New Kassava Truck Brings Real Jamaican Food to the Streets (Where it Belongs)
I found it hard to mask my disappointment when I tried the Reggae Jerk Chicken truck for the first time last month. I was hoping for some real, down home Jamaican food from a truck (think: oxtails, stew peas, curry goat, and jerk chicken on the bone). Instead, I was treated to a mall food court version Carribean food; boneless chicken chunks, covered in some sort of sweet sauce, served atop a white rice and black bean mixture. I salvaged the meal by stuffing plantains into a jerk chicken burrito, but my quest for real Jamaican food from a truck was not satisfied… until yesterday, when I stumbled upon the one week old Kassava Truck on Miracle Mile.
That’s right! A… new… truck. (Actually, trucks. There are two of them.) What a shocker. But before you roll your eyes and exclaim to the heavens “will this insanity ever end?!”, let me just say this: I stuffed my face at this truck yesterday (as a regular customer, not at some kind of “blogger preview”), and it was hands down one of the best meals from a truck I’ve had since moving to L.A. (especially if you like oxtail and goat.)
The Kassava Truck is actually a mobile offshoot of Kassava, the Carribean restaurant on 3rd Street (that according to their website is owned by Pras of the Fugees?) As a long time lover of street food in all its forms, the current trend of street truck as marketing vehicle for chefs and their already open or potentially on the way restaurants is worrisome… but with Kassava it doesn’t feel like that at all- mostly because taking jerk chicken to the street doesn’t feel forced. This is where this kind of food is meant to be eaten! Plus, the truck menu is in the Midtown Lunch price range ( the restaurant menu isn’t) so you aren’t going to hear any complaints from me.
The restaurant is a mix of Jamaican, Haitian and Martinique specialties, but the menu on the truck is almost exclusively Jamaican. Lunch plates come with rice and peas (aka beans) steamed cabbage, and plantains plus your choice of meat. Brown stew chicken, jerk chicken, and curry chicken are $7. Oxtails and spicy curry goat (awww yeah!) are both $8. There is also a jerk chicken salad (only in L.A.!), mac and cheese, and two veggie options- Haitian vegan legumes ($7), and a vegetarian curry stew ($6).
Deciding on one meat was just way to hard, so I asked the lady in the truck if she’d do a combo to give me a taste of everything (I offered to pay whatever.) She agreed, and we were off and running!
Now this is what Jamaican food should look like. You see that chicken? That’s called real chicken people. Bones = flavor, and this chicken was so good. No stupid sauce poured over the top to mask the great smokey and spicy flavor of the jerk rub. Just below that is the spicy curry goat, which was also out of control good. If you’ve never had goat, this is a great intro. The curry is just the way I like it, spicy and greasy with a slight green’ish tint from… well… I don’t know what it’s from. But it’s salty, curry powdery, and delicious. And it’s available with chicken if you can’t stand the thought of eating goat.
But the best of the three was the oxtails (seen just to the right of the chicken). Another example of bone + fat = flavor, the oxtails were about as perfectly cooked as possible. Fall off the bone tender, with a sticky mess of thick gravy coating the outside. Not to mention the melt in your mouth bits of fat attached to the meat. If you’ve convinced yourself that you don’t like “fat”, oxtails is a great 2nd step to conquering your fear (after pork belly of course).
The rice and peas was were also as it should be, and did a great job of sopping up all the greasy juices from the meat. Seeing the steamed cabbage made me happy (it’s an authentic touch) and the plantains provided the sweetness that stewed meat over rice meals like this always need. The only complaint you could possibly lodge against this otherwise perfect meal (besides not liking fatty stews, or spicy food) is everything was a bit salty. I certainly didn’t mind it (a little too much salt beats not enough salt in my book any day), but if you have high blood pressure this lunch will kill you. Seriously. It will be your last.
In addition to the lunch plates, they also offer five kinds of Jamaican patties- a savory, meat filled pastry of goodness. Think flaky hot pocket, but good. They don’t make these in house, but I’m almost positive they get them from somebody who makes them homemade. Don’t know if it’s the best patty I’ve ever had, but it’s certainly better than the factory produced patties you see all over NYC.
They also have roti wrapped burrito type things, but I’m just one man. And what you see above was about all I could do in one go. According to this LA Times review, Kassava’s roti is great- so I’ll be excited to head back and try it. They also do two sandwiches, but it’s just white bread (no coco bread) so it’s a pass as far as I’m concerned.
These days you can pretty much get anything from a truck, leaving some people to wonder- what’s the big deal? The backlash is starting to grow- mostly because food + truck doesn’t automatically = good meal. And the hype around every new truck isn’t necessarily about the food… but about the fact that it’s new. And it’s a truck. Well, Kassava the restaurant might be trying to tap into a fad that’s big in L.A. right now. But it didn’t feel that way to me yesterday while I sat on the curb outside of 5700 Wilshire Blvd. eating my plates of oxtails and goat and jerk chicken. It just felt right. And good.
Last month, I asked the owner of the Reggae Jerk Chicken Truck why she didn’t serve real, unadulterated Jamaican food from their truck. She told me the people of L.A. don’t want oxtails. Or stew peas. Or curry goat. Let’s hope the Kassava Truck proves her wrong!
- My prayers have been answered. Real Jamaican food from a truck.
- I like spicy food, but not too too spicy. And this stuff is just right.
- Bones = flavor. And nothing is more fun than getting dirty with a big plate of stew.
- Their Jamaican patties seem home made
- Oxtails and goat! From a truck? Sounds like heaven…
- I love Kassava the restaurant, so excited to get their from a truck.
- I don’t love Kassava, but something about eating the same food from a truck, for less money, makes it somehow taste better.
THE – (What people who don’t like this place would say)
- I do not like bones in my lunch.
- I don’t like fat on my meat
- I don’t like spicy foods
- I like really spicy foods, and this isn’t spicy enough
- Waaaay too salty
- I can’t decide on one meat! This truck needs to offer a two meat combo.
- Still not as good as the food in Jamaica
Kassava Trucks, there are two of them and you can follow both on Twitter @KASSAVATRUCKS