Plantain sandwich, aka jibarito, Maracas
  • Mike Sula
  • Plantain sandwich, aka jibarito, Maracas

Sometime in the last year, a restaurant of fairly historic importance closed its doors and—at least as far as the food media were concerned—nobody noticed. Borinquen,* in Humboldt Park, was the alleged home of the jibarito, a notoriously messy meat-lettuce-cheese-tomato-mayo structure held together by flattened, fried green plantains. There are some questions about the claim that owner Juan C. Figueroa actually invented the jibarito, as he’s admitted reading about a similar sandwich back on the island, but there’s no doubt its glory and fame spread far and wide from California Avenue, leading to copycats across the city and country as well as interesting interpretations like the very local gyro jibarito and, apocryphally, the heebarito—a Reuben built between two schmaltz-fried latkes.

While it’s certainly sad that ground zero for the jibarito is no more, the sandwich continues to conquer new territory, as witnessed by Maracas, an “Afro-Latino” restaurant that struck ground in largely African-American Bronzeville this past summer. Opened by one half of the sister duo behind the blog Boricua Chicks, it’s a tiny counter-service space with three four-tops and a row of stools against the wall, but it features a fairly comprehensive menu of cocina criolla, including mofongo, arroz con pollo, pasteles, pastelitos, and more. Perhaps as a gentle nod to Bronzevillians unfamiliar with north-side sandwich lore, the jibarito is called simply “plantain sandwich,” and is available in steak, chicken, and vegetarian versions. It’s served as two easily manageable baby jibaritos (jibarito-itos?), which keeps the sandwich’s innards stable—always a tricky issue when processed cheese and mayo contact hot fried plaintain.

Speaking of those plaintains, they are expertly fried, crispy and not too greasy. And you could say the same of the tostones that came with a (regrettably dry) pork chop, and particularly of the sweet potato fries that came with the sandwich—lightly crispy and creamy inside, they’re nothing like the dense, soggy yam sticks passed off by lesser fry men.

Maracas, Bronzeville

Maracas, 4317 S. Cottage Grove, 773-690-5084

*Borinquen 2, is still open at 3020 N. Central, 773-622-8570