All photos courtesy of Mangrove

Dish By DishMiami

What to Order at Mangrove, Downtown’s Not-So-Hidden Jamaican Dinner Lounge


Mangrove is the kind of place that makes you feel in the know. Hidden in an unmarked space across a vacant lot Government Center, the restaurant is essentially invisible to those who don’t know it’s there. Step inside, though, and you’re in a space teeming with Caribbean energy, where electro and island music plays while guests enjoy Jamaican-inspired cocktails at the speakeasy-era bar.

Despite its dim, closely-packed, hole-in-the-wall aesthetic, Mangrove is in fact the brainchild of the same people who brought us fast-casual Jamaican hit Jrk!. Far from the friendly confines of Aventura Mall, Kavan Burke and chef Wayne Sharpe happened upon the opportunity to do something different next door to Jrk!’s downtown outpost.

“It wasn’t something we went out looking for,” says Burke. “We started out doing a lounge, then it kinda crept up on us and someone suggested we do dinner in here. And that’s how Mangrove was born.”

The result is a small but powerful menu of Jamaican staples with modern elevations. Sharpe walked us through his menu highlights, explaining why Mangrove is a totally different kind of Jamaican dining experience.


Step into Mangrove, even at dinner time, and it still looks like a dark, hidden cocktail bar. Red leather seats abut a bottle-packed bar, as low slung tables line the walls and small two-tops fill the narrow space between. You are, of course, welcome to sit for dinner without imbibing, but Mangrove is very much a space that invites some exploring of the cocktail list.

Mangrove likes to play with hot peppers, and nowhere is it more apparent than with the Hotstepper – a tequila cocktail made with house hot sauce, passionfruit liqueur, agave and fresh lime. It’s akin to a spicy passionfruit margarita, with a nice vinegar overtone. The Night Nurse is the move for whiskey drinkers, made with rye, Strega, bonfire syrup, and lime. It’s both smoky and spicy and is an ideal segue into a menu that has many of the same flavors.

Rough Gal Wings

Jerk wings are almost de rigueur in a Jamaican restaurant. But much like pizza in Italian joints and guacamole in Mexican spots, the art lies in taking a traditional food and adapting it to a modern menu. Chef Wayne Sharpe realized the key was keeping the flavor authentically Jamaican, maintaining the spice and complexities one would find in jerk stands on the island.

“I kept it as closely authentic as possible without changing the basic dynamic that makes jerk, jerk,” he says. “I didn’t water down the seasoning or anything like that. If you go to Jamaica and have jerk wings, and come to Mangrove, it’s gonna be the same thing.”

The wings come in two varieties: wet and dry. The dry wings are fried and dusted in a jerk seasoning that’s strong on nutmeg and allspice, with a hint of Scotch bonnet.  The wet wings are tossed in a Port wine jerk sauce, giving them a richer, fuller flavor than the jerk-flavored wings at your local sports bar. The smooth sweetness of the port gives the wings that hint of elegance that befits an elevated dining experience.

Just some of the many highlights on the Mangrove include wings (top center), whole fish (center), and jerk mac and cheese (bottom center).
Just some of the many highlights on the Mangrove include wings (top center), whole fish (center), and jerk mac and cheese (bottom center).

Jerk Mac and Cheese

If Mangrove’s jerk mac and cheese passes your table as you sit down, you might mistake it for a bowl of French onion soup. That’s because it’s presented in a ceramic bowl and topped with cheese, but the similarities end there. The dish is a Jamaican take on the American classic, where a gooey layer of cheese gives way to macaroni interspersed with jerk chicken and trails of sauce. The result is little taste of Jamaican American fusion, taking a traditional bar food side and giving it Mangrove’s touch.

Whole Fish

Mangrove’s Instagram highlight is its whole fish, a whole snapper deep fried and served upright on the plate. This lifelike plating was completely purposeful, as Sharpe explains that he wanted this dish to be the kind of thing people look over at from other tables.

“I wanted the fish to come alive on your plate, I wanted it to be in the position it is in the sea,” he explains. “This sparks interest and I knew it was going to be a hit. I also wanted it packed with flavor, so I created a ginger-rosemary sauce to make it a little different.”

Curry Oxtail

Curry and oxtail are both mainstays on Jamaican menus, but curry goat is typically the go-to in Jamaican restaurants — and Sharpe didn’t want the menu at Mangrove to be predictable.

“The rule is give somebody more than they expect, and everybody expects you to do curry goat because, Jamaica,” Sharpe says. “Jamaica isn’t known for curry oxtail, so I wanted to change it up. It was some trial and error and the rest is history.”

The high fat content of the oxtail makes this an exceptionally flavorful Jamaican curry, with the first bite bringing richer notes than the leaner goat. It’s easily the most indulgent, full-flavored offering at Mangrove, bringing a hearty dose of comfort food to the lighter island fare.

You can’t say ‘Jamaica’ without saying Scotch bonnet! — Mangrove chef Wayne Sharpe


“I always want my team to shine,” Sharpe says proudly, “and we have a Haitian chef and I wanted him to have something of his own on the menu.”

The result? This traditional Haitian pork shoulder dish, made with jerk-brined-then-fried chunks, served with plantain chips. Mangrove’s griot also adds a traditional escabeche sauce of vinegar, peppers, and pimentos, dry fried and used to accompany the fried pork.

This take on griot is made for sit-down dining, with strong citrus, vinegar, and pepper notes that make it far more than a piece of fried pork. It’s not necessarily going to spoil you for other griots, but the flavors are slightly bolder than what you’ll find in more traditional Haitian presentations.

Di’ Bread Pudding

If there’s one ingredient Jamaican cuisine uses in absolutely everything, it’s Scotch bonnet pepper. And that includes Mangrove’s signature dessert, which tops a decadent bread pudding with Scotch bonnet cream.

The experience is unexpected, as you dig a spoon into what looks like a regular bread pudding and are immediately met with a sweet blend of guava and chocolate. Once the sweetness subsides, you begin feeling the small kick from the Scotch bonnet cream, and while it doesn’t make the dish spicy, per se, it serves to differentiate the dish from the bevy of bread puddings you find around Miami.

“I did a little tour around Miami to see what people were serving, and the (bread pudding) was pretty plain, nothing special,” Sharpe says. “So I took a traditional bread pudding recipe and added guava jelly, chocolate, cinnamon and almonds. Then topped it off with Scotch bonnet cream. You can’t say ‘Jamaica’ without saying Scotch bonnet!”