UPDATE: The service at Marla's is still extremely slow; I was there with a friend, and we were one of only two occupied tables in the restaurant, and yet it took nearly an hour for our food to arrive, and our waitress barely bothered to stop by our table, except for the initial order-taking, and finally the bill payment. The decor has improved slightly, though it's still a dive.
The food is still decent, but missing something to put it into higher-grade territory. Maybe it needs more spice or fresher vegetables? We had a chowmein with tofu ($8), which was good, but needed more spice for my likes. Also, the sauce was too watery. We also shared a stew/brown-down ($8) which was a bland stew served with herbed rice and red beans. The rice was good, but the stew was only passable. Make sure to request your meals be made vegan; I'm not sure what they use that's not vegan, but our waitress made it seem like there might be some hidden dairy in the mix.
However, the highlight of the meal for me was the "doubles" ($2). These are fried pastries filled with chickpeas and two types of sauces. I found the mixture of the tangy and spicy sauces, along with the semi-sweet, fluffy pastry, to be a wonderful combination. If anything, I'd recommend going for the doubles alone.
ORIGINAL REVIEW: This new Marla's restaurant is a nice addition to the Indo-Caribbean fare already around. My Jerk Tofu with dalpourie was super-spicy (maybe too spicy, even for this Indian-American) and extremely filling. It was basically a Caribbean burrito---lightly fried tortilla stuffed with onions, cabbage, green peppers and a spongy, fluffy type of tofu, spiced with black pepper and who knows what else. It was cheap at $8, especially considering the quantity of food.
My problem with the food, however tasty it was, is that a dish like this quickly gets boring after seven or eight bites. There's no surprise left to the flavors you'll encounter. And the portion size is so large that it becomes hard to justify eating the whole thing. Sadly, I don't think a dish like this would re-heat well, mostly because the tortilla would get soggy (I have the same boredom problem with the other major Indo-Caribbean joint, Harry Singh's). Smaller portion sizes, and maybe offering a side dish or salad along with the main plate, would make the food here more interesting.
The service was friendly but very slow and inattentive. I finally had to get up and force the attention of an employee so I could pay my bill.
This place has no ambience. Though it's only a few months old, it looks completely decayed and drab. The furniture is all old (and not in a retro, funky way) and the restaurant itself is littered with debris and odds and ends. The place looks like a cluttered, dingy 1970s wood-paneled rec-room, temporarily converted into a space for a birthday party. It was depressing to be in there.
Also, while I appreciate that Marla's opened up in an economically-depressed area, this also means that I'm not sure how safe the neighborhood is. There are a lot of shady-looking characters at that corner and I felt extremely worried about my bike, which I locked to a bus stop pole in front of the restaurant. I was constantly checking up on it. If you're coming in a group, make sure to take a car, as that pole is the only place to "safely" lock up your bike, and even then you should keep a close eye on it.
This place has lots of room to improve but, on a whole, it's a good addition to Minneapolis.