Sometimes you have to break the rules a little bit in the name of exciting dining. Such is the case with this week’s “A Taste of the Lemon” review. I strayed from the city by heading down Lemon Grove Avenue, about a mile past where it turns into Imperial. My destination was Caribbean Taste in South Encanto.
The owners of this small restaurant, situated in a nondescript strip mall, hail from Jamaica, and I’d heard they serve up the real thing. Caribbean-style cooking is something special, with a fusion of flavors and techniques drawn from the many influences that the islands have experienced.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with tourism groups all through the Caribbean. In my free time, I would eat very locally to get the real taste of the food and surroundings…and to avoid running into anybody from the group. I’m not shy about trying any restaurant, stand, or food cart that has a line. There is a reason for this: my incredible meals have far outweighed the negative ones.
When I walked into Caribbean Taste, it had the real feel. There are just six homey tables, with colorful tulip placemats and pineapple-shaped napkin holders. There is a Bob Marley poster on the wall, and the TV was showing the NBA playoffs. It was a very warm day in San Diego, so it was easy to believe I was in the Islands.
The food was real, too. We ordered the two most popular items. I had the curry goat, and my dining companion had the jerk chicken. Everything comes as a combo plate, served with red beans and rice, steamed vegetables, and fried plantains. All meals are available in a large or small order. We had the small plates for $8 each. To drink, we split an imported ginger beer for $1.50.
My plate had a nice portion of tender goat chunks in a complex, but not too spicy, brown curry gravy. It was served next to a perfect mix of beans and rice. The vegetables consisted of cabbage and greens with a little dice of carrots and peas, which added to the affair. The fried plantains were particularly yummy.
I sampled my companion’s jerk chicken—it was tender and juicy, without being overpowered by the seasonings. The portions were large and the service was outstanding. The cook even stopped by our table to ask if we were enjoying our meal, which we certainly were.
For the adventurous eater, there are many interesting items to try at Caribbean Taste. A Jamaican breakfast is available, with traditional codfish and various accompaniments. Specials are also offered, such as stew peas and cow foot. You never know what you like until you try it.
Caribbean Taste is located at 6171 Imperial Avenue in South Encanto. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m.–8 p.m., and Sunday, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. They accept credit cards, and offer food to go. They do not have a website, but you can call in your order to 619-795-1772.