It might’ve been a Monday night in a relatively empty shopping center, but at peak dinner hour the line to order at Irie Rhythms remained steady.
The Winston-Salem Jamaican restaurant is one of three in the city, but it is more directly comparable to Da Reggae Café in Greensboro. Like Uncle Desis, a tasty Jamaican spot with a great curry fish near Wake Forest University on the citys north side, Irie Rhythms is primarily a take-out joint. But the configuration of the seating at Irie is more inviting for people to eat in at Uncle Desis, customers often linger by the counter instead of walking into the adjacent, empty dining area.
And the dine-in orders dont show up in a Styrofoam takeout box at Irie, making it feel more like a restaurant even though it doesnt offer table service the way Yeh Mon Caribbean restaurant in Winston-Salem does.
In some respects the menu at Irie Rhythms is somewhat standard — there’s oxtail, a curry chicken that might take a while to prepare, a hefty and spicy jerk chicken plate that’s worth the trip alone. But Irie also pushes beyond the predictable, offering a well-paired tilapia dish with a sort of mango salsa on top. There’s a good chance that the chicken salad sandwich is good, but please don’t attempt to find out.
Instead order something more interesting like the ginger pork chops or the ackee and salt fish, Jamaica’s national dish that features a fruit originally from West Africa.
At the very least, if you want to keep the cost down and want something more basic, try the baked chicken or BBQ jerk pork sandwich, or show up for one of the daily lunch specials.
Irie Rhythms also provides a decent vegetarian menu, not counting the several seafood-based options, and lists a vegetarian section with choices such as the veggie delight and veggie rundown. It might be more satisfying to piece together a few meatless sides, including callaloo — think Caribbean collards — rice and peas, fried plantains or seasonal vegetables.
There are also a couple options from this part of the world, including the mac & cheese, but with flavorful and decidedly scarcer items like escovitch fish, why would you?
Located next to Earshot Records not far from Hanes Mall, Irie occupies what once was a Quiznos storefront, my friend Andrew told me as we waited to order. He’d come in sometimes when he worked a job nearby, and though he knew about Irie Rhythms, he hadn’t been in before yet either.
We gave our dishes — him the tilapia and me the jerk chicken after the cashier warned the curry chicken would take a while — favorable or even glowing reviews, and endorsed each other’s meals after swapping bites. But even after a bit of a wait for the food to arrive, neither of us were able to finish our whole plates, eating to our heart’s content but stopping short of membership in the Clean Plate Club.
Irie Rhythms feels newer than Winston-Salem’s other Jamaican restaurants, though it’s been around for a couple of years. Blame it on the credit card reader that can accommodate those new chips or the walls that look freshly painted. That helps its appeal, as does the more inviting seating and the fact that you won’t feel like you’re intruding, as I almost did when a friend and I were the lone lunch patrons at Yeh Mon once. But more important are the well-seasoned, piquant dishes that rival Uncle Desi’s. And given the flow of customers on a Monday evening, Andrew and I aren’t the only ones who think so.
Visit Irie Rhythms at 3252 Silas Creek Pkwy (W-S) or at irierhythms.com.