>> Wah Gwaan Jamaican Kitchen & Bar | Eat the World Los Angeles

Thursday 21 July 2022

Wah Gwaan Jamaican Kitchen & Bar

Crenshaw Blvd. facade

COVID-19 UPDATE: The restaurant is open for indoor and outdoor dining. Most customers seem to be coming for takeout orders.

If you are zipping over the lovely hill through View Park on your way to Inglewood from Leimert Park, the familiar smell and smoke hits your nose long before you see the actual barrel drum cooking jerk chicken. In the rear parking lot of Wah Gwaan, a newly opened Jamaican restaurant at the southwestern edge of Leimert Park, the smoker starts well before opening time and sends its signals into the air throughout the day.

Just across from the community hub of Leimert Park Plaza and located in a corner unit that has been home to a Starbucks, a pizza joint, and a fried fish spot in the last fifteen years, Wah Gwaan hopes to last a bit longer than its predecessors. Its big Jamaican flag and palm trees set the vibe and are hard to miss, especially while waiting at the light in the intersection. The new Leimert Park Metro station will be just across the street when the Crenshaw line finally opens.

A full takeout order

While the smells emanating from the kitchen are undoubtedly delicious as they are opening up a bit late at 11:30 on a recent weekday, this might not be the time to pop into Wah Gwaan (Jamaican slang for "what's up?"), at least while they get their feet under them. After seeing and smelling the smoke drum out back, a small order of jerk chicken ($15, below) was ordered, but the cuts pulled from the steam table were a bit tired and ended up being quite dry.

Maybe later in the evening when there is greater turnover and the bird is fresh from being grilled is the time to do this. Based on the spices and the jerk sauce, this definitely has the potential to be really good. As with other entrees, the meats are served over a bed of Jamaican-style rice and peas and with a couple slices of fried sweet plantain and a small piece of festival.

Jerk chicken

On occasions where what is presented and ready is not necessarily what is the right order, the seafood menu can be even more enticing. These require cooking from scratch and the wait is worth it in the case of the curry shrimp ($25, below), also served over rice and peas but with so much more of the salty, spiced curry sauce that hardly a grain or rice can avoid drowning.

Seafood prices might seem steep compared to those of the other meats and even oxtail, but if the shrimp are any proof it is because they use high quality and fresh ingredients, and plenty of them. This dish has over a dozen big, snappy crustaceans and easily feeds two just like any of the other plates that are considered "small" orders.

Curry shrimp

While some dishes might not be available certain days due to rotation, any Jamaican restaurant will usually have a daily rendition of brown stew chicken ($15, below), again a "small" size. Once again this suffered a bit from being the first order of the day and had not been rotated with something cooked fresh, but once again you could tell it had good bones.

The stewing made the meat more tender than the jerk, so this held up better. A more deeper brown than usual, the spices followed suit with this sharper color scheme as well, not mellow at all. Some of the cabbage and nibbles on the sweet plantains were more rewarding with this dish than the others given the contrasts.

Brown stew chicken

The bar component of the restaurant's name has yet to materialize, but maybe the business will be expanding into the space next door that shares the front patio. On weekends when there are events taking place in Leimert Park Plaza, you can naturally see the front patio as a beacon for those ready for their first drink of the day.

For now, the mostly takeout affair overlooks a community hub that already thrives. If the kitchen can make that hub look back and want to thrive together, it could be a very special restaurant and space.


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