Island style

We check out three new eateries where West Indian grub---and tropical drinks---are the draw.

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  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Miss Lily's

    Jerk chicken at Miss Lily's

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Miss Lily's

    Middle Quarters Pepper Shrimp at Miss Lily's

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Miss Lily's

    Miss Lily's

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Miss Lily's

    Banana pudding at Miss Lily's

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Miss Lily's

    Roots & Culture at Miss Lily's

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Miss Lily's

    Miss Lily's

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Miss Lily's

    Ting-a-Ling at Miss Lily's

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Miss Lily's

    Miss Lily's

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Miss Lily's

    Miss Lily's

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Miss Lily's

    Miss Lily's

  • Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

    Miss Lily's

    Miss Lily's

Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

Miss Lily's

Jerk chicken at Miss Lily's

New York has long satisfied Caribbean-food fanatics willing to trek to the roti shops of Crown Heights and jerk shacks deep in the Bronx. Yet for all the polyglot appeal of the region's cuisine—incorporating influences as far-flung as China and Spain, Africa and France—the islands have rarely cracked the mainstream here (fancy Cubanos and stubby bottles of Red Stripe notwithstanding).

Thankfully, this summer has spawned a number of eateries—both trendy and humble—that are bringing a much-needed boost to the city's West Indian offerings. We checked out three newcomers that offer a fine entry point into the islands' prismatic charms.

Miss Lily's

Before it even opened its doors, this Jamaican spot was already radiating heat—not least because of neighbor Anna Wintour's fierce opposition to the project. The eatery lost out on a hard-liquor license in its battle with the Vogue editrix, but no matter: The downtown flock seems perfectly happy to sip creative cocktails built with sake and champagne, including a spicy, sherry-spiked dark-and-stormy riff called Roots & Culture.

Among the spot's heavyweight collaborators is restaurateur Serge Becker, whose brand of casual cool will be familiar to La Esquina loyalists. The front room feels like a sexed-up version of a Caribbean takeout joint in Bed-Stuy, with orange Formica tables and retro backlit menu boards above the bar, while the darker and rowdier space in back features deep booths and walls plastered with old-school reggae records. Stunning waitresses, seemingly plucked right off the runway, ferry rounds of Red Stripe while the sound system blasts "Here Comes the Hotstepper."

Despite all of the hype, Miss Lily's isn't the impossible table you'd expect—we easily scored primo Friday reservations by calling the day before. And more importantly, it's not all scene and no substance. Service is warm and accommodating, and chef Bradford Thompson, a James Beard Award winner, brings real chops to Jamaica's trademark dishes.

Shareable appetizers include some standard-issue party grub like "jaquitos"—bland mini tortillas cradling an overly salty mix of cod and ackee (a savory fruit common in Jamaica). Bypass those in favor of the Middle Quarters Pepper Shrimp, named after a tiny Jamaican village renowned for its spicy crustaceans sold at roadside stands. The version at Miss Lily's is a knockout: juicy peel-and-eat specimens resting in a puddle of brick-red sauce, vaguely sweet and plenty fiery.

Satisfying main courses showcase Thompson's knack for elevating island comfort foods without losing their essential appeal. His curry goat—pasture-raised and cooked on the bone alongside hunks of carrots and potatoes—is remarkably tender. His jerk chicken, meanwhile, has a real pedigree (the sauce is adapted from a version his late mother-in-law cooked at her Flatbush restaurant, Glen's Original Jerk Chicken). The bird is exceptionally well prepared, still moist and juicy beneath its blackened skin. But the heat's MIA, and we couldn't help but wonder if the recipe has been neutered for the Soho crowd.

The full name on the restaurant's awning—MISS LILY'S FAVOURITE CAKES—seems like a non sequitur until you get to dessert, a surprising highlight of the meal. We devoured homey banana pudding, and a chubby slice of moist white cake slathered in merenguelike icing and shards of toasted coconut.

Miss Lily's
132 W Houston St between MacDougal and Sullivan Sts (646-588-5375). Subway: C, E to Spring St; 1 to Houston St. Mon--Fri noon--2am, Sat 11am--2am, Sun 11am--midnight. Average main course: $20.

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