Jerk tacos, chicken and steak

I’m the sort of person who could be accused of committing serial refrigerator abuse. I hoard condiments. I pack it with so much stuff that I sometimes break the shelving. And then I forget about things and leave them in there so long that the women in my life periodically demand that I purge it. Leftovers are a big problem for me because I’ll do everything I can to avoid throwing food away. I’ve even fed them to the the squirrels.

So I was dismayed when I saw the size of the two tacos I ordered from the Jamaican Jerk Shack, aka the Jerk Taco Man, a recently relocated culinary collision of . . . let’s just call it a Jamaican taqueria. I heard about it from Titus Ruscitti, the city’s foremost taco scholar, when it was operating out of a hair salon in Garfield Park. Before Titus wrote about it, the Jerk Taco Man, aka Julius Thomas, set up his smoker in an empty lot in the middle of what looks to be some pretty raging parties if you believe what you see on his Facebook page.

By the time I found him, he’d moved the operation to Austin—with at least a half-dozen employees by my count—into an abandoned taqueria in Austin called Joel’s Tacos Hoagie House, whose sign Trumps it over a little yellow JTM banner that flaps listlessly in the breeze. That and a Jamaican flag are the only hints that therein a great innovation in the taco arts is exchanged for money through a bulletproof lazy Susan. You can still smell the intoxicating whiff of smoked chicken though, and at lunchtime you can watch the workers frantically taking orders, chopping meat, and stuffing single corn tortillas with great, heroic fistfuls of the stuff, sprinkling them with onion, cilantro, and preshredded cheddar cheese (stay with me), and then soaking them with high pressure squirts of jerk sauce. They’re wrapped and packed into bulging cardboard boats, and by the time you get them to the trunk of the car and out of the bag they practically blossom, spilling over the sides like a time-lapse video of an orchid made of meat.

You can get jerk chicken or steak burritos, jerk Italian sandwiches or rib tips, but I was coming from my first lunch and thought a single chicken and steak taco would be the responsible order. Incorrect. These enormous antojitos go for $5 and $6 respectively, and each one is more than a meal. The steak is a typical chopped carne asada situation, but both it and the finely shredded smoky chicken absorb the piercing-hot, fruity, island-spice essence of the jerk sauce, while the crappy cheese goes gooey and melts into the matrix. The onion and cilantro lend a fresh bracing top note that might convince you that you can eat the whole thing without hurting yourself. But I restrained myself, took them home after a few forkfuls each—you need to diminish them with a utensil before you can pick them up with your hands—and stashed them in my similarly overstuffed refrigerator, where they were responsible guests and didn’t stay longer than breakfast the next day.

The new home of the Jerk Taco Man

Jamaican Jerk Shack, 604 N. Cicero, 312-709-8281