Standing Room Only: La Esquina Del Sabor
"They don't even try to disguise the fact that fat makes up a good one-third of each pork hunk."
La Esquina Del Sabor
N. Humboldt Drive and Brenock Drive, Chicago IL 60622 (map)
The Short Order: Wide array of fried Puerto Rican treats, including suckling pig, fried pork parts, and mini jibaritos.
Want Fries with That? No fries, but make sure to get everything with rice and pigeon peas.
Want Ketchup? No, but definitely ask for hot sauce.
I knew things would end up all right. After all, the truck had a painting of a pig roasting on its side. I could also could peek in through the hazy windows and see enormous mounds of fried pork waiting patiently for me under a heating lamp. All I had to do was order...in Spanish. And my Spanish is a little rough, and really only relegated to Mexican dishes, which did me absolutely no good at all at this Puerto Rican stand.
Chicago has very few outdoor carts, and the ones I've seen have been in parks and places far away from downtown. I was in the Northern end of Humboldt Park where there is a sizable Puerto Rican population around the area. I had heard that this cart served some rather authentic fare.
First up were mini jibaritos, which look like little sandwiches, but trade the slices of bread for fried plantains. It sounds like it shouldn't work, that it should be too greasy, or crumble into a huge pile. But they stay together remarkably well, lending a gentle sweetness to the heavy pork-laden filling.
The jibarito is good, but basically functions as a small snack to awaken your pork receptors. I was there for the fried pork served with rice and pigeon peas. And after realizing that my futile attempts at Spanish weren't going to cut it, I resorted to the universal language of ogling and pointing.
They are huge. I got the carne frita mixtas, which is a huge container of gorgeous brown hunks of fried pork caked with ample amounts of fat on top of yellow rice and pigeon peas. They don't even try to disguise the fact that fat makes up a good one-third of each pork hunk. Take my advice: bring a friend. Make that two. This isn't as much a meal, it's pure street food gluttony.
The pork is perfect enough: crunchy hunks of deep-fried pork can't get much better. But it's the straight up fried fat that made me swoon. The fat is part crispy, part creamy, and all together terribly decadent. Mix it all together with the rice and wonderful things start to happen in your brain. You can easily overdose, so don't try and be a hero and eat the whole thing.
There is a table tossed out in the hot sun, but I prefer sitting under a tree on one the benches that line the sidewalk. There you can intake chow down while also catching up on the latest local baseball game.