While Chicago food is known for its Italian influences, one should not ignore the impact other cultures have had on the local cuisine. Borinquen Lounge is a Puerto Rican restaurant known for bringing its Latin American flavor to the Windy City. Borinquen Lounge, named after an alternative name for Puerto Rico translating to “rich port,” opened its doors to the public on December fifth, 2003 and has been a Chicago favorite ever since. Borinquen Lounge’s main claim to fame is the invention of the Jibarito, a sandwich inspired by Puerto Rican cuisine that uses two double fried flattened plantains rather than bread to hold the sandwich together and the difference is noticeable and delicious. The Jibarito was originally supposed to be called the Jibaro but according to the owner of this establishment people kept calling it a Jibarito, as in burrito, and he did not mind as long as people ordered them. Before they could be sold to the public, he got his father to taste test them to make sure they were authentic. They passed with flying color and have been on the menu ever since, giving the Borinquen Lounge regional fame and introducing mainland America to this unique twist on a Puerto Rican favorite.
The inspiration for the famed Jibarito came from glancing at the recipe section of a Puerto Rican newspaper one morning, spotting a recipe for a sandwich de plátano. Interested, owner Juan “Peter” Figueroa created his own version and the rest is history. Since then, the Jibarito has spread to restaurants throughout the country well beyond the confines of Chicago. While Juan is proud to be the inventor of this sandwich, he does not accept money from other restaurants who use his recipe and wish to pay him out of respect for his invention. His reasoning behind this decision is that he remembers when he first started out and needed money.
As for the sandwich itself, the Jibarito lives up to its reputation and deserves the accolades it has been given. As mentioned above, the defining feature is that it uses two fried, flattened plantains instead of bread. This gives it its unique flavor and it can come with a variety of ingredients, ranging from pork, chicken, beef, shrimp, or vegetarian options so every flavor palate will be satisfied with this dish. Aside from the main ingredient, the Jibarito comes with lettuce, tomato, mayo, garlic, and cheese and rice can be added separately. The combination of the plantains and the spices involved mean the Jibarito has a spicy and salty flavor and in many ways is a Puerto Rican version of a Cubano. The Caribbean influence is certainly noticeable in this sense.
Like many cities in America, Chicago cuisine is a result of the many immigrants who came to the city to add their own unique flavors to the greater whole and Borinquen Lounge is a testament to that creative mix. It is important to note that as of this adventure Borinquen’s Lounge is in the middle of renewing its liquor license and therefore cannot sell alcohol. They also do not have a website but do take orders via online services such as GrubHub.
Picture by @borinquen_lounge via Instagram