The enigmatic brown stew chicken
3160 Main Street, San Diego
In the past few years, San Diego has experienced a bit of a Jamaican restaurant switcheroo. Last year Island Spice, a favorite of mine, moved from its longtime Grant Hill location up to Rolando. A couple years back, Laylah’s moved out of Rolando, winding up in the south end of Barrio Logan, right beside the gate to the 32nd Street naval base — pretty near to that old Spice location.
As per usual, I’m mostly interested in how this had an impact on me. When Island Spice left my general vicinity, I lamented its departure. Suddenly I lost my quick access to its jerk chicken and oxtail plates. But I hadn’t tried Laylah’s yet.
Laylah’s Patties and Jerk
It’s a bit further of a drive for me, by about three minutes. But it’s pretty dang Jamaican. Showing up at a slow hour between lunch and dinner, I found dance hall playing to a small, empty restaurant — no one even manning the counter. I stood there, grooving out to the music for a few minutes before I noticed a call bell on the counter, the kind you expect to find at a hotel registration desk. I rang the bell, and a couple moments later a lanky Jamaican man appeared from the back of the kitchen to take the order.
Laylah’s offers the same jerk chicken Ian Pike enjoyed back in 2012, and I’ve since tried their excellent curry chicken as well. This day I went with the more enigmatic brown stew chicken. It’s basically chicken braised in a seasoned brown tomato-and-chicken-stock sauce. Whichever chicken dish you like, you may get it on a plate or in a bowl. Both are served with rice and peas and vegetables, while the plate included plantains.
The “peas” are small black beans, scattered throughout the seasoned rice. The vegetables are composed mostly of sautéed cabbage, and while that doesn’t sound like much, the buttery concoction turns out to be sumptuous — good vegetables for people who don’t like vegetables.
The tender, meaty chicken did not disappoint. Though I’ve yet to try Laylah’s jerk chicken or oxtail, my early favorite here is that Caribbean curry. It’s bright and spicy, while the brown stew skewed earthier. Either will keep me coming back.
The good-sized lunchtime plate went for ten bucks, and it’s a few bucks more at dinner time. Laylah’s did make me want to revisit Island Spice, so I’ll probably make a trip to Rolando soon and start comparing dishes in earnest. But for now, it feels like a win just knowing I still have Caribbean food in the neighborhood.