Cheap Eats 2013: Rare Birds

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

By: Anna Spiegel

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.