A while back, a hound wrote to say he recalled Caribbean restaurants "all along" both Florence and Centinela Avenues in Inglewood. So I went to investigate. From what I can find, there's one Caribbean restaurant on each street. Here are the specifics:
Coley's Caribbean-American Cuisine
300 E. Florence
The Caribbean Tree House
1226 Centinela Ave
(The latter phone number is different from what I reported earlier.)
I went and had lunch at each one, and they're both good in their way. They couldn't be more different. In fact they are opposites in every possible way. Coley's (which I think is a different business from Coley's in Leimert Park) is a mid-scale Jamaican restaurant in a Coco's-like building in a strip-mall parking lot, more Caribbean-themed inside than really Caribbean. Caribbean Tree House is a totally authentic Caribbean place that's literally in a shack up against the road. (There's an auto club office next door if you want to get some maps or something.) If you want a professionally run restaurant, go to Coley's. If you want a place that runs on its own clock, and where the food on offer may or may not correspond to the menu, go to Caribbean Tree House.
Both places were mostly deserted since I arrived at the beginning of the lunch hour, before noon. But each had a half-dozen Caribbean folks hanging around, with no clear line between who worked there and who was a customer or friend passing by. Coley's lost points right away with a big-screen TV that dominated the main eating area. It was on and tuned to CNN. TV's in restaurants do not make me happy -- I assume they're there to keep you from wanting to linger, so they can turn the tables over more quickly -- so I asked the guy to seat me somewhere that I could commune with my paperwork. At that point the guy started treating me with this mock-polite tone like my every breath was a cultural faux pas. At Caribbean Tree House, on the other hand, there was no TV. They just cheerfully told me what I should be ordering and sat me down.
Now, finally, about the chow. Again the two places are opposites. Coley's had a relatively expensive $10.50 buffet. The food was good. I had jerked chicken (which is the Jamaican equivalent of barbecue), fried plantains, and steamed vegetables. It was all on steam-trays, so I'm guessing it's not as good as it would be a la carte. But it was good. The jerked chicken was intensely seasoned. They also had curry goat, but I only had a taste because (as often with goat) it was full of bones. I think the steamed vegetables were slathered in butter (at least I don't know what else it could have been), which is always annoying from a health standpoint.
At Caribbean Tree House, on the other hand, I was instructed to get the chicken lunch special (never mind that the official lunch special for Wednesdays was beef). It was $3.96 if I recall correctly -- plainly not intended as a feast for royalty. (The dinners listed on the menu, including side dishes, were something like $8 apiece.) It turned out to be a cup of rice, some lentils and salad, and two very small pieces of bony chicken. The lentils and chicken were authentically seasoned, but nothing to write home about.
So there you have it. I can't say I ended up being wildly enthusiastic about either place. Of course my experience may not be representative, and your mileage may vary, but my conclusion based on a single visit to each place is that you can get good food or an authentic vibe, but to get both you have to go to what I believe is the original Coley's over on Crenshaw (4335 S. Crenshaw Blvd.; 323/290-4010).
These three I've mentioned are hardly the only Caribbean restaurants in the LA area. On my way home, in fact, I stumbled across a place that I had never heard of before. I think it's called "Auntie P.'s", and it's on La Cienaga just below Washington, on the west side of the street. And driving around south-central the other day I saw cardboard posters on lampposts advertising a place that may have been at something like 40th and Vermont. (I'm afraid I didn't write down the details.) And there are Caribbean markets etc.
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