With the Puerto Rican festival running Thursday through Sunday in Humboldt Park, NBC 5 Food Guy Steve Dolinsky says there’s a sandwich you need to know.
It’s the jibarito – a creation widely recognized as having started in Chicago over 20 years ago by a Puerto Rican restaurant owner. Borinquen gets credit for starting it, but boy has the jibarito spread all over town, and not just near the Humboldt Park roots. The key: buy lots of plantains.
You’d be forgiven for asking where all the bread is, as every sandwich is 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 pair doors west, a sit-down restaurant, where you can actually eat the sandwiches while they’re warm.
The jibarito forgoes the gluten in favor of starchy plantains, which contain fillings ranging from chicken to pork or beef.
“A jibarito is a staple of Chicago. It’s made right here in the Humboldt Park neighborhood,” says co-owner Jesus Arrieta.
Created when it was discovered that you could fry a plantain—the banana’s starchy cousin—then crush it thinly in a tortilla press, then deep-fry it a second time so that it would hold whatever you decided between the two slightly curved planks to clamp.
“You fry the plantain, smash it, fry it again. It creates the perfect texture for the top and bottom of a sandwich,” he said.
Pork, or lechon, is excellent, but so is traditional sliced beef, braised with boiled onions.
Each jibarito starts with the bottom plantain that gets a drizzle of creamy mayo.
“So you start adding mayo, lettuce, tomato, cheese; you choose your preferred protein – the most popular are steak, chicken, pork; cut it in half, add a little garlic and you’re serving it,” he said.
That little spoonful of garlic is a game-changer, adding a pop of flavor and mimicking a traditional tostone. On the side – arroz con gandules, or rice with pigeon peas, and maybe a few extra napkins. This is not a knife and fork area.
“It’s made to be eaten by hand,” Arrieta said.
Here you can taste jibaritos and find information about Chicago’s Puerto Rican Fest:
Jibaritos and more
3400 W. Fullerton Ave.
3317 N Harlem Ave.
2616 N. Clark St.
Puerto Rican Fest – June 9-12 at Humboldt Park