Jibaro fills plates on Tate

by Matt Goldman

It’s a Saturday evening and my girlfriend and I are jonesin’ for some early dinner. We head towards Tate Street to see what the weekend festival has to offer in the way of entertainment and of course, food. Amid the smorgasbord of bands, art vendors and juggling acts we encounter that beautifully tempting smell that so often accompanies outdoor shindigs such as this one: fried food.

We follow our noses towards the corner of Walker and Tate where Jibaro Latin Café has put up a stand directly outside of their new restaurant. Upon closer inspection, we quickly discover that this is not your ordinary fried food. There are a number of metal chafing dishes filled with what look like oversized dumplings, fried potatoes and beans with rice. I’m sold and so is Katie, so we head inside for a sit-down meal.

Upon entering, we’re inundated with the hustle and bustle of a casual restaurant at dinner time, some upbeat music and those now familiar and fantastic smells. It’s a tasteful interior, a small dining room with some exotic photos on the wall and a glass counter up front.

Sensing that we’re both a bit overwhelmed, the man behind the counter beckons us forward with his hands. He speaks with a Spanish accent and has a pleasant smile. It’s immediately apparent that he’s very excited to tell us about the unique cuisine Jibaro has to offer. He gives us a sampling of the dishes outside – first the “dumplings.” They’re actually not dumplings at all, they’re pastelillos: dough turnovers filled with seasoned chicken – not too spicy. Next he gives those “fried potatoes.” Again we’re mistaken. They turn out to be fried plantains, seasoned simply with a bit of salt and garlic, and they taste fantastic.

We ask for some entrée recommendations, dishes we won’t be able to find anywhere else. After a detailed rundown of the menu I go with the reina pepiada, a Columbian-inspired corn pocket or arepa filled with a minced chicken and avocado mixture. The consistency is unique, a little mushy and one that takes a bit of getting used to, but the taste is unmistakably delicious.

Katie has Jibaro’s signature dish, the fried plantain sandwich topped with seasoned roasted chicken, lettuce, cheese and tomato. I steal a few bites and I quickly realize why they’ve made this traditional Puerto Rican meal their trademark. The fried plantain serves as surprisingly delicious bread substitute and the simple seasoning on the meat – what they appear to use on most of their menu items – complements the fresh vegetables and cheese nicely.

Jibaro, loosely translated into English, means hillbilly or hick. As the name suggests, the food has an authentic Latin feel and an everyman appeal with its inexpensive price and creative menu. The prices are remarkably cheap for the amount of food we get – two entrees and a couple fountain drinks come out to just over $13, very manageable for two broke-ass recent college grads like ourselves. Needless to say, we’re pleased with our decision.

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