Usually with our First Look feature, we try to get to a restaurant within a week of its grand opening. However, this early summer saw a host of new restaurant openings, and a few fell through the cracks. Taste of Jamaica is one of those we missed. The new spot on Rodney Parham opened pretty quickly in May, and it took a month of us staring at their tempting Facebook posts to get over there. And while we might have missed them to start, after getting our first bite we won’t be making that mistake again. Taste of Jamaica serves up some fantastic food and offers an authentic menu that we just haven’t seen in this city before.
Rose and Tony Walker own Taste of Jamaica, which represents their second food business in Little Rock. The couple used to run the Grab a Bite food truck, which operated out of the parking lot of Discovery for eight years. And while the truck did well, it didn’t reflect the couple’s roots. Tony was born and raised in Jamaica, and he and Rose met in Florida where Caribbean cuisine is easier to find. The Walkers decided it was time to bring their food to Little Rock.
“Jamaican food is a cultural food,” said Tony. “We eat it day in and day out. The signature dish is Ackee and Saltfish, that’s our national dish. Then you have jerk chicken, which comes from way back in the slave days. But it only started developing in Jamaica, this jerk fever, in the 80s and 90s.”
No matter what you order, you will taste the culture. Taste of Jamaica does not apologize for its roots, and that’s a good thing. Some items will be familiar, like the jerk chicken, which is strongly seasoned with the classic garlic and cayenne seasoning mix. I had the dark meat chicken was impressed with the way the flavors penetrated all the way to the bone. Every entrée is served on rice and peas and comes with a tropical stewed cabbage, both of which will be instantly recognizable to most diners.
For my money, the best stuff on the menu is the distinctly Jamaican food. The oxtails just fall off the bone and are rich and packed with flavor. The goat curry just blew me away with its depth of flavor and balance; I could seriously eat this dish every day. And don’t skip on the intriguingly named “beef patty.” That’s a traditional name for a dish that resembles a Jamaican handpie, and it possibly packs the most flavor of anything I tried. Ground oxtail and onions get cooked down with a load of jerk seasoning and stuffed in a flaky pastry for an excellent grab-and-go entrée. No matter what you pick, I’m pretty confident in saying you’re in for a unique treat.
“As long as you’re doing it, it has to be from the heart,” said Rose about her restaurant. “That’s the soul of Jamaican food. You can’t be doing it just for the money.”
The restaurant just received its liquor license, which means a full bar will soon be coming. Tony says he also wants to bring dumplings and yams to the menu soon, which are staples in Jamaican cuisine. No matter what comes, it’s a guarantee that I’ll be going back. Taste of Jamaica is everything I love about food. It is honest, soulful and thrilling cooking that opens a window into a people and culture that you might not otherwise get to experience. Do yourself a favor and stop in soon.