There's so much more than jerk chicken to Jamaican cuisine. There's rich curry goat, caramel cake, conch fritters and smoked oxtail. While we won’t fault you for saving those choices for your second trip—after all, there’s a reason jerk chicken is the most famous Jamaican food—no matter where you choose, you won’t wrong at Chicago’s best Jamaican restaurants, which span from Hyde Park to Evanston and include some of our favorite cheap eats.
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Chicago Jamaican restaurant guide
The Roseland restaurant makes it easy to try its excellent Jamaican food—they also have a food truck, which serves up stuffed clamshells of tender jerk chicken and veggies for less than $10. Throw in sides of plantains or a spicy, richly flavored beef patty, and you have enough food for two meals.
Claire will probably be manning the front of the tiny restaurant when you arrive, and she'll help steer you toward the right dish for you. For us, it was curry chicken, which was fall-apart tender and served with a huge portion of rice and peas, plaintains she'll fry up in front of you, and tender shreds of cabbage. The jerk chicken is also solid, and there's a fun selection of Jamaican sodas and thick wedges of caramel cake to round out the meal.
Whether you’re grabbing a meal to go or sitting down to eat at the counter of this bright storefront, expect your food to be served in a Styrofoam container with plastic forks. That’s fine by us because the dinners—such as the tender and gamey curried goat—are so generous you’ll want to take part of them home. The specialty of the house is excellent jerk chicken (sweet, hot and saucy) and juice concoctions made from fresh fruits and veggies, but the caramel cake is hot on the trail to becoming a signature standout.
The lights are low and the Caribbean beats bopping at this Jamaican spot, recently relocated from its longtime Lincoln Park home to 53rd Street’s newish Harper Court development. While the Hyde Park dining room may be a bit glossier than its precursor, the restaurant’s soul—i.e., Herbert Errol Gallimore’s renditions of his native isle’s specialties—remains intact. Chicken, shrimp and pork are among the host of proteins given a smoky jerk treatment here. Perhaps most memorable, though, are the slow-cooked dishes like oxtail stew and goat curry, which transform modest cuts and humble root vegetables into pure warming and hearty comfort. On the cocktail front, the Ja’ Rum Punch—a potent mix of white, dark and coconut rums brightened with fruit juice—is a customer favorite.
Traffic on this stretch of Cottage Grove zooms by, but time slows to a mellow pace once inside this Jamaican joint. Standouts include meltingly tender oxtails slicked with salty, soy-tinged sauce, and meaty hunks of goat seasoned with that unmistakable West Indies curry powder, rich with turmeric and mustard. Jerk chicken leans dry, so stick with the stewed meats and grab a bread pudding for dessert and a fresh carrot juice while you wait.
The Chatham residents who mill about inside this smoke-scented Jamaican carryout spot are all waiting on the same thing: the best jerk chicken around. Members of the Grant family work in tandem, taking orders for rich, allspice-laced oxtails and jerk-rubbed chickens out of foggy smokers before packaging them along with sides of cinnamon-candied yams and buttery braised greens. Order an extra side of the lappable jerk sauce to dip your chicken in, but be prepared to either make do with one of only two rickety tables or eat in your car.
You’d be well advised to pay attention to this restaurant’s logo, which claims that Uncle Joe’s specializes in jerk chicken. That’s not to say the impossibly tender curried goat or smoky oxtail should be skipped over, just that the peppery jerk chicken is not to be missed. Tasty side orders, such as rice and beans and creamy mac and cheese, disappear early in the evening, as does the caramel cake, so get there early. The reggae floating through the air of the small dining room seems to mellow out most of the crowd, although the staff can be a bit brusque.