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Jamaican Patty Shack Bringing Elusive Caribbean Dish to Chicago

Dr. Bird’s is a restaurant that opened 39 years ago in Buffalo, N.Y. so popular that rappers wrote a song

A colorful drawing of the interior of a restaurant.
Concept art for Dr. Bird’s Jamaican Patty Shack.
Juxtapose House
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

About 50,000 Jamaicans live in Chicago, many in North Side communities leading up to suburban Evanston. Restaurants like Ja’Grill and Mr. Brown’s Lounge have shared the island’s flavors with the city, but Hakim Lee feels something missing. That’s why he and his brother are opening Dr. Bird’s Jamaican Patty Shack in hopes of introducing Chicagoans to an item that’s popular on the East Coast: Jamaican patties.

Passers-by may have noticed signage at 1215 N. Milwaukee Avenue, and ownership hopes to open in November. The restaurant’s logo features the Doctor Bird, a national symbol in Jamaica. This is a labor of love for Lee’s family who run a Buffalo, NY restaurant. Lee says their Jamaican food brings various Caribbean communities together and that he saw an opportunity to bring the same type of vibe to Chicago: “Folks have diverse backgrounds in Jamaica, but they view themselves as one,” Lee says.

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For anyone confused: Jamaican patties aren’t burgers. It’s a pastry that can be baked or fried, similar to an empanada and stuffed with beef and other ingredients. Few Chicago restaurants serve the dish — Garifuna Flava in Gage Park might be the most popular option.

The pastries are flatter, bigger, and often spicer versus its Latin American cousins. They’re filled with a variety of ingredients with Caribbean influences. They’re popular in New York City. Staying in the Empire State, the baked patties are also sold in Buffalo. That where Lee’s parents opened the original Dr. Bird’s Caribbean Rasta-Rant in 1981. The restaurant gained even more community credibility thanks to a song by rap collective Griselda. The Buffalo outfit signed with Eminem’s Shady Records. Last year, they signed a management deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.

Lee and brother Changa hope to modernize their parents’ business and open multiple locations. Lee has spent the last seven years in Chicago working for U.S. Foods, the massive food supplier for restaurants. Demographics aren’t the only reason why Jamaican patties haven’t been popularized in Chciago, Lee says. There’s a question about find the right products and Lee will use his connections at U.S. Foods to bring them to his Chicago restaurant.

Other menu items include jerk tacos and rasta pasta made with time-tested family recipes. Acknowledging the South Asian influence in island cuisine, roti will be available. Doubles, which use Indian flatbread as a wrap, could be offered as a special. The dish uses channa, or spiced chickpeas. They come from Trinidad, and Dr. Bird’s menu includes plenty of the country’s influence. Lee’s also keen on curried potatoes, which are more popular than the proteins, he says.

A colorful digital drawing of plans for a restaurant’s interior.
A rendering of Dr. Bird’s
Dr. Birds/Juxtapose House

Dr. Bird’s is taking over a space that borders the perimeter of the Polish Triangle along Milwaukee Avenue. The space is a former Burger King, but Lee has spent considerable effort in eliminating any traces of the the space former life as a fast-food slinger. Lee’s is confident in his takeout operation, but the space was designed to comfortably seat customers. The restaurant’s business plan has pivoting built in. They’ve retained a Houston firm, Juxtapose House, to help with design.

Drinks are an essential part of the the Dr. Bird’s experience, and they’ll have a liquor license for Red Stripe and non-alcoholic ginger beer. Fresh juices are a specialty. Lemonade and sour punches with lychee and lime that could be enjoyed with rum. Lee also mentions tributes to his elders. Grandma Johnson’s coffee is a special blend, while Mother Matie’s coladas contain blood orange, coconut, and pineapple. They’ll also serve their own ice cream.

Lee points interested parties to the restaurant’s Instagram page for updates. There was competition for the space, with it being near the CTA’s Blue Line Division Street stop near Wicker Park. Lee says its the ideal neighborhood where his family’s business can make a mark, hopefully launching the first of many locations.

Dr. Bird’s, 1215 N. Milwaukee Avenue, scheduled for a November opening.