Humboldt Park is the cultural heart of Chicago's Puerto Rican community, so much so that the stretch of Division Street from Western to California has been christened Paseo Boricua, honoring the native Taino name for the island. The strip is lined with galleries, shops, cultural centers and, of course, restaurants. Puerto Rican cuisine shares a few things with other Caribbean nations, most notably the way it mixes African, Spanish and indigenous influences. Here's some of the best along Paseo Boricua.
Start your morning off right at this bakery that serves up Puerto Rican style coffee, an array of pastries (the Pastelito de Guayaba con queso, a guava & cheese pastry, is especially good, as are the quisitos, flaky puff pastry wrapped around fruit-sweetened cream cheese) and breakfast items like avena de coco (coconut oatmeal). A selection of sandwiches for vegetarians and omnivores alike will take you through lunchtime.
Roasted Puerto Rican chicken is the featured entrée at this ultra-casual BYOB, but they also make one of the best jibaritos (a sandwich, usually steak topped with lettuce, onion, tomato, cheese and garlicky mayo, in which the "bread" is flattened fried green plantains) in the city. Make it a meal with a side of maduros (fried sweet plantains) and an order of arroz con grandules (rice with pigeon peas). Fun fact: The jibarito, while culturally Puerto Rican, is not traditionally served on the island. It was invented right here in Humboldt Park!
Old San Juan is known for its hip culinary scene, and Chicago's version features a modern take on island recipes served in a stylish room accented with red curtains, dark wood and exposed brick. They have traditional dishes here, but go for the house specials like Escudo Boricua (rack of lamb with mango-papaya sauce) or Filete Dorado (mahi-mahi in lobster bisque sauce). They're open late on weekends when DJs take over and they shove a few tables out of the way for an informal dance floor.
Puerto Rican cities and towns are full of friendly neighborhood joints like this one, with good, unpretentious food and a casual bar featuring beer, wine and rum drinks. They make an especially good mofongo (garlicky mashed plantains filled with meat, shrimp or vegetables) here, as well as tasty pastelillos (savory fried meat pastries). Standout entrées include the Chuletas de Cerdo (fried pork chops) and Pulpo A La Criolla (octopus in tomato sauce).
Written By: Don Macica, Arte y Vida Chicago