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[Photographs: Mike Gebert]

Chicago is a city where different cultures come together to create something new and exciting—and uniquely American. Dan Aykroyd was Canadian and John Belushi Albanian-American, but in dark suits and glasses they formed the quintessentially Chicagoan Blues Brothers. Enrico Fermi was Italian and Leo Szilard Hungarian, but together at the University of Chicago they put the U.S. of A. on the path to the Bomb. Tony "Two Ton" Cermak was a Bohunk tavern owner and Jacob Arvey a Jewish lawyer, but their innovations in voter retention and bootlegger outreach built the Chicago Machine into the pride of the nation.

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And on Kimball, a Dominican restaurant called Punta Cana found itself with a leftover gyros spit, and invented a fusion of two cultures breathtaking in its innovation: the gyros Jibarito. Whoa. Take a few minutes to let it soak in, if you need them. It's like suddenly understanding four-dimensional space or an entire sentence by Cormac McCarthy. I know.

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The Jibarito, of course, is that Puerto Rican sandwich consisting of steak, lettuce, tomato, cheese and gooey mayo between two starchy flats of fried plaintain, invented here in Chicago at Borinquen two decades ago, and still available at the place of origin as well as most other Puerto Rican restaurants around town (see here for more). So what does adding gyros meat do, exactly?

Surprisingly, my first concern—that it would be over-garlicky and a weird mix of Greek-middle-eastern and Puerto Rican flavors—didn't prove true at all. The gyros meat takes an unexpected back seat to the customary Jibarito toppings, enough so that it actually stands out less on the sandwich than the normal steak does. It made me want to experiment with toppings that would push the Gy-barito further in a gyros direction, like tzatziki and onion.

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But by the time you're thinking all those thoughts, you will probably have noticed something else about Punta Cana—it smells really good in there. A tiny kitchen with a buffet line about the size of a coffee table cranks out a remarkable variety of specials and cafeteria items every single day.

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Chicken cluster on a fiery grill...

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hunks of lechon (roasted pork) sit on display, mounds of potatoes and yellow rice are spooned up; on a given day you might also find oxtail stew or short ribs, and it's all good, tasty, and comfy.

This is a little neighborhood gem, and since the name of the neighborhood is Logan Square, it's a perfect choice for the next time you feel like venturing beyond the same old hipster spots and finding something new, cheap and for real right in your backyard.

Punta Cana Restaurant

Punta Cana Restaurant

  • Logan Square

2200 N Kimball Ave Chicago IL 60647

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