BY ALICIA VALENSKI
A cold glass of rum punch in your hand, the soft sounds of Caribbean music playing, the intoxicating scent of jerk chicken sizzling on the grill… If that sounds like the description of an exotic getaway, then you haven’t explored the authentic Caribbean experiences and cuisine that Charlotte has to offer.
Walk through the heart of NoDa and you’ll be greeted by restaurants with roots of all kinds, from Southern to Cajun to Latin-American and—you guessed it—Caribbean. Nestled between Haberdish and Crepe Cellar on North Davidson Street, you can’t miss the bright green, orange, and yellow exterior of Mango’s Caribbean Restaurant.
A step through those inviting lime-hued doors, and you’ll be transported to a tropical oasis. Murals of beach scenes adorn the walls, complete with swaying palm trees and calm, glittering waters. Vibrant shades of orange and green are carried throughout from the exterior to the chairs, windows, and bar.
Speaking of the bar, Mango’s has a lengthy list of island-inspired cocktails to choose from. Try the Tropical Dream ($10), a delightful blend of Malibu coconut rum, Blue Curaçao, banana liqueur, and pineapple juice for something bright and fruity—or if you’d prefer something more refreshing, opt for the Mango Mojito ($10) made with muddled mint and limes shaken with mango puree and Bacardi, topped with club soda.
Pair your beverage of choice with one of the Caribbean-fusion starters, like the Jerk Chicken Nachos ($8.50), Tropical Hush Puppies ($6.50), or the Salt Fish Fritters ($7.75) with a spicy mango aioli. If you’d prefer something light, consider the Ceviche ($10.75) made with fresh vinaigrette shrimp and red pepper mango pico for a refreshing blend of citrus and heat.
But the entree selection is where Mango’s really shines. The Jerk Pork ($14.95) boasts sweet and spicy sliced, roasted pork served with red chimichurri and yuca al mojo, a traditionally Cuban side comprised of cassava, garlic, and onions. Or if you’re really feeling hungry, you could order an Island Charcoal Roasted Chicken ($9.25 for a quarter chicken, $12.25 for a half chicken, or $22.50 for a whole chicken), which comes with two sides—the fried plantains and rice and beans are not to be missed.
On the main strip in Plaza Midwood, you can find a hip atmosphere and creative cuisine at Mama’s Caribbean Grill & Bar—not to mention huge portions, served hot and fresh with a welcoming smile from the friendly chef and servers.
Here, all entrees are served in the traditional Jamaican fashion with rice and peas, and you get to choose two sides beyond that. Try the Brown Stewed Chicken ($9.50), in which the chicken is fried and then stewed in a brown gravy with carrots, tomatoes, and onions. Or opt for Jamaica’s national dish, Ackee & Saltfish ($16.75). The saltfish, often cod, is sauteed with boiled ackee, a fruit grown only in warm climates which can be poisonous if not cooked properly. But don’t worry, the folks in the kitchen at Mama’s know just how to prepare this national delicacy—they’ve been doing it for decades.
And don’t forget to order a cup of Mama’s Jamaican Tea ($1.63). Sweet, tangy, and refreshing, you’ll see it on the tables of nearly every patron in the restaurant, many of whom order a refill (or two) before finishing their meal.
Just minutes away in Villa Heights, you’ll know you’re getting close to Finga Lickin’ Caribbean Eatery when you begin to notice the mouthwatering scents of chicken, goat, pork, and oxtail cooking in authentic Caribbean fashion over a smoking pit wafting from a lime green building with yellow trim.
Inside, a cozy and bustling dining room awaits with cheerful yellow walls and Jamaican-inspired decor. To start things off, order a Beef Patty ($2.50) or two, paired with some Coco Bread ($2). From there, opt for a classic Jamaican dish like Oxtail ($15) or Curry Goat ($15), served with either rice and peas or yellow rice and two sides—the Mac & Cheese and the Steamed Cabbage come highly recommended.
There are plenty of options at Finga Lickin’ to quench your thirst, but Ting ($2.50) is one of the most popular. Well-known throughout the Caribbean, it’s a soda flavored with Jamaican grapefruit that is light and refreshing without being too sweet. Order one to go when you leave after your meal to save a little taste of the islands for later, when those Caribbean cravings inevitably kick back in again.