On one hand, it’s ballsy to locate a food cart opposite a phalanx of established eateries—Hat Yai, Handsome Pizza, Podnah’s Pit, Le Taq—but on the other, if you’re offering a credible alternative at a good price, you can benefit from the company. Jamaican Jerk pulls it off by offering (you guessed it) Jamaican food rubbed with jerk spice.
There are two jerk options—chicken and pork. The pork was the better of the two; tender while retaining the spicy-flavored char on the outside. Offered with either one side or two ($8/$10), I found the perfect combination to be coleslaw and festival, with their spicy side sauce added to the mix. Festival is a cornmeal bread—sweet and crisp, yet dense, it’s a bit like a cake donut—and balanced by the earthy hot sauce and savory pork, while the Jamaican coleslaw cooled everything down.
The chicken was also worthy, though not as flavorful. Taken with the rice and beans, it didn’t quite have the same interplay of textures and tastes as my pork combo. The cooks were speaking with Jamaican accents, which I’ll take as a positive sign toward the food’s authenticity.
There are other non-jerk alternatives, including chicken wings ($6), which were unbreaded and fried up crispy, making another good pairing with the hot sauce. I’ve tried on numerous occasions to be in time for the escovitch fish ($10)—a spicy fried version of ceviche—and have yet to succeed. Getting there promptly has been added to my end-of-summer goals list. There are also specials—the goat curry, a Jamaican classic, is featured on weekends.
There are a couple of serviceable tables out front, but if you don’t want to share your meal with the traffic on Killingsworth, one option is to utilize Prospect Bottleshop across the street (they’re happy with outside food), a tactic already in use by some of the regulars. If you fancy a wine, try pairing it with a Gruner Veltliner.
Given the vagaries of the Portland food cart scene, and especially with the announcement of the closure of the nearby Northeast Alberta/14th Place pod, any additions offering fresh and distinctive cooking are welcome.