I first learned about El Carajo from a guy named Raul Rojas who pronounces his name with brio and whose Twitter bio describes him as a “political junkie” and “advisor to revolutionaries.” I can’t corroborate that, but I can attest that the short fellow likes his martinis just so and does not hesitate to give a charming bartendress whatfor when she serves them against his liking. I don’t know Señor Rojas — I met him by chance at Sugarcane, in Midtown. But it was on his recommendation that I first went to El Carajo, a tapas and wine bar inside a BP gas station in South Miami, and I owe him a debt of gratitude.
First off, I’ve read enough of El Carajo’s Yelp reviews to realize that some people can’t stomach eating in a gas station, much less a BP. If you fall into that category (no shame in it), then don’t go, because the place is very much in a gas station. You park in the glow of large fluorescent letters, you walk across oil-stained pavement, the aroma of various grades of petrol fills your nostrils, you traverse a bright mini-market under closed-circuit surveillance, and, when the dining area quiets, you hear the the cashier’s barcode scanner beep-beep-beeping away.
All of which makes me like the place all the more. The juxtaposition of a tapas bar with a first-rate wine selection — 2,000 bottles from around the world — in a gas station isn’t just quirky. It’s freaking ingenious. I salute whoever had abiding faith in this particular version of “if you build it, they will come.” Judging by the packed house each of the several times I’ve eaten at El Carajo, he/she is making loot.