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Cheap Eats 2013: Rare Birds

Our quest for Jamaica-worthy jerk chicken ended at the Sweet Mango Cafe.

Photograph by Scott Suchman.

There’s jerk chicken, and then there’s jerk chicken from Petworth’s Sweet Mango Cafe (3701 New Hampshire Ave., NW; 202-726-2646). Jamaican native George “Lenky” Beckford has been cooking up the moist, expertly spiced birds since the no-frills eatery opened 23 years ago and has the method—a variation on a family recipe—down to an art.

First, the poultry gets a quick cleaning in a rinse of citrus and vinegar. Then comes the main event: a thick, barely wet rub that includes garlic, ginger, pimiento, Scotch bonnet peppers, and lime juice. Pieces of white and dark meat marinate overnight before getting a turn on the charcoal grill. The result: smoky, lightly charred chicken, redolent of the jerk shacks of Jamaica. You can order it as a dinner spruced up with gravy and rice, peas, and cabbage, but we like it road-food style on “hard dough,” which despite its name is a pillowy, lightly sweet bread.

This article appears in the August 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.

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