The Jamaican Food Battle in Harlem
The experience we all have after moving to a new city is the trial and error of finding a new set of local staples - the stores around the neighborhood that have what you need, treat you the way you’d like to be treated and so you frequent them. And, I think for most of us that includes a salon or barber shop, pharmacy and a grocery store.
But for me, add Jamaican Restaurant to that list. Because when I don’t feel like cooking (and that is more often than I’d like to admit) I need that local spot with the bomb food that I can go and pick up my Curry Chicken, Brown Stew and sometimes a Ting on the side.
When I lived in Brooklyn, where there is a huge Caribbean population I had about 4 restaurant choices all within a block from where I lived.
But now living in Harlem, which has a large African American and African influence, a good Jamaican or even Caribbean restaurant is a little harder to find.
My first Harlem Caribbean restaurant experience was terrible
The place had really great reviews on Yelp and has been in business for a few decades. Now, I won’t say the name of this restaurant, but I will say that it rhymes with Misters.
I ordered the Brown Stew Chicken, which is usually hard to mess up. But let me tell you, the chicken was so sweet that the name should’ve been changed to Brown Sugar Chicken. It is very rare that I have a meal that I would describe as disgusting but that is the only word that fits the description and needless to say I will never eat there again.
Despite my first experience and the slim pickings in Harlem, I’ve been searching and searching and actually found a few other options to try. Four restaurants rose to the top of my “try list”.
And these are the contenders listed in descending order of the worst to the best.
The day I walked into Rusty’s I didn’t have a taste for any one item in particular so I decided to order whatever was the most popular. When I asked this question, the lady at the front laughed and then quickly said the Jerk chicken and the Oxtail.
Jerk Chicken!!?? She’s going for the big guns! I rarely if ever order jerk chicken from a restaurant because they usually cook it in an oven and they just don’t come close to that authentic flavor.
But, what she recommended is exactly what I ordered
The medium sized Oxtail and small Jerk Chicken cost me $21 dollars which is pretty good for New York. Especially since knowing that an Oxtail meal typically costs around $11-$13 dollars.
An overwhelming sweet smell wafted out as soon as I opened the Jerk Chicken container. It was drenched in a syrupy sweet sauce. (I don’t know what it is about the food in Harlem and it’s not just the Caribbean food but a lot of the Soul Food I’ve had is just too sweet.)
I scraped off as much of the sauce as I could and underneath it all there was a good flavor in there. But it was hard to find with it swimming in syrup.
The Oxtail was a little light on flavor but still tasted pretty good. But my favorite parts of Oxtail - the gravy and the beans were a little hard and under cooked, which was a big letdown.
If I’m in the area, I would give the Oxtail another chance and try one of the other menu items but it’s a NO on the jerk.
I wasn’t going to try Jerkyz, because it obviously “specializes” in jerk which I mentioned before I don’t usually order but I passed by it on my way to another restaurant and on my way back home so I said to myself what the heck, I might as well stop in. And I ordered the 10 piece Jerk Wings and Yucca Fries. The total was $14.70 and I thought that way too expensive, especially when you can get an entire meal for much less.
The Jerk Wings were nothing to write home about, they tasted like regular grilled wings. But the Yucca Fries were the unexpected breakout. I only ordered them because they were out of festival but I am so glad that I did! They were so delicious, the texture was perfect, crispy on the outside and warm and fluffy on the inside. They are some one of the best fries I’ve ever had period.
Forget the wings, I will be back for the Yucca Fries. They're a must try.
This restaurant is way out of the way for me, almost 20 blocks from my house but the name got me. Little Ochie is also the name of one of my favorite beach side restaurants in Alligator Pond, Jamaica and so I had to try it.
I ordered a small Brown Stew Chicken meal and a small Curry Chicken meal and a slice of cake for a total of $20.69 which is a great deal. But wait a minute, I just realized that they never offered me any cabbage or veggies. Hmm, not such a good deal after all.
Little Ochie definitely had the makings of being my regular spot. When you walk in, there are no bells and whistles, the lady at the front greets you with the usual “slightly annoyed” face, you know, just another day in a Jamaican restaurant.
And both of the meals were good, there was nothing about the tastes that I thought was lacking.
Now, the cake was dry. But I really had no business ordering it when I’m working on my summer body.
I wish Little Ochie was closer so that I could go more often but I will definitely make the trek out again to pay them a visit.
The name says it all. Caribbean Starr is brand new and has only been opened a few weeks but they have already come out the gate a winner.
As soon as my husband and I walked in we were both impressed. The place clean and spacious with plenty of seating.
But the number one thing that got me, was the number of servers behind the counter. There were at least 10 people ready to serve the customers and they were friendly and very helpful.
Yes, you read that right. They not only had a lot of servers but they were also friendly!
We were so amazed by this place and all it had to offer that we spent a total of $62.60 and came away with a whole heap of food.
(they even serve your to-go order in reusable plastic containers, I love it!)
Curry Goat with Jerk Fried Rice
The food did not disappoint. Even the strangely orange Macaroni and Cheese (seriously, why is it orange?) although dry it was still tasty.
And there was so many options to choose from, they had all the Jamaican staples AND some surprises like
Fried Crab and they were very generous with the portions.
And Fried Shrimp. Which was expensive at $1 per shrimp but it were seasoned to perfection and delicious.
Caribbean Starr is my Star! Thank goodness it’s very close. I will be back again and again and again.
Question, what’s on the top of your list of staples when you move to a new city?