Irie Jamaican Kitchen brings sunny flavors to Highland Square just in time for summer

Nahla Bendefaa

For the past few weeks, Irie Jamaican Kitchen’s colorful signage on West Market Street has been garnering a lot of attention. Since the beginning of March, prospective Akronite clients have been inquiring about an opening date. 

The initial opening date was set for May 18. However, to ensure perfect service, owner and executive chef Omar McKay decided to push the official grand opening and went for a soft launch instead. Lucky customers can head over between 11 am and 10 pm any Tuesday through Sunday.

Read more:

Walking into the restaurant, the Irie vibes (from Jamaican English, pronounced eye-rie) cannot be missed. The restaurant’s décor is colorful and convivial, reminiscent of beachside food joints. A plethora of seating options, both indoors and on the patio, make the space accessible to groups and individuals alike. It is also set up as a service line with a “build your own entrée” process.

The Akron location is one of three Irie Jamaican Kitchens operated by Chef Omar. The first location opened seven years ago in Richmond Mall. In 2017, the Irie Jamaican Kitchen team opened its first brick-and-mortar location in East Cleveland. A second location was opened a few months later in the Old Brooklyn neighborhood in Cleveland. When the idea of opening a third store came up in 2020, Chef Omar decided to try out the Akron market by running the No-Hi Pop-up for a weekend last October. 

The menu offers a diverse array of options for meat-lovers, vegans, spicy food lovers, and more. The jerk chicken Jamaican bowl is a staple with a mixture of warming spices and a classic kick from scotch bonnet peppers. It is juicy and crispy and goes wonderfully with the rice base, caramelized plantains, and flavorful cabbage. The oxtail, one of the most iconic Jamaican dishes, is mind-blowingly fall-off-the-bone tender with a mild spiciness to it. For people who cannot handle the heat from scotch bonnets, the curry chicken is a mild option while the chicken stew is not spicy at all.

For a decadent treat, you can’t beat the Baby Lobsta for seafood or the 3 Likkle Birds, which offers chicken in all three forms: Jerk chicken, chicken stew and chicken curry. For vegans and vegetarians, the vegetable buddha is a coconut-based curry protein that pairs perfectly with the island salsa offerings. As for the mac & cheese base, Chef Omar calls it “the fusion part I bring to Jamaican food. Everyone loves mac & cheese.”

The menu does not stop there! Honey butter roti, the classic Jamaican beef or chicken patties, and the infamous Ting carbonated drink all make an appearance. A number of salsas can also top off any bowl or box.   

Visit Irie Jamaican Kitchen at 837 West Market St., or sign up for their newsletter for updates and deals.

Nahla Bendefaa is a journalist, photographer and content creator from Akron, Ohio by way of Kenitra, Morocco. She enjoys rewatching Friday Night Lights, painting and confusing Spotify’s algorithm while making her way through a seemingly never-ending tea collection.

You just read this article for free. The good news is that we’re committed to never putting our content behind a paywall. We want our readers to be able to continue reading for free because we believe everyone should have access to quality journalism. 

But here’s the catch: Our work is not free to produce. If you can afford to contribute by joining our co-op and becoming a member, we need your support for the news we offer to remain free and equitable. Plus, we think you’ll love being able to say, “I’m part-owner of a magazine.”

We want all Akronites, our neighboring suburbanites, and our beloved expats to have the opportunity to learn what’s happening here, and to read articles written by contributors whose love for Akron shines through their work. So here’s what we’re asking: Please join us for as little as $1/month in becoming a member. When you click the red button below, you help keep our content free for thousands of readers who might not otherwise be able to access our stories.