Jerk chicken (right) and oxtail (with a butter bean on top), with mangos.
  • Jerk chicken (right) and oxtail (with a butter bean on top), with mangos.
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As I sat in my booth at One Love Island Cuisine in Oceanside, I watched as fellow customers entered the shop and approached the counter to order. Most of them had a story to share with the owner on how they came to be there.

One Love Island Cuisine

4225 K Oceanside Boulevard, Oceanside

"I live in Carlsbad," said one man, "But I never knew this place was here 'til I went on a Caribbean cruise… someone on board told me I had try it when I got back!"

An island-inspired interior within a shopping center shop

Another couple told her they'd moved to North County from Florida. "We had so many great Jamaican restaurants out there," the man said, "but out here we haven't been able to find anything. I wish we knew about this place sooner!"

Apparently the only Jamaican restaurant in north county.

I came upon the small shopping center eatery in less interesting fashion: I was in the neighborhood and looked for something interesting to eat on Yelp. Indeed, according to Yelp, this seven- or eight-year-old restaurant, about six miles from the coast, serves the only Jamaican cuisine between Orange County and highway 56. One Love also serves food Thursday nights, at Oceanside's Sunset farmers market.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in wasn't the bamboo trim or the familiar colors of the Jamaican flag. It was a flame grill behind the counter, and the aroma of boneless chicken thighs acquiring a crispy char. I knew right then jerk chicken would be a part of my order.

The menu confirmed this, although it presented plenty of tantalizing alternatives: jerk BBQ beef, coconut curry chicken, and curry goat, each available with one side over rice in a bowl for 8 or 9 bucks; or rice and two sides on a plate for $12-14.

Making the decision easier were two- and three-item combos. For $10.50, I got an order of oxtail alongside my jerk chicken, served over rice with red beans and butter beans and a side of mango salsa.

First off, salsa makes it sound saucy, but really it was a healthy serving of good-sized mango chunks. Other side options include plantains, steamed cabbage, and potato salad, but I was glad to have the combined brightness and sweetness of the mango in refreshing contrast to the meat.

Especially the jerk chicken, which was about as spicy a take I've ever tried. That's because One Love's Jamaican owners stay true to jerk form, using Scotch bonnet peppers. These preferred chilies of the Caribbean are closely related to habaneros, and said to be like a thousand percent spicier than jalapeños on the Scoville scale. Along with the heat came a cavalcade of holiday spices and salty sweetness, confirming what all those chatty customers had to say: this place tastes pretty right on.

I'd go so far as to say the chicken was tender, but then I dug into the slow-cooked oxtail. Though not as fragrant as many oxtail dishes I've tried, the meat was impossibly tender, pulling away from the bone without even the hint of a fight, and all but melting in my mouth.

I was right to go for the two-item combo, but where I went wrong was ordering the bowl instead of the larger serving of the $15.50 plate. It's not as though the lunchtime meal didn't fill me up; I just wanted more, for more's sake.

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