Of all of Chicago's original sandwich creations, none is as unique or beguiling as the jibarito. Created by Puerto Rican immigrants at Borinquen in Humboldt Park, the sandwich's most distinctive feature sets it apart from every other sandwich around: instead of bread, the foundation is made of smashed and fried plantains. In between is some kind of meat (usually thinly sliced steak), lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and cheese. When done right, the crispy and sweet plantains accentuate the full-flavored meat and fresh toppings. When done wrong, well, prepare for an utter disaster.
This happens more than it should: plantains come out greasy and unstable, crumbling into a dozen pieces the moment you get close; so much tough and dry beef gets piled on that one bite causes all the contents to slide off and on to your plate. But when done right, this precarious and slightly absurd creation comes together in a harmonious and one-of-a-kind way—a portable Puerto Rican meal. It requires time, patience, and a person who knows his or her way around a fryer.
I decided it was my goal to find the ultimate jibarito, the one that exemplified the ideals of the sandwich the most—crispy fried plantains, stuffed with the right amount of flavorful filling. But my lofty goal was sabotaged from the beginning. Instead, I found a collection of wildly different beasts, making it impossible to compare them all. Luckily, all this diversity turned out to be delicious, and you can now find the jibarito that works best for you.
Here are ten different options, all distinct, and ready for you to devour. I'm sure there are more out there, but these were the ones that jumped out to me. If you have a favorite, definitely let me know. But first, click on the slideshow to see them all, or check out the individual picks below.
- Best Textbook Jibarito: La Bomba
- Best Seafood Jibarito: Joey's Shrimp House
- Best Chicken Jibarito: Papa's Cache Sabroso
- Best Vegetarian Jibarito: Belly Shack
- Best Looking Jibarito: Coco
- Best Proportioned Jibarito: Cafe Central
- Best Jibarito in a Cuban Restaurant: Cafe Laguardia
- The Original: Borinquen
- Friendliest Place to Get a Jibarito: La Palma Puerto Rican Restaurant
- Cheesiest Jibarito: La Cocina Boricua de la Familia Galarza