PHLGuide

The Best Caribbean Restaurants In Philly

The answer to fall-off-the-bone oxtail, diri djondjon, and mofongo withdrawal.
This is a spread of food from Kingston 11.

photo credit: NICOLE GUGLIELMO

There are a few things Caribbean restaurants have in common: generous portions, plantains as sides, and food worth obsessing over, like every three-letter text from someone you like. The great ones, though, will make even the most avid jerk chicken lover feel like they’re eating it for the first time. In such a diverse city with countless shops, it’s hard to know which Jamaican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Haitian restaurants have platters worth the wait. And that’s exactly why we made this guide.  

The Spots

photo credit: NICOLE GUGLIELMO

Jamaican

West Philadelphia

$$$$Perfect For:LunchCasual Weeknight DinnerSerious Take-Out OperationTakeawayPeople Watching

The crowd outside of Southwest Philly’s Kingston 11 is bigger than the one at Rita’s on the first day of spring. When you do get to the counter, though, make sure you grab an order of oxtails and a side of mac and cheese. The oxtails have a bit of sweetness from the tamarind and a touch of tanginess from the pimento berries, thyme sticks, and ginger they’re cooked in. As for the mac and cheese, it’s flowing with six mystery cheeses—we’re making it our life mission to uncover the blend. Until then, we can tell you that this creamy, smooth dish has us crossing a few parkways anytime we want some.  

Directly across from Ron's in the Northeast, Shana’s is a bright orange Jamaican spot that usually has a group of old men out front drinking Tings on a sunny day. you’ll find a spread of porridge and salt fish for breakfast, rotis, and an incredible brown stew chicken that we’d put on the “Welcome To The Great Northeast” sign if we could. There’s a large dining room with cushy booths where you can take your curry goat and heaping portions of two sides (go for the spicy cabbage and yams) and watch a soccer match. The platters come in small, medium, and large. For a heartier meal, go for the large and you’ll have enough food to scarf down for days. 

photo credit: CANDIS R. MCLEAN

This Olney restaurant is where you go for classics like pwason fri and fluffy black rice, as well as rasta pasta with grilled shrimp. It’s the best Haitian restaurant in Philly. The BYOB has lots of large wooden tables, so it’s an easy place to walk in with a few friends at the last minute, pass around some wine, and eat big pieces of oxtail. While there are lots of dishes on the menu, they have our favorite griot in the city. The tender braised bits of pork have a lemony flavor, giving it a nice blend of salt and citrus. Since they close at 10pm, it’s a good solution post bar hopping or after being sucked into the Phillies game and realizing you have nothing to eat at 8pm.  

Despite the name, Amy’s Pastelillos in Fishtown isn’t all about the deep-fried meat pies. Everything the Puerto Rican shop makes is pretty great. From the excellent sides like pickled yuca to the various bowls (go for the Vegano) and loaded sweet and spicy tostones nachos, it’s all going to make you feel like you’ve been doing this meal thing all wrong. Of course, all of the pastelillos are fantastic, but it’s the sweet chopped guava pork that has us lining up. They're only open from 11am to 3pm, Wednesday to Saturday, so plan ahead to leave with something you’ll be talking about tomorrow. 

We had to drive around South Street for 20 minutes and dodge three sloppy drunks leaving Founding Fathers to try the Cuban sandwich here. Totally worth it. The Center City Cuban spot layers a long, crusty roll with mustard, ham, roast pork, and melted swiss cheese that hold pickles in place, making one deliciously salty, juicy sandwich. The rest of the Cuban dishes—croquettes with marshmallow-soft centers and flaky empanadas that you’ll want to buy by the dozen—are also excellent. Walk into the bright space for a strong early morning coffee or creamy smoothie, sing along to Celia Cruz, and have a sandwich worth navigating the city for.  

Walk into this Trini bakery in West Philly around noon and you may find that the rest of the neighborhood has beaten you to all the flaky beef patties in the display case. Don't let this happen. If it does, have no fear—Brown Sugar also makes great, thin-crusted chicken curry patties as well as slightly sweet coconut rolls. Stop in when you want saltfish for breakfast, or on a Saturday for weekend-only doubles and curry goat platters with cabbage.

Ron’s Caribbean has two locations (North Philly and the Northeast) where they serve classic Jamaican dishes like curry goat, jerk chicken, and patties. All of their platters are generously filled and come with sides like peas and rice, stewed cabbage, and sauteed okra with a little spice. And they’ll all come in handy when student loans rob your paycheck of a digit or two. The $13 brown stewed chicken platter, with stewed meat, is the best thing to get here. The sauce they drench it in is like a thick, chicken gravy with a smokiness so delicious we scrape the carton just to get the last drop. 

Good, slow-roasted pernil, and what's almost certainly the highest concentration of Puerto Rican flags in Philly—that's Boricua 2 in Port Richmond, the larger sibling of the original Boricua in Northern Liberties. There's plenty of room inside to eat solid Puerto Rican classics like mofongo, beef and chicken turnovers, and pollo guisado. And while you're hanging out, you'll probably hear laughter from the kitchen and see the staff ask about the family members of at least four people who walk inside. Order your dish as a platter—that way, it'll come with sides like evenly seasoned beans or thinly sliced plantains.

For consistently solid food, you're in good hands at Jamaican D’s. And even though the wait at this Chelten Ave. spot can get longer than a barbershop’s on the weekend, a platter of jerk chicken, rice and peas, and cabbage is worth sticking around to eat. Plus, once you’ve ordered, they’re quick, so you don’t have to wait too long before biting into their chicken that’s dripping with jerk sauce. And to cool your mouth down, get the cinnamony sweet potatoes. They’re mashed, and after your first pillowy spoonful, you won’t want to eat anything else.

Although it’s one of the best Puerto Rican spots in the city, there’s never a wait at Freddy and Tony’s in Kensington. This means you’ll feel like you snagged the number one ticket at the deli when you come in for an order of crispy chicken pastelillos or beef stew, white rice, and beans. You can always count on this place for excellent pernil that’s well-seasoned—which is even better as a sandwich on a long, toasty roll—so it has a salty, sweet pop to each bite. You’ll encounter families who’ve been here three times this week and friends pulling out rum for piña coladas (it’s a BYOB) while they wait for a roasted chicken platter to share.

One bite into the island wings at 48th Street Grille has us feeling better than canceled plans on a Friday night. The wings come in an order of 10 and have a smoky, charred flavor highlighted by an orangey glaze. And they aren’t the only shareable thing on the Caribbean spot’s menu. The West Philly restaurant has braised oxtails and curried goat that can be passed around the table with a big group, and they even have a catering menu for when nobody wants to cook on Thanksgiving. 

photo credit: EMILY SCHINDLER

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Sometimes you start planning your day around your next sip of sopa de camarones, or catch yourself thinking about biting into a slab of seasoned yuca at a red light. Mixto, a Washington Square Pan-Latin and Caribbean spot, has us daydreaming about both of these dishes, as well as a maduro relleno stuffed with spiced Cuban-style beef and then coated with a layer of gooey mozzarella. This is also a great place to grab a drink and watch a game since they have a big bar with a TV. 

With island art on the wall, colorful chandeliers, and mannequins decked out in Trini carnival costumes, you would think Flambo is putting on a production you might find across the street at The Met. Luckily, you won’t have to keep reloading the Ticketmaster page to get your hands on an order of blackened shrimp sauteed in a buttery, peppery sauce and stewed chicken drenched in a tomato sauce—the Center City spot is pretty open when it comes to reservations. When you stop by, go for the curry chicken dhalpuri. The takari dish wraps strips of firey chicken, slow-simmered chickpeas, and grilled onions in a warm flatbread.

If you want to eat Haitian food that’s as tasty as it is filling, head to Lawndale’s Fritay Lakay. Open as early as 8:30am daily, start your day with a plantain porridge, a yam mash mixed with nuts and dried fruit, or breakfast spaghetti that tosses in bell peppers, onions, and sausage in a tomato sauce. On days when it’s so cold that going outside is offensive, go for the bouillon. It’s a stew that blends thick cuts of beef with carrots, noodles, and plantains, and feels like a complete, hearty meal in one bowl. 

Parada Maimon is a Dominican spot in Callowhill that’s as hot and cold as the Tinder match who's currently playing mind games with you. Sometimes we stop by during open hours and the doors are locked; other times, we can’t get through on the phone. But when you’re lucky enough to get an order of their deep-fried red snapper, plantains, yellow rice and beans, and fresh-squeezed mango juice, it’s always worth the effort. The breading on the fish has a great crunch, and the batter has a ton of fiery peppers mixed in, so you might need to have one of those juices, by the gallon, on standby. 

Zion’s Cuisine is one of our go-to spots in the city for Jamaican food. The oxtails here are extremely succulent, smothered in a tangy gravy, with the perfect amount of peppery spice. Each platter is made-to-order and comes with your choice of two sides. Our favorites are the rice and peas and a creamy mac and cheese that will have you considering getting a tattoo of an elbow macaroni. 

There’s a ton of great Caribbean food in West Philly, and Quality Taste is up there among the best. The counter-only spot is tiny, but it’s a great place to grab some quick take-out or jerk coconut shrimp after work. Our favorites here are the curry goat and braised oxtail, but you can pick a bunch of different things and get them all served over heaps of steamy, spicy rice.

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