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 Closed Sunday
While looking to make a U-turn on El Cajon Boulevard on my way to Sang Dao, I saw brightly colored shop. The signage that said "Jamaican Beef, Chicken, Veggie Patties" can't help but get your attention.
A few days later, I stopped by, and found that this little shop was nice little market, so I restocked on my Grace Hot Sauce. And yes, I did get a couple of patties:
For those thinking that a Jamaican Patty is a piece of ground beef ready for the grill (I won't name names, but you know who you are), a Jamaican Patty is basically a savory pastry filled with meat. Similar to an empanada, turnover, or meat pie. I'd had a Jamaican Patty once before(so count me among those who is far from an authority on the subject), and though I didn't care for the "shell" which I thought was greasy, the ground beef filling was pretty spicy, and quite delicious.
So of course I got the classic Beef Patty:
At first glance, the patties looked a bit on the "skinny" side, not like the one's I had tasted previously. At first bite, mixed signals were sent to my brain. I enjoy the crusty-grittiness of the shell. On the other hand, I found the filling to be terribly bland, totally against character for Jamaican food. It was also kind of greasy.....
To my tastebuds the Chicken Patty fared a bit better. Though it also had just a thin smear of filling, the ground chicken was better seasoned and moist, though still not very spicy. Looking at the filling, I thought I saw what looked like chopped Ortega Chilies, though I'm probably mistaken.
Based on the patties, I'm not really motivated to return. What does motivate me to return is the "Reggae Kitchen" being built next door. I was told that it'll be a Jamaican Food take-out joint set to open in a few months. So I'll hold off on any more patties, and wait for the Jerk Chicken.....
Laylah's Patties & Jerk 5712 El Cajon Blvd San Diego, CA 92115
Man has it been wet and cold(for SoCal) this past weekend....it's during those times I tend to day dream about crystal blue waters, white sand, and lying on the beach, warmly roasting my internal organs..... So how much is that flight to Jamaica? Egads $900.....well, maybe I'll just move along to day dream #2, that would be, what else.....food! Granted food is usually number 1, but this weather has moved it to number 2 for a while. Ah yes, a nice "food vacation" would do just fine, and this would usually mean a short jaunt to Island Spice for some good Jamaican grinds. But not this time. About 6 months ago, I received an email from a FOY(friend of Yoso) letting me know that Island Spice doesn't have a monopoly on Jamaican food in San Diego. The email mentioned a restaurant called Caribbean Taste located in Encanto.
After driving along on Imperial Avenue, I found Caribbean Taste located in, what else, a strip mall, right past the Encanto sign and almost directly across the Encanto Trolley stop.
Though the exterior of the Caribbean Taste appears large, the interior is not very large. The interior is bright and sunny enough to warm me even on a cold and damp winter day.
There's also a small area in the restaurant with Jamaican food stuffs for sale....I picked up a few bottles of Grace Hot Pepper sauce for only $1.50 each.
Even though the menu is just a single sheet, very concise, and all plates come in two sizes, small and large, I had a difficult time deciding what to get. So many tempting entrees...should I get the Curry Chicken, or maybe one of my favorite items; Oxtails, perhaps Brown Stew Fish? I finally settled on the Curry Goat (small - $8.00):
All plates come with Jamaican beans and rice, steamed vegetables, and fried plantains. The curry goat was excellent, with a light spiciness, mild creaminess....the goat had been cooked perfectly, fork tender, and moist. Good stuff. I was not a big fan of the bland rice and beans, and I thought the vegetables were also bland.
The curry goat was enough to get me to return, this time I got a variety of dishes, starting with the Jerk Chicken (small-$8).
As Jerk Chicken is concerned, I really enjoyed this. There was a sneaky amount of mild heat, and the chicken was very moist, even the piece of breast. A good mixture of spices, a very mild sweetness, and a decent salty component. The best piece by far was the wing piece. Like my previous experiences with Jerk Chicken, it was not as spicy as I would expect, but I enjoyed the nice roasted skin.
At last, Oxtails (large - $12):
The portion size for the "large" size...was just that, pretty large and generous. Like the other dishes, this was well seasoned, fairly tender, and moist. I prefer my Oxtails to have a good amount of gelatinous bits, these fell short a bit in that aspect.
As I mentioned before, I find the steamed vegetables, a combination of cabbage, corn, beans, and a bit of greens to be on the bland side in comparison to the main course.
I guess that this is where the Grace Hot Pepper sauce comes in. The hot sauce has a initial flavor similar to Tabasco, but it is sneaky hot, and the heat increases with time and quantity.
If I had to compare this to the version at Island Spice, I'd say this was more meaty, salty, and well seasoned than the version at Island Spice, but I enjoy the depth of flavor and velvety smooth textures of Island Spice's "gravy" better. This doesn't mean I won't have this again.......
This is the large size Curry Goat($11.00) - a generous serving, which made us happy, since leftovers are much appreciated in our household. On this day, the goat had a good amount of gamey flavor, and the generous amount of meat was soft and tender. As I mentioned before, if you're not familiar with Jamaican Curry, you may find yourself surprised at the mild flavor, but it is still good stuff.
I guess one can't help but compare Island Spice and Caribbean Taste....so if I were forced to, I'd say that in most cases Caribbean Taste's food (except for the sides) are much more aggresively seasoned. The atmosphere is also quite different; while Island Spice is much more of a raucous, lively, place. Caribbean Taste, is much more mellow, like a nice, sunny day on the beach, nice folks at both places....... I'm just happy that we have not one, but two Jamaican Restaurants putting out good eats in San Diego.
Caribbean Taste Jamaican Restaurant 6171 Imperial Ave San Diego, CA 92114
I first noticed Island Spice while attending the Japanese Cultural Bazaar at the BTSD. We soon ate there and really enjoyed the food. But as fate would have it, after starting this Food Blog, I started trying so many different places that Island Spice kind of just faded into the background. But my memory was jarred when Jay on His Blog Casing the Joint mentioned Island Spice as part of His "rotation". So we decided to head back there for a late lunch.
Island Spice is located on Market Street, in a building that though perhaps a bit worse for wear, has a definite tropical feel; with the Tropical Plants fronting the restaurant, to the Bamboo and wood interior. There's even the requisite Bob Marley"banner" in the front window, and signed photos of various celebrities posted above the front counter.
The menu at Island Spice features less then twenty items; but each offering has it's own personality.
Our favorite items at Island Spice?
The Oxtail, is a velvety smooth and savory dish. Tender and "beefy", mildly and simply seasoned, I especially love the gelatin that surrounds the bones. Just to give you an example of the hospitality at Island Spice; we ordered an Ala Carte order of Oxtail ($5.00), and were served this perfectly decent, and quite substantial plate of food. But the "Chef" was not satisfied with the portion size, and did not charge us for it! We made sure that we covered it in our tip, but were really impressed with the hospitality.
Here's what a large "dinner" of Oxtail($10.00) looks like:
It includes wonderfully starchy and mildly sweet deep fried plantains:
And we usually forgo the Beans and Rice, and get a plate with "all vegetables". The vegetables include a wonderful braised green that reminds me a bit of collard greens, with an earthy, sweet, and slightly bitter flavor; a green bean that reminded me of soy bean, corn, and cabbage. So very wonderfully full of different flavors:
My personal favorite is the Curry Goat(Ala Carte - $5.00):
I was initially surprised at the lack of "heat", this Curry is much milder but full of spices; and totally different from other curries I've had. The mild curry proved to be a perfect palette for the mildly gamey goat. Dotted with potatoes, the curry was very tasty.
On another visit we ordered an "regular" Jerk Chicken entree($7.00):
First off, the rice is rather bland and flavorless. It was after eating this; that we decided to stay with the wonderful veggies. The Jerk Chicken was covered with the wonderful "brown" sauce. The chicken seemed to be flavored with a mild rub; and roasted. The dark pieces were pretty good, with the sweetness and taste of the spices coming through. However, the white meat was very, very dry, a hard to swallow dry. Another thing that surprised me was the lack of "heat". Every version of supposed Jerk Chicken I've had before, was quite hot and spicy. So I'm not quite sure of how Jerk Chicken is supposed to taste.
The Fried Fish (Ala Carte - $5.00):
Simply flavored with salt and pepper, with a slight hint of sour(vinegar??), and perfectly fried; the fried fish was a nice appetizer for us.
The Brown Stew Fish (Ala Carte - $5.00):
It seems to be the fried fish pictured above, with a tomato based sauce. This is quite tangy, and more then a bit salty, though really good with rice. We had no problem finishing this! The onions and spices made for a decent "rice dish".
Some Notes: Many acquaintances of mine are a bit afraid of the neighborhood, but we've never had any problems. Island Spice seems to have many "regulars", and seems to be a "neighborhood joint" of the highest order. It also appears that most Customers order take-out. I was a bit surprised at the lack of heat in the various dishes, but I'm not an expert on Jamaican Food, and the Oxtails and Curry Goat are delici-yoso!!! Other Jamaican fare like Callaloo, Ackee, and Jamaican BBQ are also offered.
Good "homestyle" food and great prices make Island Spice worth a try.
Island Spice Jamaican Restaurant 2820 Market St San Diego, CA 92102