Spread at Negril The Jamaican Eatery
Spread at Negril The Jamaican Eatery Credit: Crystal Fernanders

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Negril is a family-owned Jamaican restaurant serving the D.C. region. Originally from May Pen, Jamaica, founder Earl Chinn immigrated to New York City in the early ’70s. After several visits to the District to spend time with his sister, he noticed the island nation’s culture and cuisine was less represented here than in the Big Apple. 

Because of this, Chinn opened a restaurant of his own in Adams Morgan in 1979. The store relocated to Shaw in the early 1990s. Three sister restaurants opened between the late ’80s and early aughts. They’re all in Maryland—Mitchellville, Silver Spring, and Laurel. Earl’s sons, Kevin and Brian Chinn, now lead operations at all four locations. They use their dad’s recipes with some tweaks to help keep the food consistent across the shops.

Since it’s located on their campus, the Shaw location is a staple for Howard University students. They came in droves while I waited for my order, and the staff cranked out food in a timely manner. HU students love Negril because it serves mouthwatering food at reasonable prices.

Find digital menu boards behind the cashier and a countertop display case holding individual servings of fresh apple turnovers, banana bread, carrot cake, and their popular rum cake. The desserts are baked at their factory in Baltimore and shipped to the restaurants. Find Jamaican sodas in glass bottles in a fridge behind the counter, along with a couple house-made tropical beverages.

Photo of people ordering at Negril by Crystal Fernanders

A store manager named Damion says not many people order their hibiscus drink, traditionally known as sorrel, because of the spice level from the fresh ginger. If you’re a fan of ginger beer, you’ll definitely enjoy it. There’s also a soursop drink made with fresh lime juice. It has a sweet and slightly tangy flavor, and almost tastes like a blend of apple, strawberry, and pineapple. One sip made me feel like I was in the tropics.

Negril serves flaky patties with fillings like spicy ground beef, tender jerk chicken, seasoned veggies, and curry shrimp, sold hot in the restaurant and in frozen packages of six to bake at home. The store also makes buttery coco bread on site and puts it to good use as a vessel for jerk chicken and fried fish sandwiches. Customers often eat the patties and coco bread together. 

Roti, a thin and soft flaky flatbread, is served alongside flavorful stewed meats and vegetables. Cooks marinate all the proteins overnight, so you are guaranteed a well-seasoned meal. They’re all served with two sides: rice and peas cooked with herbs and coconut milk and cabbage steamed with peppers and onions.

The curried chicken is one of their most popular items. Cooks simmer chicken thighs in a Jamaican spice blend with potatoes, tomatoes, and green peppers. No knife needed—the tender meat falls right off the bone with just a fork.

Regulars also order the spicy jerk chicken. The trick is to chill the meat with herbs, pimento, and their house spice blend before grilling it. One customer has been visiting the restaurant for more than 25 years. He consistently orders the jerk chicken as a sandwich. You can also get jerk drumettes, in servings of seven or 12. 

Photo of oxtails by Crystal Fernanders

Negril stews oxtails slowly in a rich gravy with lima beans and carrots. Oxtail is the bony cut of meat from the tail of an ox or cow. It’s fatty, which makes for succulent melt-in-your-mouth bites. It comes with rice to sop up all of the juices. 

Oh em gee, you guys—the made-to-order brown stew fish is magical! Cooks season and deep-fry a one-pound red snapper and stew it in a tomato-based sauce with onions and peppers. The end result is a delicious fish that flakes easily. There is a lot of broth with both sweet and savory notes. It could easily feed two, but you might not want to share it. 

The staff mentioned that the vegetarian entrees do not get enough attention. The flavor-packed curried vegetables are made of stewed tomatoes, chickpeas, and eggplant, and served with a few pieces of sweet fried plantains. Health is wealth, so eat your veggies!

Negril is all about tradition. Their goal is to serve Jamaican dishes widely known in the culinary world. With the steady business they received during my short visit, it’s clear Negril has made a lasting impression and become a staple eatery in the D.C. area.

Place your order by phone, online, or by walking in. You can also find the restaurant on third-party delivery services. Check their website for updated hours and specials, which vary by location. The one in Shaw is open Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Dishes and drinks range from $3 to $20. Self-service catering is also available.

Photo of shrimp patty by Crystal Fernanders

Negril, 2301 Georgia Ave. NW; (202) 332-3737; negrileats.com