Chicago’s Jibarito Sandwich Offers A Unique Hometown Flavor

Carnivale’s jibarito sandwich, served on the lunch menu.

When it comes to Chicago cuisine, hot dogs, deep-dish pizza and Italian beef top the charts. But we’ve got a new dish to add to your list: the jibarito. This Puerto Rican sandwich — made with steak, garlic-flavored mayonnaise, cheese, lettuce, tomato and flattened, fried green plantains that serve as the bread — was invented in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood in the ’90s by restaurateur Juan “Peter” Figueroa, owner of Borinquen Restaurant.

Over the years, the rich, meaty sandwich has spread to Latin American restaurants around the city. One of them is Carnivale, a sprawling, circus-like restaurant in the city’s West Loop area that serves up Nuevo Latino cuisine with local ingredients. Executive chef David Dworshak says his take on the jibarito is one of the most popular sandwiches on the menu. Dworshak uses the traditional approach when it comes to prepping the green plantains: He peels, slices (lengthwise) and fries them until they’re soft. After steaming them for three to five minutes, he smashes them with the side of his knife, fries the slices one final time and sprinkles them with garlic salt. Inside the plantain sandwich is where Dworshak offers his own twist. He adds higher-quality ingredients, like wood-grilled, highly marbled steak (which is something Carnivale is known for — that and its tasty mojitos).

“We also strive to make it less greasy than the ones you see elsewhere,” he says. Instead of using American cheese, Dworshak stacks slices of artisanal white cheddar, which comes from fourth-generation cheesemaker Roelli in southwest Wisconsin. Dworshak’s recipe for the garlic-flavored mayonnaise is a combination of the restaurant’s housemade guacamole — with roasted garlic and roasted serrano chiles — and fresh aioli. He also swaps bland iceberg lettuce for peppery baby arugula. Dworshak says the restaurant focuses on seasonal ingredients from local farms (when tomatoes are out of season, he uses pickled onions for extra flavor), which is another reason why the jibarito is a great way to sample Chicago’s hometown flavor.

Photo courtesy of Carnivale

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