Restaurant News & Reviews

Jamaican food in Miami mirrors island’s rich culinary traditions

Jamaican specialty: Escovitch fish as prepared at Island Restaurant.
Jamaican specialty: Escovitch fish as prepared at Island Restaurant. For the Miami Herald

Jamaica is known for giving the world reggae, but its cuisine may be its greatest cultural export.

Jamaica’s food, like that of other countries in the Greater Antilles, is a fusion of Spanish, British, African, Indian and Chinese influences.

Our Miami Flavors guide includes some essential Jamaican restaurants in South Florida, and what to look for when you’re there.

▪ Ackee: With the distinction of being the national fruit of Jamaica, this popular treat is in the lychee family and has a creamy, nutty flavor and a texture similar to scrambled eggs.

▪ Brown chicken stew: This dish is prepared by browning chicken with scallions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, ginger and other spices, creating a tangy gravy that’s often served with rice and peas.

▪ Callaloo: Named after a leafy vegetable popular in Jamaica, this traditional West African dish incorporates its namesake green (or spinach) and okra in addition to other veggies, spices and sometimes meat, simmer down to a stewlike consistency.

▪ Escovitch: Spanish influence comes through in this dish, with fish marinated overnight in vinegar, chile peppers, onions and carrots, then eaten at breakfast. Escovitch can also refer to fried fish (often red snapper) served with a vinegar-based onion and pepper sauce.

▪ Jerk: Allspice and scotch bonnet chiles are the main ingredients in Jamaican jerk spice, which also can include cloves, cinnamon, garlic, salt and other spices. Jerk also refers to the method of preparing meat with a dry rub or wet marinade of jerk spice, then cooking it over an open flame for smoky, spicy results.

▪ Patty: Similar to a turnover or an empanada, patties are savory pastries filled with spiced meat and vegetables. The yellow hue of their flaky shells comes from the turmeric used in the dough.

Miami Flavors is an occasional series that highlights the various ethnic cuisines that are prevalent in South Florida. Email writer Ricardo Mor at

Did you know?

Ackee seeds are toxic to humans and can result in a condition known as Jamaican vomiting sickness.

The Rastafari movement, which took root in Jamaica in the 1930s, promotes a plant-based diet; many followers are vegetarian or vegan.

Although most scotch bonnet peppers burn at a tremendous 100,000-350,000 Scoville units, a sweet variety called cachucha grows in Jamaica.

Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, noted for its low bitterness, is one of the most expensive and sought-after coffees in the world.

Where to eat

Clive’s Cafe: Brown stews are a Clive’s specialty. The restaurant’s Wynwood location has closed, but the Little Haiti restaurant lives on. 5890 NW Second Ave., Miami. 305-757-6512;

Island Restaurant: The Hammocks location may be a ways from from the sea, but Island Restaurant will take you there with its tropical flavors and its acclaimed roti. 10201 Hammocks Blvd., Miami. 305-388-5118.

Jamaica Kitchen: This tiny Sunset outpost has been featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” for its curry oxtail, a recipe the owners claim was originally made by accident but has become a signature dish. 8736 SW 72nd St., Miami. 305-596-2585;

JamRock Cuisine: Known for its Jamaican-Chinese fusion dishes. 12618 SW 88th St., Miami. 305-598-7625;

Palatino Jamaican Restaurant: Palatino has quietly made a name for itself in the Wynwood neighborhood with its Jamaican staples like ackee and saltfish. 3004 NW Second Ave., Miami. 786-360-5200;

Sonia’s Patties: Essentially the only thing on the menu at this Kendall dive are its owner’s patties, cooked fresh with hearty fillings and crisp, flaky crusts. 10852 SW 104th St., Miami. 305-598-6695;