The Port Royal Cafe on Broadway offers authentic Jamaican cuisine at an affordable price. (photo by Merv Hecht)

Now that we can’t afford to go anywhere exotic until the economy comes back, we’re looking for foreign experiences here in Santa Monica. Lunch or dinner at The Port Royal Café is a bit like a trip to Jamaica.

WHERE: 1412 Broadway, Santa Monica, (310) 458-4147.

WHEN: Lunch and dinner every day except Sunday.

BEST DISHES: Among the two most popular categories — the jerk and the curries — jerk is the best known Jamaican dish and is a direct descendant of African foods. While the favorite jerk is chicken, at the Port Royal the most ordered, the Mahi Mahi, is a firm textured white fish with a fairly spicy flavor derived from chili peppers. It’s moist, but comes without sauce.

I’m a goat meat fan, and I go to several Mexican restaurants for barbacoa (goat stew) on a regular basis. So, of course I tried the goat curry at Port Royal. While it has a good goat flavor, some of the pieces are tough, and there are bones left in. If you crave curry, I would switch to one of the terrific Indian restaurants which I review from time to time.

One of the best features of the plates here are the side dishes that come with the main courses such as a delicious sautéed spinach cooked in garlic and onion, authentic “dirty rice,” and wonderful thin strips of sautéed plantains.

PRICES: You can eat well here for $15, or splurge like I did last time and get a mixed platter and a fruit drink, which will set you back $20.

BEST FEATURE: Authenticity. The ambiance, the wait staff, and the food all make you feel like you’re in a different culture — what a nice break from reality. And no one is talking about Bernie Madoff or the stock market.

WORST FEATURE: Not everyone likes Jamaican food.

WHAT TO DRINK: No alcohol is sold, but some diners bring in wine and beer. Usually I like beer with spicy foods, but the mango fruit drink I had last time I was there was refreshing.

BOTTOM LINE: This is on my list of places to lunch once a month or so.

Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at mervynhecht@yahoo.com

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