Every now and then I stumble upon a restaurant — or in this week’s case, two — where the food is so good it completely blows me away. But as exciting as spots like this are to find, the discovery is even sweeter when they turn up in the most unlikely of places.
In locations and settings where you’d least expect to find them.
There’s no fancy building, no hostess greeting you at the door, no white tablecloths or cloth napkins. There’s no piped-in background music, little in the way of ambiance and — in the case of one of these places — not even actual silverware.
But the food and friendliness (and the food!) at both places are so phenomenal, you won’t care a lick about any of that other stuff.
Today is your lucky day, dear readers. Meet Karubees Jamaican Restaurant and Shima’s Family Restaurant. Prepare for an “eyes rolling back in your head” kind of meal at both places.
Karubees Jamaican Restaurant
Serving up the best restaurant meal I’ve had in ages, hands down, this little place in Dunbar is earning a legion of loyal followers who can’t get enough of its mouthwatering, authentic Jamaican food.
Located in a simple block building that used to be the home of Maria’s Pizza and still houses a video lottery bar on the other side, Karubees Jamaican Restaurant is definitely a no-frills kind of place.
You simply walk in, scan the day’s offerings scribbled on the board and order your taste of heaven — which most do to-go. Although there are a couple of tables in the place, I’ve never seen anyone actually eat there.
Those heavenly offerings I spoke of include Jamaican jerk, brown stew or curry chicken; BBQ or jerk chicken wings; and beef oxtail, curry or ribs. There are also seafood options like curry shrimp, fried whiting, jerk salmon and occasionally Jamaican brown stew snapper and king fish.
You select a meat or seafood entrée, then complete your platter with two side dishes. You can’t go wrong with any of them, but the collard greens and steamed cabbage are especially top-notch. You can also try the rice and peas, fried plantains, sweet corn and other solid selections.
Prices aren’t fast-food cheap, with platters ranging from $9 to $18, but that’s an absolute steal for such top-quality cuisine.
I’m telling you folks, this is real-deal Jamaican food and it’s incredible. And that curry goat and beef oxtail? Life changing.
IF YOU GO: Karubees Jamaican Restaurant, 1000 Grosscup Ave. in Dunbar, is open from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday, noon to 8:30 p.m. Saturday, and closed Sunday-Tuesday. (Opening hours have been a little inconsistent, so definitely call first before making the trip.) For more information, call 877-617-7076, visit www.karubees.com or check out the restaurant’s Facebook page.
Shima’s Family Restaurant
A little further down the road at the foot of the St. Albans/Nitro bridge on the Nitro side, a place I’m calling “the little restaurant that could” has been building so much love — and momentum — that it has already recently tripled it’s dining area to accommodate increasing crowds.
That place is Shima’s Family Restaurant, and if you just utter the word “Shima” around anyone who has been there, you better stand back and brace yourself for a sudden flood of gushing.
People are fanatical about this spot, and for good reason. The food is fresh, simple and addictingly good. The service is friendly and “Shima” himself is a real character you’ll love meeting. After years working for Bob Evans, he opened his own restaurant to rave reviews.
The large menu is pretty diverse with lots of sandwiches, salads, burgers and platters, along with a handful of Asian-inspired dishes.
You can select from more than a dozen mostly fried appetizers and wings, a couple of salads, hot dogs and corn dogs, seven diverse burgers, 15 different sandwiches and posted daily special meals like baked steak, meatloaf, lasagna and many more.
On my first trip, I had to try the two dishes I’d heard the most buzz about, never mind they were both big, filling rice dishes.
There’s no question what you should order on your first of what will become many visits here. The Hiroshima is an intensely flavored deep-fried rice ball stuffed with chicken and topped with chicken, broccoli and teriyaki sauce poured over it. Incredible.
I complimented that delicious rice ball with a side of, I’m not kidding, bacon-fried rice. Because, well, bacon. It was so good it made me marvel why no one had thought of this before.
On a subsequent trip, I enjoyed a beautifully messy Hawaii Five O grilled chicken sandwich smothered with sautéed onions and peppers, grilled pineapple, teriyaki sauce and white American cheese. The fries that came with it were delicious, and the crab puff I sampled before it was the best I’ve ever had. I don’t know how they made it so silky inside, but it wasn’t like every other version out there.
I can’t wait to go back to try “DeDe’ Daily Home-Cooked Specials,” which I’ve heard are legendary, and Shima’s selection of deep-fried dessert eggrolls — especially one I’ve seen on Facebook drowning under heaps of peanut butter cream, chocolate and whipped cream.
Just a warning before you go: Remember how I said these two restaurants were delicious, but not at all “fancy.” I’m not going to lie, the dining area at Shima’s needs some love. I was thrilled to hear they expanded, so I know the area is still a work in progress, but the mismatched furniture, bare walls and unfinished areas would benefit greatly from a little sprucing up.
But if you can look beyond that — and focus more on what’s on your plate than what’s on the walls around you — you are going to go absolutely nuts over this place.
IF YOU GO: Shima’s Family Restaurant, 505 1st Ave. in Nitro, is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and closed Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 304-722-6732, visit www.shimasfamilyrestaurant.com or check out the restaurant’s Facebook page.