Papa’s Cache Saboroso
2517 W Division St
Fresh from a scintillating bomba performance (complete with vejigantes!) at the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance‘s “Loíza in Chicago,” we realized, as we so often do in this wonderful city of ours, that we have neglected on of its great culinary traditions. While Humboldt Park, the epicenter of Chicago’s thriving Puerto Rican community, possesses a large number of Puerto Rican restaurants and eateries, we had never before tried a jibarito, a sandwich (usually filled with beef or chicken) dressed with garlic-mayo between a “bun” of fried green plantains. The jibarito has one of those origin stories that sounds made-up, the common “I just decided to do this one day and then it took off” tale, but apparently this time it is true: in 1996, Juan C. Figueroa, proprietor of Borinquen Restaurant in Humboldt Park, invented the sandwich after being inspired by reading about a similar idea in a newspaper.
So where to go to get one of these delectable Chicago delicacies? La Plena? La Palma? To Borinquen, its origin? In time we will likely try all the jibaritos we can, but for now, we went with the recommendation of friends and ended up at a beloved hole-in-the-wall: Papa’s Cache Saboroso. With just a few tables, a brisk take-out service, and an ordering counter decorated like a beach food shack, Papa’s dispenses with any formalities to feature high-quality, tasty, and well-price Chicago-PR fare.
L, of course, got the chicken breast jibarito. Marinated chicken breast, mayo dressing, tomatoes and lettuce, all featured on the signature fried green plantains, with a side of rice. We love fried plantains anyway, but we were surprised at just how well they work as a sandwich. Firm enough to hold everything together, they still provide a great flavor profile compliment to the rest of the meat and veggies that you just can’t get from regular bread, or really any kind of bread. Just great.
Meanwhile, M had a conundrum on this particular Saturday. Go with the jibarito – really, the reason we came – or go for broke and get the Saturdays-only special, the lechon asado, a seasoned roasted suckling pig that is one of the competitors for national dish of Puerto Rico (some mofongo-lovers may take offense). If there is one thing we have learned about M in this blog (besides the love of spicy food) it is that he will stop in his tracks if roasted or smoked pig is anywhere in the vicinity. As was the case here.
Lechon asado, like all great pig roasts, takes a while to make: the menu says “This dish takes so much love and attention you can only get it o Saturdays!” It may be true – a crispy, flavor-kicking crust on the outside and pull-apart meat on the inside. While this version was a tad on the dry side for our tastes, the sweet plantains and salad on the side provide a nice way to cut across all the flavors. Finish with beans and rice, and this is a great way to spend a Saturday.
While we loved our jibarito and will definitely be back, no need to not experiment further. If you’re having trouble making up your mind, Serious Eats Chicago may be able to help with their list of the Top 10 jibaritos in the city.