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Perfectly Plantain

Borinquen's sandwich makes good use of the fruit.
Tuesday Jul 05, 2005.     By Misty Tosh
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

I see the sign adorning Borinquen Restaurant every time I drive down Western Avenue. "Home of the Jibarito," it reads, all bright and bold. What's a jibarito, you ask? I was wondering the same thing every other day and finally decided to stop in for a sample of what was voted one of the Top Ten Sandwiches in America by "Travel and Leisure" magazine. Really? In my little neighborhood? That is pretty friggin' spectacular.

I, of course, demanded that Lisa (my faithful foodie sidekick) come with me to taste test as well. We roll through the door, not really knowing what to expect. What we found was a delightful cafe dead in the middle of Western Avenue chaos that happens to have incredible food, to boot.

Plopping down at the bar (apparently, there was a mob at lunch time and no tables had been cleaned yet), we grabbed a menu and stopped right on the jibarito offerings. I see: This famous sandwich isn't made with bread; it's made with fried plantains and stuffed with all sorts of ingredients, like pork, veggies or seafood in a garlic sauce. Very interesting.

We order up a couple, veggie for me, pork for her, and stand by for a bit. A real long bit. I guess they're still recovering from lunch, no? When the sandwiches finally arrived, we understood why there was such a lengthy wait. Blame it on the plantain. They actually beat the thing silly (it was flatter than a pancake) right when you order it and then create the rest of the ingredients for the sandwich while the plantain is frying up. All that good stuff takes time.

The veggie jibarito is simply delish. Chock full of long, al dente slivers of fried green and red peppers, thick tomato, iceberg lettuce and melted American cheese, it turns from a simple sandwich to a classic hit with the addition of two things. First the plantain, sweet and salty at the same time, and second, the heavy-on-the-hand pour of fresh garlic sauce that douses the entire warm sandwich. The first bite is literally an explosion of potent garlic, sweet banana, crunchy green pepper and oozing cheese. Oh yeah, the thing was slathered with mayo, too, and lots of it (I didn't even have to ask).

On the side comes a lovely little order of rice with pigeon peas. This side is rave-worthy alone; I tend to think about the chewy pigeon peas more often than I should. With the sandwich being under $5, next time I'm layin' out for a full bowl of the buttery rice, if just for those peas alone.

The Final Rave: To get your fix, you have a choice. Borinquen got smart and threw up a few locations all over the city. This one is the only one that serves liquor. I think you know which one I go to. Oh yeah, there is also a cheapo buffet Monday-Friday at lunch. Hence, the dirty tables.

Keep It Going:

Read It:
This local foodie Web site has all sorts of rants and raves about the glory of the Jibarito sandwich. Apparently, there is a following. Duh.

Drink It:
Yeah, it's all BYOB in your own living room. You bring the liquor and Grub Hub delivers the Jibarito.

Eat It: La Palma Puerto Rican
This restaurant has its own loyal following, most claming that this is by far the most authentic, delicious food in the city. Do I sniff an eat off?

Get Crazy With It: La Bruquena
Yep, some folks claim this Puerto Rican restaurant is the best in town. It's getting crazy now and I definitely smell a full on war. Even if it is just between me and my taste buds.

The Raving Dish lovely. Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.


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