The Foreign Ingestor: Getting Hot for the Sweet Mango Cafe
The Spot: Sweet Mango Cafe, 3701 New Hampshire Ave. NW (202-726-2646)
The Cuisine: Jamaican, Caribbean
The Go-To Dishes: fried plantains, oxtail, jerk chicken
The Scoop: There are only a few things in this world that get me as excited as Jamaican food. I had been hearing about Reginald James' Sweet Mango Cafe for some time now, and when I got the chance to try it last Friday night, I pounced. I quickly assembled a team of three of my trusted companions to join me for dinner, not because I particularly enjoy their company but because I wanted to try everything on the menu.
Entering through the front entrance, located across the street from the Georgia Avenue Metro, we were met with a room full of takeout patrons waiting for their plantains and oxtails. My initial impression? Chaos. However, we quickly learned there was a sit-down section upstairs. Man, was I glad about that.
While there was a little outdoor balcony overlooking the Metro, the tables were full, so we settled on a spot inside, in a space clearly built for drinking and deejaying. For entrees, we decided on the goat curry, oxtail, red snapper, and jerk chicken (both white and dark meat), while for starters, we opted for the fried plantains, a beef patty, and a loaf of coco bread. To wash it down, I ordered a Jamaican soda, mostly out of curiosity, and the standard island lager, Red Stripe.
A few minutes later, a waiter arrived to tell us they were out of the red snapper, but to ease our pain, he presented us with an extra order of plantains on the house and offered to fry us up a piece of kingfish instead. Throughout the night, the waitstaff was extremely accommodating, courteous and attentive, and pretty damn funny, too.
It's safe to say those fried plantains rocked my world. They had a juicy texture and were perfectly sweet. The extra order did not go to waste. The beef patty, by contrast, seemed ordinary. Same for the coco bread. We could have skipped both and not lost any sleep it. But the plantains, we be jammin'!
As with the starters, the entrees arrived in Styrofoam takeout boxes. The aroma wafting from those containers put me in a drugged state of euphoria. I first started on the curry goat, which came with a side of rice. The meat was tender and the curry mild. It had good flavor, but I would have preferred more spice. The oxtail was especially tasty. I've had the pleasure of sampling a good deal of oxtail in my time, and this was quality stuff. The meat, however, was quite fatty, which meant it pretty much melted in my mouth. I was glad to share this with others, since it's not a dish I could eat by myself.
The kingfish was lightly fried and full of flavor, which led me to gnaw on the bones, trying to suck up every last bit. As good as the fish was, though, it paled next to the jerk chicken. You have an option of all white meat for an extra two bucks, which we tried, but I also asked for some dark meat on the side. The flavor was tremendous, with a spicy kick at the end. Nothing we tried, though, was too hot for our palates.
We must have looked like we couldn't handle heat, however. The waitstaff trotted out bottled water on the house for us to wash down all the food.
The Verdict: Go. Go now. Sweet Mango Cafe is not just a place that you should hit when in Petworth, it's a place that should be sought out.