Jeff Smith 4 p.m., Feb. 26
Laylah's Reggae Kitchen
It's pretty far out El Cajon Boulevard. Not quite all the way, but 58th and ECB is a good jog. The brightly painted facade of the restaurant features a smiling Rasta chef and the inside is likewise decorated with imagery from the reggae pantheon. Jamaican music plays softly from the house stereo. The tabletops are even painted with maps of the island nation that identify local landmarks.
The dish to order is the jerk chicken. "Jerk" refers to the dry rub of allspice, scotch bonnet peppers, and other spices, but it can also refer to the method by which jerk chicken is smoked. Laylah's jerk chicken can be made into a sandwich, served on a salad, or as a dinner plate that also comes with rice, beans, steamed veggies, and fried plantains. The plates ($10 for a small or $12 for a large) contain relatively massive portions of food. I ate all of mine, but I was really hungry. Normally, a small plate would probably be enough for one person with a normal appetite.
To look at it, the jerk chicken seems to have been cooked to oblivion. But the black outside is really just the smoked out spice rub. Inside, the meat has been colored a deep pink from the penetration of the smoke. The chicken is falling apart from the long, slow cooking, and it's a little bit dried out from the low-n-slow heat, but the chicken has undeniable flavor.
In addition to the chicken, the restaurant sells plenty of "oda meat" that includes fish, goat, and oxtail. And there are also some interesting side dishes like "festival dumplings, rum cakes, and a breakfast menu that's served when Laylah's opens at 10 in the morning (which is a pretty late breakfast).
The restaurant is attached to a Jamaican convenience store that sells drinks and a variety of imported, Caribbean foods.
5712 El Cajon Blvd