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Because nearly all the major hotels in Ocho Rios have gone all-inclusive, smaller, independent restaurants are struggling to survive.

Jamaica Evaluates Its Jerks

Jamaicans, and especially professional drivers, are passionately committed to publicizing the virtues of whatever out-of-the-way stall or kiosk that serves -- in their opinion -- the country's best jerk pork and chicken. Debates rage in bars and on beaches, but one site that gets consistently good reviews from jerk aficionados is Blueberry Hill (tel. 876/403-5308), which is located on the coastal road about .8km (1/2 mile) east of the North Shore community of Buff Bay, midway between Port Antonio and Ocho Rios. (It's near the junction of the North Shore Coastal Highway with one of the roughest roads in the Third World -- the one that runs over the Blue Mountains back to Kingston.)

Don't expect a palace. Established in 1980 and within shouting distance of less-famous jerk stalls that have cropped up like clones, it's little more than a roadside lean-to, built from concrete blocks that are caked with the carbonization of years of the slow-cooking jerk process. It serves only jerk pork, jerk chicken, and on rare occasions, jerk fish. You'll be asked in advance if you want a quarter-pound or a half-pound portion. (We always allocate a half-pound portion per person.) It will be presented on paper plates, wrapped in aluminum foil, and accompanied by slices of brown bread from the local supermarket, served with no pretense at all from its original plastic bag.

There's no dining room. With a sometimes engaging sense of conviviality (and at other times, in abject, sullen silence), clients collect their bounty in aluminum-foil wrappers, and eat with their fingers while standing beside the road, or perhaps sitting on a battered makeshift stool. Red Stripe beer and Ting (something akin to Sprite) are the drinks of choice. Overall, it's unpretentious, delicious, friendly, and fun, and it's open daily from 10am to 10pm.

Don't think for a moment that there aren't dozens of other jerk stands with reputations deeply entrenched throughout Jamaica. A much-respected competitor, located on the coastal highway (they call it "Main Street") 1.6km (1 mile) east of the center of Discovery Bay, is Mackie's Jerk Center and Bar (tel. 876/973-9450). The roadside venue is a party-colored cluster of open-air verandas, one of which is circular and contains an area reserved for serious drinking 'round about twilight time. It's a tried-and-true destination for minibuses, loaded with foreign visitors, who stop for its toilet facilities, and who sometimes get the first exposures of their lives to the phenomenon known as jerk. It's open daily from 9am to 11pm. "Festival bread" (deep fried cornmeal dough sprinkled with sugar) is fatteningly delicious and can be ordered separately. No credit cards accepted.

Any jerk stand in Jamaica will accept U.S. dollars, but know in advance that it usually works out to be just a bit cheaper for you, based on unfavorable exchange rates at the jerk stands, to pay for your meal in Jamaican, rather than in U.S. dollars. Why? Because jerk entrepreneurs, while very skilled at the culinary nuances of jerk cuisine, don't view themselves as bankers, and tend to charge not-very-favorable rates on the U.S.-to-Jamaican exchange rates.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.