Can Trader Joe’s Jamaican patties be topped? Yes!

A taste of Trader Joe’s Jamaican patties was hyped on social media with patties from Simply Wholesome in View Park-Windsor Hills. Also on this week’s recommendation from Jenn Harris, cochinita pibil at a lucha libre themed restaurant in Orange County and Filipino fare in Hollywood.

Jamaican rolls from Simply Wholesome

My social media feeds are flooded with videos and photos of the new Jamaican patties at Trader Joe’s. Grocery stores now sell their own version of the meat-filled pastry commonly found in the Caribbean. I immediately think of Jamaican patties from Simply Wholesome, the restaurant and health food store in View Park-Windsor Hills, which has been serving up plump pies since the 1980s.

There’s only one thing to do: Prepare a taste of Jamaican bread at home. (I need to preface this by telling you that I’m not a fan of Trader Joe’s prepared foods. I frequent the store to buy produce, cheeses and other crunchy snacks. and most weeks you’ll find a pack of Buffalo dipped chicken and some caramelized onions in my fridge along with Tarte d’Alsace in my freezer.)

From the colorful box in Trader Joe’s freezer aisle, the “spicy pie in the pastry” looks just enough like the restaurant’s version – an elongated, yellow-tinted semicircle with crinkled edges. At home, I preheated the oven to 350 degrees and waited the recommended 35 minutes.

The patties were filled with what was listed on the box as ground beef, but the filling was like a smooth meaty mixture, with no obvious flavor and a little heat. The cake was light yellow fried in the oven and flaky but too dry. It’s a usable dummy Hot Pocket that can deliver after-school food the hard way.

Craving for real food more than ever, I drove to Simply Wholesome and the patties guaranteed with three different fillings: jerk chicken, curry chicken and spinach. The dish is made according to a recipe from the mother family of co-owner Ayanna Keeling in Trinidad.

Jamaican patties stacked on top of each other

Jamaican patties from Simply Wholesome restaurant and shop in Windsor Hills.

(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Shredded chicken and curries start with the same base of shredded chicken, a spicy pepper condiment called Calypso sauce, and salt, pepper, and chili. The jerk chicken is added with a hot Jamaican pepper, which Keelings imports from the Caribbean. The flavors are concentrated, vibrant and distinct, with a hint of heat in the food and a hint of turmeric, coriander and ginger in the curry. But the spinach dish might be my favourite, with a spinach stew that resembles the best chopped spinach with a few corn kernels strewn all over it.

The pastry dough is seasoned with curry powder, olive oil, garlic, thyme and turmeric. It’s a delicious, buttery, textured cake batter that’s ready to crumble if you squeeze too hard. I ate them straight away from the thin paper sleeves they were served in, with the filling sizzling and the pastry bursting into crispy crusts. They make a great snack while driving. Three, paired with one of the restaurant’s many fruit smoothies, make for a satisfying meal.

three cakes on the table

From left, Simply Wholesome’s spinach, shredded chicken and curry chicken patties.

(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

“I don’t think Trader Joe’s bread takes away from the fact that we serve them. … We’re still very community-driven,” Keeling said on a recent call. “I’m happy to hear how interested people will be and if they’d like to see other locations serving them.”

Try the pies from Trader Joe’s if you must, but if you want a more premium version, I’ll meet you in line at Simply Wholesome.

Lucenachon and hiramasa collar from Lord Kuya

Aerial view of the dish in the tin plate

Lucenachon from Lord Kuya is a lechon participant with a nod to the city of Lucena in the Philippines.

(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

The pork roll artwork called lucenachon at chef Lord Maynard Llera’s new Filipino-style Kuya Lord is a seven-day process that incorporates more than 25 ingredients. It honors Lucena, the port town in the Philippines where Llera resides, and the suckling pig, or suckling pig, that the chef grew up eating. It’s also a stunning display of Llera’s culinary prowess, demonstrating a technique that makes pork tender and supple, with a crisp, crispy skin.

“This dish is really special to me because you see my roots and who I am, but also use techniques that I know now,” he said. “This is the Filipino version of lechon and the Italian porchetta and how I want it to be eaten.”

Cholera begins with brine, then air-dried before stuffing and rolling the meat like porchetta. He dries it again then cooks it in the oven until the fat closes and permeates the meat and vegetable stuffings. The skin is like a chip, a crunchy crumb you can mash with or without with the rest of the dish. Everything benefits from a few drops of Llera’s vinegar. It’s surprisingly sour in the best way, cutting through fat and meat crisply.

Aerial view of fish and sauce

Bake the hiramasa collar from Lord Kuya.

(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Equally addictive is the hiramasa grilled neck. Llera makes a daing or dried fish sauce with soybeans, garlic, and calamansi and lets the fish neck soak in the sauce for a week. If Llera had his way, he would sunbathe hiramasa the way he did in the Philippines. At his Hollywood restaurant, he let them air dry for four hours then grilled them on the griddle.

The fish falls off the collar easily, is buttery and concentrated with citrus and soy. He serves it with his version of chile oil, a sand-filled mix of fried chili and garlic. Fermented anchovies give the seasoning an umami taste. It’s good for fish, in burritos, on eggs, spoons or on your fingers. He sells jars of stuff at the register. If you’re a close friend, you’ll get one for the holiday.

Cochinita pibil tacos from La Lucha Mexican Kitchen

Plate of fried banh tet, a small box of sauce and slices of lemon

An order of three cochinita pibil tacos from La Lucha Mexican Restaurant in Anaheim.

(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

There’s no shortage of things to see in the dining room at Edgar Bernal’s La Lucha Mexican Kitchen. On the wall was a ferocious-looking luchador, and there were posters promoting wrestling matches and colorful pictures of luchadores peeking out through their masks. Multiple TVs playing libre lucha wrestling and an array of masks sit atop a beverage cooler near the registration counter.

This is not a Yucatecan restaurant, but the dish I would recommend above all is the tacos cochinita pibil. It’s a recipe from Bernal’s mother’s hometown of Cuernavaca in Morelos, in the style Bernal says is a tradition of the region.

“They would sell them downtown, where she learned how to make them,” he said. “When she started making them for family and friends at home, everyone would eat 10 banh tet each. When I opened the restaurant, I knew we had to put them on the menu.”

Pork is cooked on low and slow speed for six hours with achiote, orange and onion along with a bunch of other “secret” seasonings. The tortillas are pulled through the cooking liquid and dyed a deep orange color before baking. Each had shredded pork and fried onions soaked in a rust-colored liquid.

The tortillas are bubbly and crispy yet chewy and the juices flow through your fingers, staining everything it touches.

The more I ate, 10 seemed to be the correct number to order.

Simply Wholesome, 4508 W. Slauson Ave, Los Angeles, (323) 294-2144,
Kuya Lord, 5003 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles,
La Lucha Mexican Kitchen, 120 S. Harbor Blvd. H, Santa Ana, (657) 232-0359, Can Trader Joe’s Jamaican patties be topped? Yes!

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