Metro Atlanta is home to Caribbean restaurants with a level of authenticity that mirrors the kitchen of someone’s granny, auntie or self-taught-chef uncle from Port of Spain, Trinidad, or Kingston, Jamaica.
When you walk in, the smells of curry or jerk waft through the corridor and you might see one or all of the aforementioned persons stirring gigantic pots of Caribbean dishes or pouring a batch of a chilled red hibiscus drink known as sorrel.
Are you looking for a Trinidadian (Trini, to those in the know) eatery with a menu of traditional fare like doubles (a sandwich of curry chickpeas between fried flatbread) or buss up shut (flaky, torn roti sometimes filled with meat and vegetables)? Maybe you want a Caribbean fusion restaurant that offers Jamaica’s national dish of ackee and saltfish, plus a plate of organic curry goat.
Here’s where to get a taste of island flavors in the metro area:
Negril Village Atlanta
Settle in for an evening of decadent dining in a posh setting here. As you take a seat in one of the booths or along the plushly padded banquette, you’re likely to hear Bob Marley softly crooning in the background.
Negril Village Atlanta’s menu is a lot Jamaican and a little Southern. The menu offers a bevy of expected dishes, such as plantains, spicy jerk wings and oxtail with peas and rice, but what makes Negril stand out are the items that most non-Jamaicans don’t know about. Back-home foods are sprinkled throughout the menu: bammie (cassava flat bread), escoveitch (whole fried snapper with pickled vegetables) and the classic ackee and saltfish (a flavorful feast of fish, onions, bell peppers and spices including thyme, paprika and black pepper).
For Southern fusion fare, order the mac-and-cheese and lobster shrimp and grits. With either, do your taste buds a favor and get a side of plantains, boiled green banana or bammie. Seriously, the bammie.
30 North Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-464-7159, negrilvillageatl.com.
Natty’s Jamaican & Soul Food Restaurant
Once you find the restaurant — located in a dreary shopping center behind a large gas station — you’ll see a few wrought iron chairs outside and wooden tables inside. It’s usually quiet, since most guests order takeout, but the service is superlative, so take a seat.
Opt for something simple, like a chicken patty and cocoa bread (feel free to drop the “and,” as many Caribbean folks do) or a heartier meal, like jerk chicken with collard greens and plantains.
If you’re in the area at lunchtime, there’s a robust under-$10 lunch menu. Natty’s is also a late-night hot spot thanks to an open, dimly lit adjacent lounge area that’s perfect for busting open a bottle of wine, showing off your island dance moves and eating post-party.
680 Powder Springs St., Marietta. 678-354-3838, facebook.com/NattysJamaicanSoulFoodRestaurant.
Tassa Roti Shop
The Alpharetta location is larger, but the Marietta restaurant, marked by a flag out front, is cozy and more casual. You’ll feel like you’re walking into someone’s house, since you can see the kitchen as soon as you open the door.
It’s not fancy, but it’s really good. A middle-aged woman may be cooking or working the register (I’ve affectionately dubbed her Mama in my head). She’ll cheerfully serve you everything from doubles (ask for tamarind sauce) to roti dhalpuri to buss up shut.
Or, you can help yourself to a lunchtime buffet that offers such delights as jerk chicken, stew chicken, peas and rice, and callaloo. The refrigerator is stocked with Caribbean drinks such as sorrel; mauby, made with mauby bark, sugar, water and a dash of cinnamon; and bottled Caribbean beverages. Be sure to order at least one with your meal.
224 Powers Ferry Road S.E., Marietta. 770-977-3163. 4005 Old Milton Parkway, Alpharetta. 678-395-6748, tassarotishop.com.
Eat Right Caribbean Restaurant
Both the Decatur and Lithonia locations offer Jamaican and general Caribbean specialties for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Staples such as saltfish and okra, porridge, fried dumplings and mackerel are on the breakfast menu and conjure delicious thoughts of quaint island life in the morning. For lunch or dinner, opt for real island favorites such as steam fish, buttered shrimp or tripe and beans.
Too much for your palate? There are popular dishes like curry chicken and shrimp on the menu, too.
1943 Wesley Chapel Road, Decatur. 404-289-1623. 7173 Covington Highway, Lithonia. 770-482-8313, eatrightrestaurant.com.
RECOMMENDED VIDEO: 2016 Spring Dining Guide: the best of brunch