaurant still makes a large variety of salsas, all varying in degrees of spiciness, such as various habanero, chipotle, and even pineapple salsas. I’ve been to many other Mexican restaurants in my time, and El Caribe’s salsa and food is unmatched. 

The laid back atmosphere of the restaurant highlights why a restaurant doesn’t need to be formal or fancy in order to have a nice experience. The quality of the building and the furniture are charming–although not top-tier–and the owner would scoff at the idea of a dress code. When busy, the restaurant can get loud, and the owner doesn’t mind joining in the fun.

All of their food is made with passion and quality. The plates are put into the oven with the food, so when they come out, the plates are steaming hot which Martinez makes sure to warn us about every time we visit. You’ll never have to worry about a wrong order and the staff is amazingly considerate to ensure that you don’t have any allergies, and your food is customized to your liking. 

The restaurant has also been a place for family gatherings. My family and I celebrate holidays, such as Mother’s Day, there or occasionally go when relatives are visiting. When I was younger, it became a tradition within my family to go at least once a month, so we could keep in touch with the owner and spend time together as a family.There is way more than what meets the eye to this restaurant, and it really gives a great example of why restaurants should not be judged by what they look like or how fancy they are.