Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Cafe Central

Location: 1437 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60642
Cafe Central on Urbanspoon
A Quick Word:
Cafe Central is a family run restaurant that first opened its doors in the 1950s.  They specialize in Puerto Rican cuisine and are proud to make it affordable for everyone.  From the Chicago original, the jibarito, to some stranger dishes like mofongo, Cafe Central keeps the food authentic and homemade.  Upon entry, you will see a huge communal bar that is lined with warming trays.  Those trays are one huge knock I have about the restaurant.  Not all the dishes are made to order which is a little disappointing.  The wait staff is extremely friendly and will help explain any of the dishes that seem foreign to you.  Remember to try their jibarito, which may be one of the "cleanest" appearing jibaritos in the city.  Because of the warming issue and the OK food that I described below, I decided on giving it a 3.5 mile rating.  The jibarito and the friendly waitresses really brought their rating up!

Cafe Central from the outside... try their Jibarito!
What I Ate:

Steak Jibarito

The jibarito is an original Chicago sandwich.  At Cafe Central, they have two different types... steak or vegetarian.  I choose the steak jibarito which is a plantain based sandwich (instead of bread) that is filled with a thin slice of steak, lettuce, tomato, onion, American cheese, and a little bit of mayonnaise.  I have had the sandwich at many different establishments and are now starting to see the differences.  At Cafe Central, I found the jibarito to be a lot "cleaner." The steak is uniform and all the vegetables are layered in a nice proportional way.  Some of the other places are thrown onto thinner plantains and the entire sandwich sort of just falls apart.  At Cafe Central, they uses a thicker cut plantain that is fried well and actually retains some of the flavor.  The steak is a little chewy, the mayo was unnecessary, and the American cheese was standard.  There were some great flavors, but overall, the meat was a little oily for my liking.  Definitely try the jibarito, but be aware it is a lot oilier than you probably would think.


After choosing my jibarito, I wanted to try a couple authentic Puerto Rican appetizers.  First to come into view was the pionono because I saw it on the table next to me.  I asked the waitress to have whatever that was and it turned out to be a fried sweet plantain fritter stuffed with ground beef.  The fritter wasn't oily and the ground beef was very moist.  There is a nice sweetness to the fritter and combined my favorite flavors... salty and sweet.  It also comes with a jalapeƱo pepper type relish/salsa.  It appears to be purely jalapeƱos but who knows... I was disappointed in one aspect.  They have a warming area behind the bar which my waitress grabbed the pionono.  It would have probably been even better if it was freshly fried.


Besides the pionono, I came across mofongo on the menu.  I remember hearing about this dish on the Food Network, but never really knew what it was.  The mofongo at Cafe Central is a green plantain ball stuffed with garlic fried pork rinds.  The ball is dense and in my opinion very dry and flavorless.  Luckily, my waitress brought me a little broth from one of their authentic soups and suggested I dipped chunks of the mofongo into it.  This was much better, softening the mofongo bites and adding a salty flavor.  I probably would order at a different restaurant, but would stay away from getting it again at this place.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- Whenever you arrive, just grab a seat.  One of the kind waitresses will bring by a menu and then just take your time.  Paying is done also at the table despite the cash register being in plain site.
- Jibarito is a MUST EAT sandwich.  I highly recommend it.
- Tons of street parking is available.

- Don't order too many of the cheaper appetizers... They are extremely filling and you will not enjoy the actual meal.

How far would I walk for this food?


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