The other day I was driving down Clairemont Mesa Boulevard when I happened to stare up at the sign for the strip mall that houses Oton..... and did a double take. Did it really say Mama Jamaica's? Really, Jamaican food at this strip mall? That was enough to get me to drop by a couple of days later.
If I had any doubts, a quick look inside told me the answer.......
It was almost too cliche, I mean "One Love" was playing over head...... This seemed sorta fast-casual in the decor. The menu was interesting, it had most of the standards; but a couple of other items like "Jerk Tri-Tip".....
Being in a bit of a rush, I ordered the Jerk Chicken to go ($7), which gets you two thighs ($1 more for white meat) Rice and Beans, coleslaw, and fried plantains.
The coleslaw was nothing special and the plantains seemed to be under-ripe as it wasn't very sweet. The rice on the other hand, was better then what I've had at other places. You could actually make out the mild flavor of coconut.
The chicken was interesting, this was more of a grilled then braised bird, lacking the crisp skin that I enjoy so much. But it also avoided the one pitfall of grilled chicken; dryness.
The flavor, while not as complex as the version at Caribbean Taste had a bit more zip, and was better then what I've had at Island Spice over the last couple of years. This was decent, and I felt pretty good overall.
Of course this meant another visit, a more leisurely stop..... and when I walked back into the shop, guess what was playing? One love....... I guess they've got Bob Marley on loop here! This time, after ordering, I was able to take a bit more in and noticed the sign with the daily specials.
Even though this wasn't Wednesday (my luck) I ordered the Oxtail, one of my favorite things in the world. While waiting, I noticed the placard on the wall. I'm guessing the owners used to run a Jamaican Restaurant in Modesto......
After a few minutes my braised oxtails ($10) arrived.
I again enjoyed the rice, perfectly cooked, with hints of coconut. This time around the plantains were lovely, nicely caramelized and sweet. The oxtails looked a bit pale in comparison to what I've had in the past. The texture was pretty good; not mushy, slightly gelatinous... in a good sort of way. The flavor was a bit off for my tastes; too salty, lacking in any deep rich flavor, I wanted a bit more in terms of flavor.... salty just didn't do it for me. Yet you could do much worse around these parts.
Taken as a whole, the food wasn't bad. I do think I'll return just because I'd been thinking about doing some Jerk or perhaps Chadon Beni red meat, so I'm curious about the tri-tip. The prices are reasonable, and the folks are friendly. Based on the folks I've seen coming in during my visits, they've already developed a nice customer base. More power to them.
Mama Jamaica's Cafe & Grill
5447 Kearny Villa Rd
San Diego, CA 92123
Open Mon - Fri 11 - 8pm
Sat 11 - 6pm