Listen, I understand why people go to chain restaurants and fast food joints for lunch. It’s safe. It’s convenient, and after years of pigging out there, you know exactly what to expect. Who wants to gamble on lunch when you’re starving, have only an hour to eat, and need something hot and rich to make you forget what an asshole your boss is?
Walking into the Caribbean Palace in Takoma Park does, on some level, feel like a dare. It may be the most austere, white-washed joint I’ve ever seen. It looks as if someone took an old dry-cleaners store, attempted to turn it into a take-out, but ran out of cash shortly after the painters showed up. Half the time I walk in here, there’s no one at the counter. By the look of things, you feel like you should say a small, meditative prayer before placing any food into your mouth.
But don’t hesitate for a second. In a town full of really good Caribbean food—-most of which can be found along the upper reaches of Georgia Avenue NW—-I find myself pining for Caribbean Palace the most. It’s the joint’s roti that I can’t avoid for longer than a week at a stretch. The griddled flatbread itself is as flaky and rich as a croissant, balanced perfectly with the spicy, aromatic filling. You can order beef, goat, chicken, shrimp, or fish roti here, but I prefer the vegetarian roti, which avoids the chewiness problem that can plague some meat versions. Specifically, I order the combo veggie roti, stuffed with channa (chick peas), potato, and spinach. It’s more hearty and filling and satisfying than anything you’ll ever get from Potbelly or Ruby Tuesday or Wendy’s.
If you’re in the neighborhood, give it a shot. You may have yourself a new favorite lunch spot.
Caribbean Palace, 7680 New Hampshire Ave., Takoma Park. (301) 431-1563.