Chicago loves jerk, which is why you can find all sorts of jerk-inspired dishes at restaurants across the city. And while these spots are serving creative things like jerk tacos and egg rolls, they also have plenty of signature Jamaican dishes, too - like curry goat, red snapper escovitch, oxtails, and jerk chicken. It’s all delicious, so no matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find incredible Caribbean island cuisine at one of the eight great restaurants on this list.
Serving both Belizean and Jamaican food, Garifuna Flavor in Chicago Lawn does two cuisines right. For example, the panades - corn flour hand pies filled with white fish - is a great snack from Belize. And the red snapper escovitch is a fantastic Jamaican dish, served pan-fried and topped with a red creole sauce. It’s light, savory, and along with a side of rice and peas and plantains, generous enough for two servings.
Jerk Taco Man Caribbean BBQ restaurant has built quite the following. I understand now that I’ve had their jerk chicken tacos. They’re huge, coming in at half a pound each, topped with cheese, cilantro, and onion on a flour tortilla. Their menu is huge too, offering jerk veggie tacos, jerk pasta, and of course, jerk chicken. Grab a jerk taco or any of their other offerings at either their Garfield Park or Park Manor locations.
Cocoa Chili is a carryout and delivery-only restaurant in East Garfield Park. They focus on Afro-Caribbean soul food, and you’ll find dishes like jerk chicken, Sengalese poulet yassa, and a bowl of their namesake cocoa chili. Another cool thing about this place (besides the food) is that for $5 you can also order a meal for the Love Fridge, an organization that provides free food for those in need.
Tropic Island Jerk Chicken
Not only does Tropic Island in Chatham have tasty jerk, but you get an impressive amount of food for the price. It’s $12.50 for a white meat jerk dinner with three sides. I like to go with rice and peas, plantain, and macaroni and cheese, but you can choose between those and, like, five other sides on the menu. Also worth noting is that they also have locations in Calumet City and Muenster, IN.
The original Dr. Bird’s opened in Buffalo in 1981, and thankfully this counter-service Caribbean spot has a second location in Wicker Park. Their specialty are Jamaican patties, which are filled with either chicken, beef, or spinach. Those are great (our favorite is the spicy beef) but the menu also has tender jerk chicken and creamy rasta pasta with Gruyere, rosemary, and roasted tomatoes. The sides are outstanding too - including must-order coco rice that’s sweet and savory, fluffy coco bread that’s perfect for enfolding your patty, and festivals that are a perfect complement to the smoky jerk seasoning.
For me, Uncle Joe’s Hyde Park is quintessential Jamaican food. They do everything - oxtails, jerk catfish, curry shrimp, and more, really well. I’ve had it all, and they have the various Jamaican flavor profiles down. If you’re looking for a dish to start with, try the $15 jerk chicken wing dinner that comes with two sides, or the $20 combo plate that includes two types of meat and plantains, rice and peas, jerk sauce, and bread.
It’s all about the oxtails in Jamaican cooking, and Aunty Joy’s in Edgewater doesn’t disappoint. The oxtails are succulent and, even better, you can choose between a small or a large order in addition to two sides (I chose the steamed cabbage and rice and peas.) A small order of oxtails is $17.50 and the large is $20 - I say get the large.
Irie Jerk Bar & Grill
I stumbled upon Irie Jerk Bar and Grill in Wrigleyville on my way to another spot that turned out to be temporarily closed. But all was not lost - I enjoyed the smoky pimento wood flavor of the jerk chicken wing dinner, and the sides (macaroni and cheese and the red beans and rice) were good, too. Plus, it’s walking distance from Wrigley Field, which is good to know since the city is allowing 50% capacity at home games this season.