Underneath a blinking digital sign that reads "Reggae Tacos - Jammin With Flavor" is a little Jamaican spot that the busy downtown lunch scene will be glad to find.
It's not fancy. Walk up to the counter, place your order, give your name, and listen to Ice Cube's "We Be Clubbin'" while you wait for your food. Sit inside or under the straw thatch roof at wiggly tables, hand painted with bright colors.
Chef Rusty Johnson doesn't rely on jerk seasoning as heavily as other Jamaican restaurants typically do. "I'd prefer people to be able to tell the different kinds of meats they're eating, rather than have them all taste like each other."
So, with jerk seasoning primarily out of the question, what's left for a downtown Miami Jamaican taco joint?
A busy menu.
The "first steps" portion consists of Caribbean usuals like, conch fritters (4 at $3.49) and festival fried doughnuts (5 at $3.49).
Then come the tacos with proteins like fish (tilapia), chicken, pork, shrimp, goat, and beef.
We opted for the pork ($3.49), goat ($3.49), and beef tacos ($3.49). With goat being a personal favorite of ours, we dug into that one first. It's laden with julienned carrots, red onion, and a curry mayo sauce (not unlike the kind from Chicken Kitchen). The taco was fine. All the right components were there: meat-to-veggie ratio, fresh vegetables, juicy goat meat, but the taco needed zing. It needed something acidic or spicy to give it a kick. Johnson told Short Order that he opted out of giving the tacos (except one) any true spice because the first question people ask is, "how spicy is it?"
We appreciated his attention to please, but, Jamaican-inspired food without a kick doesn't seem Jamaican-inspired at all -- perhaps that's just us.
Spicy scotch bonnet beef with an avocado cheddar salsa came to the rescue shortly there after. As the only taco we ordered that came with a kick to the palate, it was our favorite. Thin strips of beef carry the heavy heat well -- and for those of you out there who can't handle heat, fret not, it's not that spicy at all. The kick at the end really is nice, and the cool avocado salsa to accompany it makes it a nice pairing.
Perhaps the most original taco we've seen to date was Reggae Tacos' pork taco. Think diced mango, pickled red onion, red cabbage, and slow-cooked jerk pork. To be honest, we didn't know it was jerk pork until we read the menu after the fact. But that didn't take away from the intriguing compilation of flavors. It's fresh, and tart, and meaty, and, above all, interesting.
"Hooray chicken!" sounds like the exclamation a chicken farm owner would make when a chicken's learned new tricks. But at Reggae Tacos, the exclamation is for a Red Stripe and coconut milk braised chicken burrito ($6.29). Having trouble wrapping your head around that one? We did too. That's why when the tray was placed before us, we braced ourselves.
In truth, the burrito tastes like a coconut burrito with a side of very tender chicken. That's because it also comes with coconut rice, pigeon peas, red onions, and coconut sour cream. No sign of Red Stripe flavor, but plenty coconut for an apocalypse.
Hopeful to end our visit on a positive note, we had the festival fried doughnuts ($3.49). To start off, 5 come in an order, and each doughnut is almost the size of a tennis ball. They're made fresh and as Johnson brought them over, he cautioned not to touch them for a while because they'd just come out of the fryer.
This is the real reason we started out this First Bites saying the downtown office lunch scene will be glad the place opened. Take a couple orders of these back to the office and you'll be the office favorite until go-getter-Greg one-ups you. The doughnuts are drizzled with vanilla-infused honey and sprinkled with powdered sugar. We promise they don't sound as fantastic as they really are, so best to try them for yourself. (Side note: We asked what was in the batter besides crack. The response: "Besides crack? Ganja. This is a Jamaican place, you know.")
Reggae Tacos' concepts are unique, and we give them a couple months before they fine-tune their recipes to perfection. Johnson even said himself that one of the sauces (spicy banana raisin) was something he'd thrown together on a whim the afternoon before. Is it great? No. Will it do? Yes (but we expect greater further down the line).
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Are those fried doughnuts out of this world? Indeed, they are.
Follow Alex on Twitter @ARodWrites.