We’re lucky to eat in Chicago. In addition to its world-class restaurants and a questionable shot-and-a-beer combo, we’re home to dozens of delicious local creations. Some have broken into the national consciousness — including the Italian beef, the sandwich that deserves a starring credit on The Bear next to Jeremy Allen White. Some have flown under the radar — but deserve the spotlight. Welcome, non-Chicagoans, to the jibarito.
For the unfamiliar, the jibarito is first and foremost a steak sandwich, with cheese, lettuce, tomato and aioli or garlic mayonnaise. What sets it apart is instead of bread, it uses fried plantains. It’s a sloppy, delicious delicacy that started in Humboldt Park in the mid-1990s. Now you’ll find it throughout the city, and in other communities home to large Puerto Rican populations.
One of the people who’ve helped popularize the jibarito is journalist Monica Eng. She wrote about the sandwich’s origin in 2003 for the Chicago Tribune, featured jibarito s’mores in Axios in 2022 and covered it in Made in Chicago: Stories Behind 30 Great Hometown Bites, which she co-wrote with David Hammond.
We asked Eng about the sandwich, its popularity, whether it’s worth the effort to make one at home and, most importantly, where to enjoy one.
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InsideHook: The jibarito is a Chicago sandwich. Why do you think it’s such a regional phenomenon?
Monica Eng: It has traveled to several states, but it does best where you have a Puerto Rican population or a Caribbean population, although it’s even in Mexican restaurants in Chicago. And it has finally traveled back to Puerto Rico.
But why it’s not huge everywhere — I don’t know. Cleveland has it, New York has it, New Jersey has it, a few other cities have it.
I’m from Chicago, lived in Humboldt Park, and had no idea it was a regional thing until recently. How do you describe it to someone who’s never had it?
I just say it’s a steak sandwich where the bread is swapped out for tostones. If they’re not Puerto Rican, then I say green plantains that have been fried, smashed and fried again.
I’ve never made one at home. It seems better and more affordable to just go to a local restaurant to get one rather than try to recreate one at home.
Sure, absolutely. My favorite thing when I was growing up was when my grandma was making tostones. I grew up with four brothers and sisters, and we’d always fight over who got more than one.
It is a pain in the neck, and you need to eat it very quickly. It’s like French fries — they’re not at their best after about five minutes. You definitely want to go somewhere to get it. You do not want to make it at home unless you have a deep fryer and you love the smell of oil. I don’t love to deep fry anything at home, though I love deep-fried foods.
It’s best had out. But if you’re in a town that doesn’t have it, make yourself some tostones and then make a sandwich in between.
Which begs the question, where are your favorite places to get the sandwich?
Today I like Jibaritos y Más. They’ve got a few locations — four across the city, Logan Square, Lincoln Park, Belmont Heights and the recently opened Garfield Ridge — but the best one is the original one, on Fullerton and Kimball.
Jibaritos on Harlem is also pretty good — this one is almost in the suburbs. There’s a place called Jibarito Time (935 E Oakton Ave., Des Plaines, IL) that we ran across, and it’s not bad — they’ve got all kinds; their menu has 20 different varieties of the sandwich, plus dessert tostones and a jibarito bowl.
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