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Eva’s Caribbean Kitchen serves up mellow moods and bold flavors.

The Jamaican jerk salmon, which is grilled to order, pairs well with Eva’s Knockout Rum Punch.
The Jamaican jerk salmon, which is grilled to order, pairs well with Eva’s Knockout Rum Punch.

By Karlee Prazak | Photos by Jody Tiongco

It was an uncharacteristically cold evening when we first walked through the doors of Eva’s Caribbean Kitchen. But upon entering, chef and owner Eva Madray warmly greets everyone along with the scent of simmering island cuisine. The calm yet lively atmosphere, a product of both the people and brightly colored decor, proves every seat in the house is a good one.

The crowd is full of regulars and Eva, a 30-year Laguna resident, can easily point out the lucky few tables occupied by tourists. She treats every customer like a guest of her own dinner party, expertly navigating the tables, offering a suggestion here or accepting a compliment there. Her charm makes it hard to turn down a menu full of rum-based libations—specifically Eva’s Knockout Rum Punch, which perfectly balances fruity notes with cinnamon, clove and ginger to complement the bold rum.

To begin, Eva suggests tapas-style Cajun prawns—a dish she began recommending as a “date icebreaker” when the south Laguna restaurant first opened under her name in 1999. Those who like heat will appreciate this dish, seasoned with 16 spices, including ghost pepper, and then marinated for four months. To temper the spice, Eva suggests dipping bread in the accompanying grilled pineapple, roasted pepper and passion fruit relish.

Cajun prawns, seasoned with 16 spices, including ghost pepper
Cajun prawns, seasoned with 16 spices, including ghost pepper

Eva’s main menu is filled with fresh Caribbean dishes inspired by her mother’s eclectic takes on African, Dutch and Indian cuisines. “I grew up on the Atlantic coast [after moving from South America], and as the fishermen would come in, they would give first choice to my mom, so I realized how important that freshness is,” she explains. “Everything I serve is fresh, not frozen.”

This is best illustrated by the West Indian curried snapper. Unlike other curries, Indian curry requires no coconut milk or water. After a seven-hour prep, the resulting complex flavor profile produces a flaky snapper filet that marries well with the accompanying fresh vegetables, rice and fried plantains. The grilled-to-order Jamaican jerk salmon is another standout catch. This dish can also be served with a rib-eye steak or chicken if those proteins appeal more. Each entree is crafted to allow for leftovers or leave diners satisfied, but not weighed down by heavy ingredients—meaning there’s room for a final course.

Bright decor creates a warm, inviting atmosphere.
Bright decor creates a warm, inviting atmosphere.

Dessert is just one more chance for Eva to impress diners with exotic ingredients in traditional treats. Take the coconut creme brulee, for example; its perfectly caramelized custard gives just the right ratio of milk and sugar to coconut in every bite.

Yet the best thing about Eva’s Caribbean Kitchen might just be that she serves satisfying island food without the burden of being on “island time.” LBM

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