El Carajo: Almost As Expensive As Sra. Martinez!
|All photos by Laine Doss|
|Keep walking past the pumps, the gum and the condoms to find the restaurant.|
That pretty much summed up my experience at El Carajo, the tapas restaurant hidden in the back of the BP gas station on US 1 and SW 17th Avenue.
I've been here before to buy gas and wine (they have a pretty decent wine selection...for a gas station), but never to dine. I just never got around to it.
Well, I finally did the other night. Like a speakeasy from prohibition, El Carajo is tucked away, past the cashier selling condoms and international phone cards. Decorated like a wine cellar (with a good selection of wines by the bottle), the place charmed me slightly. I've traveled around Central America and have eaten some of my favorite meals from gas stations hiding kitchens filled with good smells and cold beer.
|Mixed olives at El Carajo|
As we perused the menu (rolled in parchment and tied with twine, like a pirate map), I couldn't help but notice that these prices weren't cheap. But who cares when it comes time to eat, right? We ordered a cheese platter ($12), mixed marinated olives ($6), mushrooms sauteed in cabernet ($7), and piquillo peppers stuffed with cod ($10.50).
|At El Carajo, the gas is cheaper than the cheese plate.|
I'm not even talking about the quality. I'm talking about the value. I'm talking about ambiance and location and service and all that other stuff that goes into the dining experience.
So I did a little experiment. I compared El Carajo's prices to that of a small plates restaurant that no doubt is more expensive, has a better atmosphere and a better chef - Sra. Martinez. I purposely chose a restaurant that had to be at least twice the price of the modest little gas station, right? Uhh...wrong. They were surprisingly similar in price (though not in quality). Though the menu items weren't exactly the same, here's what I found:
At El Carajo, my meal (as described above) was $61.50 before tax and tip.
At Sra. Martinez (based on the online menu) I could order a similar meal of:
Olives ($4) and house pickles ($2), two cheeses ($10), mushrooms in truffled butter ($9), mussels al ajillo ($12) and a bottle of 2006 Granache ($27) for a total of $64 before tip and tax.
All in all, I'm all for out of the way, hole in the wall places with amazing food and great prices. But that's the key. The prices have to be great and the food has to be amazing. So for my dining dollars, I'll stick with Sra. Martinez. For the extra few bucks, I'll get delectable food by a great chef, with top-notch service in a beautiful room.
The only drawback? I'll have to stop for gas (and condoms) on my way home.Follow Short Order on Facebook and Twitter @Short_Order.