Chef Isaiah Martinez of Yardy Rum Bar. Photo by Todd Cooper.

Hyper-Local, Market Driven and Caribbean

Yardy Food Cart chef and owner Isaiah Martinez never lost sight of his ultimate goal to open a restaurant

With relentless attention to detail, chef Isaiah Martinez has been expanding his culinary techniques since 2009.

Martinez tells Eugene Weekly that fine dining institutions, or as he refers to them, “baller restaurants,” can be affordable and sustainable with farm-to-table cooking. He brought this belief with him to Eugene when he first arrived in 2018, emphasizing, “Cooking from scratch is just what it takes to be a chef. That is not a flex,” Martinez says. “Cooking out of a box, bottle or can is just being an uncle who cooks from the hip.”

Farm-to-table cuts the distributing middleman — or the grocery store — out of the deal. Food instead directly travels from the farm into the chef’s hands. Maintaining a commitment to cooking with local ingredients has always been a part of Martinez’s ethos.

Escovitch Fish — Roasted Whole Trout, Allspice Pickles, Spring Fried Rice. Photo by Todd Cooper.

“I love the connection I have with each individual farmer,” he says. “That’s exactly how [Caribbean] islanders cook.”

Martinez grew up eating traditional Caribbean dishes like curry goat with roti in Brooklyn, as his paternal roots are from Grenada and Puerto Rico. When he was a teenager, Martinez’s dream was to open a restaurant where he could celebrate his culture. 

Before moving to Eugene, Martinez was a sous chef in the Bay Area, where he discovered that elevating dining from a casual level to a refined one is possible with farm-to-table cooking.

Martinez moved to Eugene at the request of one of his mentors, chef Rocky Maselli — creator and owner of Osteria DOP and DOP food cart. Martinez worked alongside Maselli for six months during the pandemic at the DOP food cart saying, “It was like working with family. Rocky is like my kitchen and restaurant dad.”

It was then that Martinez was surprised to see that the majority of high-end restaurants in the area were not farm-to-table. “Eugene was — and is — behind times,” he says. “Here the only restaurants that use good and fresh ingredients are the ones who charge a lot more money.”

Jerk Chicken with Broccoli, Sunchoke Puree, Jerk Sauce. Photo by Todd Cooper.

During the pandemic, Martinez understood that opening a restaurant was impractical and instead pivoted to the food cart scene. He knew that he needed something that could dominate takeout. That’s when the idea struck him — pan-fried chicken.

 Martinez takes inspiration from Caribbean chef Sarah Kirnon, who owned the restaurant Miss Ollies in Oakland, California, until 2019 before converting it into a nonprofit incubator for Black chefs, artists and other creators. Martinez says, “The skillet fried chicken recipe has been in her family for years. She was the only Caribbean chef I have ever worked for, and she inspires me a lot.”

The pan-fried chicken is rubbed with a house-roasted spice blend. It is dredged in gluten-free flour and shallow fried in rice bran oil for the perfect crunch.

But Martinez wanted to offer an alternative takeout item to fried chicken for his vegan and vegetarian patrons. “To me, doubles were it,” he says.

Doubles are two deep-fried turmeric flatbreads that are made with a blend of cumin, fennel seed, black pepper and yeast. They puff up into pillows of bread goodness and are topped with chana masala, an Indian chickpea curry.

Three piece Pan-Fried Chicken Basket with Creole Potato Salad. Photo by Todd Cooper.

Originally a Trinidadian dish, doubles were created by Indo-Trinidadian immigrants in the early 20th century who merged Indian flavors from the traditional dish chana bhatura with local ingredients like bara, which is Caribbean native dough. Doubles have since been a staple Trinidadian snack that is quickly consumed, cheap, fresh and savory.

With the signature pan-fried chicken and doubles, Martinez opened up the now revered Yardy food cart in 2021 to serve locally sourced, restaurant-quality Caribbean food.

However, the Yardy chef never lost sight of his ultimate goal to open a restaurant. “The food cart was just a proof of concept,” he says. “It was easier to leap into something larger because people immediately loved it.”

After three years of tremendous success in Eugene and with more than enough proof of his concept, Martinez opened Yardy Rum Bar earlier this year in the converted house formerly home to The Vintage.

The Yardy chef plans to use the brick-and-mortar space to blanket his concept around the Caribbean region. “We are finally able to bounce around from island to island. Our menu will transition through the season, and we will touch every island from Haiti to Grenada, Puerto Rico to the Dominican Republic and Cuba.”

The new location features the two staple items alongside an expanded and new seasonal menu. From Jamaican-inspired jerk chicken to the smoky adobo pork rib, Yardy Rum Bar now includes a variety of market-driven items.

The Almost Spring Menu includes the Cuban platanos maduros, which are sweet and savory plantains that are twice fried and tossed with an acidic garlic confit gravy called mojo de ajo and finished with salt, vinegar and pepper.

Another seasonal item on the menu is the Market Salad, which Martinez says is constantly rotating different flavors and is inspired by the fruits in season. “I have a love for fresh salads. The market salad gives me the freedom to have fun and put what I want in it. Everything is personalized,” he says.

Beverage director Nico Centanni makes Yardy’s signature daiquiri. Photo by Todd Cooper.

In addition to the expanded food menu, the Yardy Rum Bar, as its name suggests, also offers a full bar that features Caribbean-inspired rum cocktails like the aged rum Manhattan and the white rum St. Croix Mule. Martinez says, “Rum is Caribbean but also is the original spirit. Eugene has dive bars, but none serve rum like this.”

Martinez never lost sight of his vision for Yardy. “People love Yardy, and it’s never been a question. If someone’s talking shit, someone will pull up. It’s honest food that people stand up for. In a brick-and-mortar, I can only see it growing. It’s not getting smaller, it’s getting bigger.”

Yardy Rum Bar is at 837 Lincoln Street. Open 5 pm to 9 pm for dinner Wednesday through Sunday. For more information visit

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