The Best Jerk Chicken in Toronto
In Toronto, there are many places that claim to have the best jerk chicken in town. They don't seem to have necessarily been anointed by anyone (except maybe their chef or owner) so further investigation was needed to figure out where we really should be going to getting our jerk on.
Traditionally, jerk is served with rice n' peas and coleslaw. It's made by marinating chicken with a dry 'jerk' rub that varies from chef to chef but has at least two essential ingredients:
1. Allspice (pimento)
2. Scotch bonnet peppers (often mistaken for their relative the habanero pepper); then cooked over an open fire.
Additional ingredients used in 'jerk' rubs include cinnamon, nutmeg and thyme and often secret ingredients such as orange juice, lime juice and pineapple.
The origins of jerk chicken lead back to Jamaican native Indians. The history of their methods is varied but the principle is that it was cooked in an outdoor pit, over green wood, or pimento wood which comes from the allspice tree. Today most jerk is baked in a gas oven which helps drain oils and fat from the meat and many chefs argue that the strong flavours come from the amount of time the meat marinates which can range from 6 to 18 hours.
But don't be fooled by uninspired imitations. Here's a closer look at 11 of Toronto's best.
Writing and photos by Melissa Bessey
If you know where to find good Jerk chicken in downtown Toronto, you pick up lunch at Mr. Jerk. Nondescript looking though it may be, this little Caribbean food haven is jumping and jam packed for the midday crowd, daily. Mr. Jerk’s jerk chicken is prepared using the authentic ‘Jamaican smoking BBQ’ technique which means it's slowly smoked to tenderize the meat. Marinated for 24-48 hours, the price depends on the time of day; a half chicken lunch is $7.50. Dinner is $8.95 and a quarter chicken is $3.95 for lunch and $5.75 for dinner. The jerk chicken here is made not too spicy (for a palette like mine accustomed to spicy foods) but it's still at least 6.5 out of 10 on the spicy scale. Worth mentioning - they are also thought to have the best jerk pork in town and I’ve also heard good things about Mr. Jerk’s roti and ox tail. More »
If Toronto has a little Jamaica, the sun shines a little more irie along Eglinton Avenue West. Central to this area is Rap’s Caribbean Restaurant. The recipe for their Jerk chicken is so coveted, the chef wouldn't allow me to photograph it! Rap’s is Jamaican cooking at its finest and if you want chicken less spicy than the jerk, try their wings. More »
Revered as the ultimate late night destination for Jamaican food in Toronto, Albert’s is located in midtown, on St. Clair at Vaughn Rd., where they’ve been serving high quality, low priced cuisine for 24 years. Jerk is served in two portions. Small for $7.75 and large for $10. Both come with rice n’ peas and coleslaw. I'd also recommend their oxtail. Open until 3am week nights and until 5am on weekends. For many Jamaican’s, Albert’s jerk tastes like back home, meaning you can taste a healthy dose of spice without burning your mouth off! More »
Though plain looking from the outside, Mainsha Restaurant serves up a homemade recipe of Jerk chicken daily in three sizes - small for $5,medium $7 or $9 for a large serving of jerk with rice n’ peas and coleslaw. Mainsha has several locations throughout the city but this is the original location on Eglinton Ave. W., near Oakwood. And their jerk chicken is consistently well seasoned, with a flavour that’s not too spicy for the average person, perhaps even safe for kids. More »
Found in North Toronto, Pepper’s is a great destination for Caribbean food but you have to know it to find it. Once you make it to Pepper’s, order the Jerk chicken. Small is $6.50 and large $8.50. Everything on the menu is authentic as can be right down to the cow foot, porridge and Ackee & Salt Fish. Pepper’s also offers catering services and if you’re looking for real Caribbean flavour without having to cook, this should be on your short list. More »
In Toronto’s east end near Main and Danforth, Cool Runnings is a very cool eatery with great Jamaican food and hands down the proudest Caribbean chef in town! Like the other restaurants on this list, the prices are very affordable and the atmosphere is casual. But unlike the others, Cool Runnings puts a lot into the presentation of their food. The jerk is spicy and oh so good and comes in either a medium or large portion for $8 or $9.50 with rice n’ peas and coleslaw. A side order can be had for $6. More »
Formerly the Albert's Jamaican location near Queen and Bathurst, Pat’s Homestyle might be a new name but the food hasn't really changed. Two sizes of Jerk chicken are on offer here - a small for $8 or large for $10 and both are served with rice n’ peas and, guess what, coleslaw. Pat’s jerk chicken is baked with traditional seasonings and is comparable to home cooked quality. More »
In Jamaica there are little strip malls everywhere, each full of independent merchants. So, you have to know exactly where each shop or restaurant is to find it, and this holds true for Toronto’s Caribbean Palms. Located in a strip mall across from the Science Centre, there is no indication of a Caribbean restaurant on the main sign and the Palms is tucked behind the front row of shops. BUT, for those who find it, they won't be disappointed. Jerk chicken is either served with rice n’ peas for $6.75 or with steamed rice for $7. During the week there are also less expensive student deals for under $5 but student or not, I highly recommend this spot. The Palm’s chef believes that consistency is the key and assures that whether you try their jerk chicken tomorrow or next month, it will always taste the same. The major hint of herb in their recipe is thyme, as they use both big and small leaf thyme. Spice factor = medium. Their secret ingredient? Freshly minced shadow benny which is used as part of their roster of fresh green herbs. More »