El Carajo International Tapas and Wines

Reviewed by: Alfredo Rossano, Christ-Ann Magloire, William Crowley

Name:Alfredo Rossano
Occupation: Business Banking Manager
Lives In:  Miami
Restaurant Pick:  El Carajo
Reviewed El Carajo: September 8th, 2009

As you approach the BP gas station and drive by the pumps to find parking, you do not expect to find a Zagat rated Spanish restaurant with a selection of more than 1,800 different types of wine hidden in the back of the gas station’s convenience store. From the moment you enter the convenience store, your ears are busy listening to people at one end of the store saying “$20 on # 4 please” and listening to the beautiful native music of Spain playing in the background. Your taste buds will thank you for the delicious tapas, large portioned entrees, and refreshing fruity sangria. The prices are moderate; the food is authentic; the service is superb; and most of the servings are enough for two. The best part of it all is it’s hidden, and you and your dining partner can have a one-to-one personal dinning experience, without the nuisance of having other loud dining parties close to you. Highly recommend if you would like to an “out of the ordinary” dining experience.

Name:  Christ-Ann Magloire
Occupation:  Physician
Lives In:  Miami
Restaurant Pick:  De Vito South Beach
Reviewed El Carajo: September 15th,2009

I drove up and down the street at least 3 times; I could not find any building with the address or anything which looked like a restaurant in the vicinity. I finally called the restaurant and they told me they were located in the BACK OF THE GAS STATION EXPRESS STORE. There was no real signage. If my husband would’ve taken me there, driven up and told me we were going to eat at the back of a gas station stop shop, I wouldn’t have gotten out of the car. But I had a job to do. I went in and walked by the potato chips and donuts to the back. At first I saw the foods on display under the light bulb, got a little scared, and then spotted a hostess so I asked to be seated. I tried to find someplace warm since the air conditioning was blowing hard. There was a great array of wines from all over the world; I couldn’t wait to get a sampling.

I was brought warm breads and water with the menu. The menu did not capture me, there was nothing really appetizing and I thought the items in the menu were overpriced. Remember ‘the back of the gas station.” The waitress was not especially helpful with the wine selection, in fact she was extremely impartial. I had to get back to work so I decided not to have any wine.

The meal was ok. It came sizzling like a fajita, and I love a great presentation. It was not what I imagined, but it was good nonetheless. I ordered coffee, and off back to work I go. I would love to see this restaurant in an appropriate setting because it is extremely hard for me to look over the fact that it is located at the back of a gas station.

Name:  William Crowley
Occupation: Dance Instructor
Lives In: Bay Harbor Islands
Restaurant Pick:  Scorch Grillhouse & Wine Bar
Reviewed El Carajo: September 4th, 2009

If you don't know what you are looking for, you will drive right past El Carajo and if you are like me, you will drive by it numerous times. I assumed after the second u-turn on SW 17th Avenue that there must have been a mistake when Check, Please! South Florida provided me with the address. A local gas station was located on the corner, so I decided to pull in and ask an employee if they were familiar with the restaurant that I was looking for in the area. When I pulled up to the gas station's convenience store, I looked through the double glass doors and saw what was surely the impossible. I looked again and my mouth dropped open in disbelief; a Spanish arch located in the back wall of the convenience store. The restaurant I was looking for was located in... a gas station?

I walked into the BP, and sure enough El Carajo was there, waiting for anyone who was adventurous enough to sit down and eat in the most unlikely of places. I walked through the arch and found myself facing a long wooden table with stools all around it. Against the back wall was an impressive collection of wines waiting to be bought. To the right, the space opened up into an actual restaurant with tables and chairs. Still a bit taken back, but with curiosity quickly taking over, I sat down on one of the stools at the long table.

I was greeted immediately by a very pleasant female server and asked if I would like to have a glass of wine. I chose the Tempranillo, a very pleasant red wine. As I sipped my wine, I was madly text messaging everyone I knew; I'm having lunch at a gas station! IN the gas station! I couldn't stop laughing to myself. What an odd place to serve food, and how did anyone ever find this restaurant in the first place?

I looked over the extensive menu of salads, soups, cold and hot tapas, and main entrees. This was no small enterprise; they were serving up some serious food here. I decided to start with the Galician soup with ham, garlic and kale, in one word: delicious. With so much flavor I could not believe anything so good could be served in such a place. After sipping every last drop of soup, I quickly ordered two hot tapas selections. I could not wait to see if the actual food was just as good. It was.

My first selection was Gambas al Ajillo: Shrimp in garlic sauce. Served in a small cassoulet dish, the shrimp were submerged in a strong garlic and oil sauce, dripping with flavor. I enjoyed the selection very much, but it was very hot in the dish it may have actually been cooked in. If I had taken the time to let it cool down a bit, I think I may have enjoyed it even more, but I knew my second selection was to be served soon.

The second selection was Champignons y Chorizo a la Cabernet: Sausage and sautéed mushrooms in a demiglace sauce and red wine. Once again, I was amazed at both the quality of the ingredients and the flavors involved. The sausage was excellent, and the sauce was a perfect compliment to it.

As I had not ordered dessert at my previous two dining assignments, I felt the need to at least try one here. Although two servers recommended the Milk Crepe with Ice Cream, I decided on the Santiago Cake, which was an Almond Torte. This was the only disappointment of the entire meal. The torte did not have much flavor or texture to it, and was the least interesting item of all the selections I ordered. I have a feeling if I had gone with what was suggested, my meal would have been complete from start to finish. If anything, it is an excuse to go back to El Carajo and try it another time.

I must admit, of the three dining assignments, El Carajo was my favorite. Although skeptical at first because of the unlikely location, the pleasant wait staff, efficient service, and flavorful food all combined to make my lunch at the BP gas station a memorable one. If you want to have a truly unique dining experience, and fill up your gas tank at the same time, pull into El Carajo!