With the Puerto Rican Festival running Thursday through Sunday in Humboldt Park, NBC 5's Food Guy Steve Dolinsky says there’s a sandwich you need to know about.
It’s the jibarito – a creation widely acknowledged to have started in Chicago more than 20 years ago by a Puerto Rican restaurant owner. Borinquen gets the credit for starting it, but boy has the jibarito spread throughout the city, and not just near its Humboldt Park roots. The key: sourcing a lot of plantains.
You’d be forgiven if you asked where all the bread is, considering every sandwich being made at Jibaritos y Más – which now has four locations in the city, including a busy corner in Logan Square where it’s takeout only, plus, a couple of doors west, a sit-down restaurant, where you can really tuck into the sandwiches while they’re hot.
The jibarito forgoes the gluten in favor of starchy plantains, which house fillings ranging from chicken to pork or beef.
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“A jibarito is a Chicago staple. It was created here in the Humboldt Park neighborhood,” said co-owner Jesus Arrieta.
Created when it was discovered you could fry up a plantain – the starchy cousin to the banana – then smash it thin in a tortilla press, frying it a second time so that it would hold whatever you decided to sandwich between the two slightly curved planks.
“You fry the plantain, smash it, fry it again. It creates the perfect texture for the top and bottom of a sandwich,” he said.
The Food Guy
Pork, or lechon, is outstanding, but so is traditional sliced beef, smothered with cooked onions.
Every jibarito begins with the bottom plantain getting a shmear of creamy mayo.
“So you start adding mayo, lettuce, tomato, cheese; you choose the protein of your preference – the most popular ones are steak, chicken, pork; cut it right in the middle, add a little garlic on the top and you serve it,” he said.
That tiny spoonful of garlic is a game-changer, adding a burst of flavor, and mimicking a traditional tostone. On the side – arroz con gandules, or rice with pigeon peas, and perhaps a few extra napkins. This is not knife and fork territory.
“It’s made to be eaten by hand,” said Arrieta.
Here's where you can go to taste jibaritos and where to find information about Chicago's Puerto Rican Fest:
3400 W. Fullerton Ave.
3317 N. Harlem Ave.
2616 N. Clark St.
Puerto Rican Fest - June 9-12 in Humboldt Park