Now that the fried plantain jibarito hype has subsided, and virtually every Puerto Rican and Cuban restaurant in the city touts an 'authentic' version of the sandwich, it's time for the rest of these 'Island of Enchantment' dishes to shine. This Humboldt Park
, beach-themed cafe doesn't slouch, daily stocking a deli-style buffet with everything from ground beef and tropical tuber-stuffed yucca (alcapurrias; $1.25) to countryside slow-roasted pork shoulder staples (pernil; $5.95 a pound) and plenty of garlic-hinted rice speckled with pigeon peas to keep 'em all company.
Kitty-corner to an elementary school, it's not uncommon to see waves of wee ones counting out change for fried sharables like stuffed potato pockets (papas rellenas; $1.25) and the Puerto Rican version of corn fritters, dressed in a garlic, mayo and ketchup sauce (sorullos de maiz; $.50). Double the count for the summer months, when all the guava and tamarind juices are slung with coconut custard and flan. Though it's just as common to find their parents in there later, saddling up to a savory bowl of tripe soup (mondogo; $4.25) and a copy of La Voz.
And for you diehard jibarito connoisseurs, La Palma gets the portion size right, easily paired with a football, with bountiful, tender chunks of lean meat. But the veggies need some fresh garden love. No amount of garlic mayo can offset a pink tomato and an ivory chunk of lettuce.
Average cost: <$10
Centerstage Reviewer: Gavin Paul