Holiday shopping the old-fashioned way is no fun — jostling crowds of shoppers accosting surly sales folk and making their purchases from a rapidly dwindling inventory.
You need time away from the madness, but not so far away that you have to deal with a lot of holiday-buyers’ traffic just getting back into the fray. That’s where David and Maria of the Caribbean Grill come in.
Situated on Sunset Drive next to Mahoney’s, their green-and-white food van is just the place to take a well-deserved shopping break with some of the best food this side of the Spanish Main.
David is from Puerto Rico, while Maria hails from Peru by way of the New York City area. Both have brought their family recipes to town, and in Maria’s case her family, too. Her mother joins the couple in working wonders with slow-roasted pork, chicken (of the marinated and jerk varieties), thin-sliced steak and some of the best veggies and side dishes that ever warmed your tummy.
My dining partner, the Retiree and I were barreling up Sunset Drive escaping the shopping maelstrom when the Caribbean Grill came into view. It took one look between the three of us and we pulled in for a bite, and a breather.
As I approached the window, one of the several customers already in line hollered to me, “You gotta get the pork today.”
David then handed me a fragrant, steaming sample and three forks. “Here, try some,” he said.
The Retiree was convinced after tasting her first morsel and ordered the Pork Platter ($8.50) and a drink.
My dining partner spotted the words “Cuban Sandwich” ($7) on the van’s colorful chalkboard menu, and chose that as her meal.
I was curious as to what a Peruvian Lomo Saltado Platter ($8.50) was and decided I’d find out. I opted for chicken as the protein.
Five frenzied minutes later, the people inside the green van produced our orders, and the three of us sat down at a convenient (and spotless) nearby table to dig in.
The pork platter was delicious in all respects, from the mildly spiced and slow-cooked pork to a tasty serving of rice and peas sure to give any Caribbean expatriate a case of homesickness. The potato salad was good, while the side of sweet corn on the cob was fresh as new-picked.
My Lomo Saltado turned out to be a spicy vegetable sauté with strips of marinated chicken breast served over saffron-yellow rice as well as the potato salad and corn on the cob.
Originating in Peru, the dish’s vegetable sauté included strips of white potato with onions, peppers, carrots and tomatoes. The spices leaned heavily on the chili variety, yet there were hints of a peppery something with a tantalizingly molten nature.
It was a superb dish, one that needs a tall glass of horchata to cool both it and you off.
My partner’s continuing quest for the perfect Cuban sandwich reached a milestone, as Caribbean Grill’s version is truly magnificent.
The slow-cooked pork is sliced and paired with “city“ ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickle slices and yellow mustard, all served on a crunchy grilled baguette. The result is nothing short of amazing, as their Cuban sandwich is definitely in a class by itself.
Served with chips and a drink, you’ve got a Latino workingman’s lunch costing less than $10.
They also serve empanada savory pies filled with beef or beef and cheese, and the sweet version with peach or apple filling. Each are $1.85.
The Caribbean Grill’s offerings change constantly depending on what David and Maria find fresh at the market that day. Check their Facebook page for the current menu.
They are open for lunch Tuesday through Friday and only take cash, but you shouldn’t have to stop by the ATM. Pocket change is all you need to eat and eat well at the Caribbean Grill.
Caribbean Grill824 Sunset Drive(next to Mahoney’s)Johnson City218-5184Tue. 11 a.m.– 3 p.m.Wed. 11 a.m.– 4 p.m.Thur. 11 a.m.– 5 p.m.Fri. 11 a.m.– 6 p.m.Available on FacebookCash only