PILSEN — Pilsen might be known for its authentic Mexican restaurants, but the neighborhood's newest restaurant is serving up Puerto Rican cuisine on 18th Street.
After operating a food truck for three years, Pilsen residents Cely Rodriguez and Moraima Fuentes have opened The Jibarito Stop, a Puerto Rican restaurant at 1646 W. 18th St. in Pilsen. After a soft opening Wednesday, the restaurant will be closed Thursday and reopen Friday.
The fast-casual restaurant specializes in the jibarito sandwich ($7.99), which features seared steak, lettuce, tomato and American cheese between fried plantains served with yellow rice and pigeon peas or white rice and beans. The breadless, gluten-free sandwich is also available with a variety of proteins, cheeses and as a vegetarian option.
Juan C. Figueroa, owner of Borinquen Restaurant in Humboldt Park, claims he first invented the jibarito sandwich in 1996.
The Jibarito Stop also features platters ($9.99), empanada baskets with sweet plantains ($6.50), yucca fritters and potato balls ($1.75).
Stephanie Lulay says they ran out of food on the first day:
The Jibarito Stop specializes in the jibarito sandwich. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
The team's food truck, also called The Jibarito Stop, continues to be a success, but the setup had one big problem — it wasn't able to sell the namesake jibarito.
At first, it was the city's restrictions that got in the way, but even after the rules for food trucks changed, the business partners said it was too expensive to properly refit the truck to be able to make the hot-and-ready sandwiches for hungry lunch crowds Downtown. Despite the great business, their sights remained on opening a restaurant.
"So when we found this place, we jumped on it," said Fuentes, who is Mexican-American and grew up in Little Village.
While operating the food truck, the team would hear complaints from customers who said they would have to travel all the way to Humboldt Park to get a good Puerto Rican meal, said Rodriguez, who is Puerto Rican and grew up in the Bronx.
"A lot of people are very familiar with Mexican food. We've had people come to the food truck and ask for tacos. That's not Puerto Rican cuisine," she said. "But when people hear Puerto Rican food in a Mexican neighborhood or in downtown [with the food truck], I think they get excited about having something different — something different than burgers, fries, hotdogs, pizza, Mexican."
During the grand opening Wednesday, the new restaurant served so much food during the lunch hour — tripling the amount of food they typically sell downtown during that time — that the shop was forced to close and restock in the afternoon.
"We were not expecting the overwhelming response that we did," Fuentes said.
A crowd lined up outside of The Jibarito Stop for their grand opening Wednesday. [Pinky Mendoza]
If all goes well in Pilsen, Rodriguez and Fuentes have plans to open up more restaurants in Chicago and the East Coast. For now, they are putting the food truck on hold while they get the restaurant up and running.
Both women say they were the first in their families to graduate from college, and want to inspire other young minorities to pursue their dreams.
"For us growing up, [opening a restaurant] was something that was impossible," Rodriguez said. "We want to show them, this is something you can strive for."
The Jibarito Stop, which opened in the storefront that formerly housed Fuzze Public House and El Mariachi Restaurant, is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays.
The interior of The Jibarito Stop, a new Puerto Rican restaurant at 1646 W. 18th St. in Pilsen. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
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