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The Windy City’s prevailing pop culture food legacy may be all about deep-dish pizza and hot dogs, but Puerto Rican Jibaritos should not be overlooked when it comes to Chicago’s rich and varied foodscape. Said to have been introduced to Chicago in the '90s by a Puerto Rican transplant, these satisfying sandwiches-of-sorts smush together well-seasoned proteins, lettuce, tomatoes, grilled onions, cheese, and a touch of mayo between two crisp plantains. And, in a place which has nurtured Puerto Rican communities, creativity, and culture since the '40s, Jibaritos remain a symbol of Boricua pride. (Not unlike the nearly 60-foot (18-meter) Puerto Rican flag that arches over Paseo Boricua in the Humboldt Park neighborhood.) Here’s just how Chicago became a Jibarito city … and where to try one.
Per father and daughter duo Angel and Gaby Figueroa, co-owners of Chicago’s Borinquen eatery, it was Angel’s brother Peter Figueroa (also known as Juan Figueroa) who “brought the iconic sandwich to Chicago” in the 1990s.
As Gaby explains, her uncle read about the sandwich in Puerto Rican newspaper El Vocero and “decided to Americanize the sandwich by adding the American cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes." Peter then came up with the name Jibarito, a spin-off of the Spanish word Jíbaro, meaning mountain people. The Figueroa family comes from the rural region of Jayuya, and the chosen sandwich name is an ode to their ancestors, explains Angel.
"Peter and his brothers started selling Jibaritos at their restaurant franchise Borinquen, and shortly after, there were lines wrapped around his restaurant," reminisces Gaby. Little did Peter know that his creation would inspire nearly hundreds of restaurants in Chicago (and the nation) to start serving plantain sandwiches on their menus.
Making a good Jibarito sandwich all comes down to the preparation and the quality of the ingredients. The plantains “can't be cut too thin or too thick," says Yari Vargas, Executive Chef and Owner of Casa Yari, a Puerto Rican restaurant in Chicago. Instead, she notes that the twice-fried green and unripe plantain should "have a nice bite, soft crunch, but still [be] firm enough where you can hold it and bite into it."
Gaby explains that fresh ingredients matter too. At Borinquen, the plantains are picked up fresh daily from the market and only fried to order. Whether the filling is adobo grilled steak, stewed chicken, roasted pork, or even saucy shrimp, a well-made Jibarito’s plantains should support the weight of the filling while tasting fresh, airy, and crispy.
Borinquen: Indulge in a Jibarito in the place where they were invented, by heading to one of the last-standing Borinquen restaurants in the franchise. Savor their Jibarito stacked with thinly sliced marinated grilled steak, crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, mayo, and creamy American cheese. The pioneering restaurant is also home to the Jibarita, which is just like the Jibarito, but uses sweet ripe plantains.
Casa Yari: Chef Vargas explains that Jibaritos represent Puerto Ricans' ability to be innovative, creative, and "comfortable enough to change and play with our own ingredients." That’s why Casa Yari is home to Chicago's first vegan Jibaritos. The two plant-based options on the menu include a buttery breaded fried eggplant and a Jibarito with stewed jackfruit that resembles an aromatic Puerto Rican shredded pork stew.
Papa's Cache Sabroso: Juicy and tender whole chickens glisten and rotate on the rotisserie stakes at Papa's Cache Sabroso, which has been operating since the 1990s. First, the chicken is basted with the founder Johnny Velez's secret sauce; then, its shredded and served as part of their popular Jibaritos. While known for its plantain sandwiches, other menu items such as the fried tender pork chops and whole rotisserie chickens paired with Puerto Rican sides keep their customers returning.
Jibarito Stop: Originally a food truck, the Jibarito Stop (which now operates in a brick-and-mortar) offers Jibaritos with all of the classic fillings, including steak, chicken, roasted pork, and vegetarian options. The shop also allows half-orders of Jibaritos leaving you with room to sample more of their fried treats, including empanadas, alcapurria, rellenos, and sorullitos de queso.
Punta Cana Restaurant: While Chicago’s Jibaritos came from the Puerto Rican diaspora, the sandwich transcends other cultures in the city. Punta Cana, a Dominican restaurant, offers Jibaritos among classic Dominican dishes such as oxtail and sancocho. Their Jibaritos, served with Dominican arroz amarillo (yellow rice), come served with your choice of marinated steak, chicken, or pork.
Cafe Central: Cafe Central has been operating in Chicago since 1952 and is an undisputed Puerto Rican landmark. At this homestyle hotspot, you’ll find various Jibaritos packed with flavorful meats topped with a healthy dose of minced garlic. Lovers of Cafe Central’s Jibarito say that the restaurant's homemade hot sauce elevates the sandwich further.
Jibaritos Y Mas: With plenty of locations across the city, Jibaritos Y Mas serves up several plantain sandwich options, as well as breakfast-friendly Jibaritos jam-packed with roasted ham, eggs, and gooey cheese.
Ponce: Ponce is another classic Puerto Rican restaurant that has served Chicago dishes including arroz con gandules and mofongo since 1998. They offer classic Jibaritos, but what makes them unique is their willingness to push plantain sandwich boundaries—the restaurant recently collaborated with Tacotlan, a Mexican eatery in Chicago, to create a Jibarito stuffed with tender birria.