1720 N. California, Chicago, (773) 227-6038.
Latin American. Breakfast, lunch, dinner: seven days.
Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11.
Borinquen, the “Home of the Jibaro,” stakes its reputation on a dish its owner claims to have invented: the jibarito (“little hillbilly”), a garlicky sandwich with your choice of meat layered between two deep-fried slices of flattened green plantain. It’s a greasy, unwieldy mess of a sandwich, but man, does it work. I like mine with lechon, juicy Puerto Rican-style roast pork laced with pockets of rich fat and satisfying crunches of golden crackling skin. The jibarito also comes in beef, veggie, ham, or chicken incarnations. I can’t wholeheartedly endorse the pollo–the stewed chicken can be tough and gristly; the pechuga, or chicken breast is better. On the side I take an order of arroz con gandules (yellow rice with pigeon peas) or habichuelas (red beans with ham)and a splash of vinagre (a red-pepper and garlic-infused vinegar, made in-house). Borinquen has a full menu of Puerto Rican plates, but none lives up to the high standard set by the jibarito. The mofongo is interesting, fried plantain mashed in a wooden mortar and pestle with salt pork and garlic and then molded around either lechon or seafood. The appetizers are sometimes good, depending on how long they’ve been under the heat lamp in the window; I like the bacalaito, a codfish fritter. Borinquen now has two additional locations, at 3020 N. Central (773- 622-8570) and at 3811 N. Western (773-442-8001); the ambience at the latter hovers between sports bar and neighborhood tavern.