I’ve never been to the Caribbean, and Inglewood’s Airport Plaza is not exactly a white sand beach near Negril, but from the first moment I stepped into Front Page Jamaican Grille, I finally felt a connection to that part of the globe. Yes, the Jamaican food at the family-run restaurant from Saint Thomas born Valdo Carlyle and his Angeleno wife Pamela Carlyle is the best I’ve had in L.A., and the Carlyle family also displays so much charm and hospitality. The combination made me forget I was eating in a simple order-at-the-counter restaurant.
Front Page has lived in the shadow of LAX and the gigantic Randy’s donut for the past six years. The strip mall space features tables of shimmering silver. Walls are painted the colors of the Jamaican flag: yellow, black and green. At one point, walls also featured images of iconic Jamaicans, including Bob Marley, the Jamaican bobsled team and Usain Bolt. Valdo Carlyle is the chef, and Pamela Carlyle runs the front of the house and frequently shushes customers like me who ask about ingredients or cooking methods.
Would a Jamaican meal be complete without a pattie, the hand pie with flaky yellow pastry? Probably, but at Front Page, maybe not. Yes, they’ve got chicken and beef patties ($3), but I opted for the Vegetable version, aka spinach.
If you have more time and money, invest in Curry Roasted Whole Fish (Extra Large, $25) either perch or red snapper. We obviously opted for whole fish instead of fillets, and snapper instead of perch. The dish takes 40 minutes to prepare, but was well worth it for flaky flesh and a garden’s full of tender, curry-soaked cabbage.
Oxtail ($13.50 dinner) features peppery, well-seasoned bone-in slices that are at their peak when soaking in a pool of jus. Valdo said he trims fat from whole tails and cuts them into thin slices in-house with a bandsaw, which yields good results. Each plate comes with rice and beans, plantains that are far from candy sweet, and sautéed greens.
The Carlyles treat Jerk Chicken to the legendary Jamaican spice rub that typically contains allspice, cayenne, black pepper and more. The juicy, spice-rubbed dark meat gained intensity with each bite during my initial visit.
Front Page also graces slices of lean boneless pork loin with jerk seasoning. The other white meat is available as part of a two-meat plate ($19.50), which I’d recommend for variety’s sake. Yes, you’ll get more greens, beans and rice and fried plantains.
Reggae Sauce, a spicy orange house-made slurry, numbed my tongue.
One drink that definitely won’t extinguish that chile heat is the house-made ginger beer, which contained a rough chop of fresh ginger and may as well have been fire water.
Front Page also has specials of jerked pig feet and stewed cow foot. Clearly both dishes hold intrigue, but tried and true classics are a good start in Inglewood. And who knows, the next time I visit Front Page, my next step could be catching a flight to Kingston.
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