7 Great Jibaritos In ChicagoIf you're looking for a great jibarito, head to one of these seven spots.
All behold the jibarito: a sandwich that melds the Caribbean flavor of Puerto Rico with the creativeness of Chicago's food history. Adapted in Humboldt Park in the 90’s, this iconic sandwich layers thinly sliced steak, grilled onions, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and just a smear of mayo in between smashed twice-fried plantains.
The impact of the jibarito is seen in cities all over the country, and comes in a bunch of other variations, from shrimp to vegan to lechón. Here are our favorite ones in the city.
We had to pay homage to the original. Borinquen Lounge, formerly Borinquen Restaurant, is where the jibarito was adapted by Juan C. Figueroa in 1996 in Humboldt Park. For that, we are forever grateful. The “Home of the Jibarito” remains the standard, making it nearly impossible to decide between the original steak, lechón, grilled chicken, fried chicken, or vegetarian. It’s so nice, they had to do it twice, so they also serve the jibarita, which uses maduros instead of the savory green plantains used for the jibarito. Both come topped with slightly creamy garlic oil that takes the already flavorful sandwich to another level. That’s with or without the accompanying arroz con gandules, which are comforting enough to be a meal on their own.
After outgrowing their extremely popular food truck The Jibarito Stop opened a brick and mortar in Pilsen in 2015. Their specialty, the jibarito, comes in four varieties: steak, slow-roasted lechón, vegetarian, and vegan. Their jibaritos also come in convenient half sizes, so you can try as many as possible. The woman-owned business also serves piñon, a sweet and savory Puerto Rican-style casserole, vegan potato salad, vegan beans, and a brightly flavored mango coconut salad topped with cilantro and tamarind dressing. The seating at the front of the restaurant gives you a raised view of the 18th street “L” that elevates (pun intended) the whole dining experience.
Janellie’s Kitchen is differentiating itself from the abundance of Puerto Rican restaurants in the historic Humboldt Park neighborhood. And they're doing it with jibarito sliders. The perfectly handheld bites come three per order, and are filled with your choice of steak, lechón, chicken, or veggies. They have lots of other dishes, too including a pizza burger, alcapurrias, or a stuffed fritter, and ample dining space for the perfect opportunity to people watch. There’s a full bar with a variety of rum, and a beautiful floor-length mural of Puerto Rico on the wall.
Decorated with pictures of family members , this 70-year-old diner has been serving a Puerto Rican style of cooking called la cocina criolla to its regulars for a lifetime. Their jibaritos are tightly wrapped, almost as if they’ve been in a sandwich press. This fuses the flavors, and most importantly, completely melts the cheese. That’s one of the many small details that Café Central pays close attention to, like the crispy edges that hang out over the tostones on the steak jibarito, or the ripe avocado slices on the vegetarian jibarito. All their jibaritos come with three housemade condiments: a minced garlic sauce, mayoket (mayo and ketchup sauce), and our favorite, pique, a hot sauce. Beyond that, Café Central serves their arroz con gandules with salchichón and has four different seafood creoles that come with your choice of side. At this rate, Café Central will be around for another 70+ years.
Havana Grill in River North has a bunch of different Latin American dishes, including ceviche, chiles rellenos, eight different mojitos, and of course, jibaritos. Havana Grill’s steak jibarito is cooked to your requested temperature, and the chargrilled skirt steak is folded high, then melded with caramelized onions and chihuahua cheese that spills out between the two plantains after your first bite. It’s good the way it is, but even better after drenching it in the small side of garlic oil that comes with it.
The family-owned Ponce Restaurant opened in Hermosa over 23 years ago, and showcases the flavors of the island. Their steak jibarito stacks layer upon layer of skirt steak, and delivers the tastiness you’d expect from a jibarito, though cheese is an additional cost. But you should also order the juicy carne frita—it makes for a quick snack (or an entire meal paired with one of their appetizers and sides. That said, there’s just something about weekend specials. They feel, well, special. On Saturdays and Sundays, the neighborhood mainstay has things like verdura con bacalao encebollado, which is cod cooked with vegetables and onions, and mondongo.
Jibaritos Y Mas has, well, jibaritos and more. Even after expanding to three locations across the city, they’ve managed to maintain the same quality as their original location on Fullerton. For the jibaritos, they have possibly the most varieties in Chicago. This means four types of steak (including churrasco) in addition to octopus, roja vieja, vegetarian which has both arroz con gandules and grilled vegetables, and even a Cubano jibarito which is basically two sandwiches in one. For the “more”, all three locations offer at least 12 types of mofongo, and the Lincoln Park location offers brunch Friday through Sunday, with dishes like guava and cheese French toast and cocktails infused with fresh kiwi and passion fruit.