This summer my work moved offices and while we didn’t move that far (less than a mile) it did change everyone’s lunch routines a little bit. Overall the move was a positive one, but it had been nice in the old office to just walk downstairs and take advantage of all the restaurants in Midtown. It’s still close enough for a quick drive there for Spris, Cheese Course, etc., but it also led to visiting favorites in Wynwood more often and scoping out other restaurants nearby.
One restaurant that my office has become obsessed with is El Bajareque, a Puerto Rican restaurant on 36th. Some of my co-workers had been before the office move and we even used them for food for an event a year or two ago (unfortunately I wasn’t there to partake), but now everyone in the office is quite familiar with El Bajareque. I would say at least one person goes there every day and sometimes multiple people in multiple groups.
In an attempt to be more fiscally responsible, I’ve tried to bring my lunch more these days, so my experience with El Bajareque is less extensive than some of my co-workers (who sometimes go multiple times a week). I of course won’t say no to bites of food that are offered and I’ve gone a few times when I haven’t brought lunch (and even once when I have…). I already am a big fan and supporter.
El Bajareque’s menu has a lot of Caribbean staples and for those unfamiliar with Puerto Rican food, you’ll see dishes similar to a Cuban menu, but with some exciting Puerto Rican specialties added. No matter how long I live in Miami I will never tire of rice and beans (and no matter how often I’ve eaten them). I’ve shared previously that they are one of my favorite food combinations ever. So simple, but so delicious. I actually get in a lot of trouble, because if we ever have catering at work that involves rice and beans (so the opportunity to eat more than a restaurant meal share is present) then I will eat rice and beans until I am about to throw up. And then eat a few more bites… I usually don’t even eat that much of the ropa vieja or plantains provided (both of which I enjoy), so that I can have more room in my stomach for rice and beans. So needless to say I enjoy a lot of the food and flavors at El Bajareque regardless.
Some common Caribbean/Latin dishes you’ll see are the churrasco steak, palomilla steak, grilled chicken, and roast pork. On the side they also have tostones (delicious!), maduros, yuca, and various types of rice and beans.
Two more Puerto Rican specialties I want to share are the mofongo and the jibarito. Mofongo I’ve raved about before (like in a post about Jimmy’z Kitchen). It’s a tower of mashed up plantains with a protein (like steak, chicken, or shrimp) added on top and then in my experience it sits in a tomato based sauce. It’s very hearty and combining all those flavors together is delicious. I also really like that the mashed plantains provided a starchy taste and feel, but it doesn’t feel like it weighs you down afterwards like other carbs (although your stomach is very full).
The jibarito is a new discovery for me at El Bajareque. My co-worker got it one day and I asked her what she got when I saw her return from the restaurant. Not surprising as a gringo I didn’t recognize the word and she explained it’s a sandwich between two fried tostones. WHAT?! First off I love tostones (and El Bajareque’s are very good), secondly I am obsessed with a burger between two tostones (at Pincho Factory), and thirdly that would generally make it gluten-free!
I mentioned above that I’ve been trying to bring my lunch a lot more to work, but once I found out about the jibarito (pronounced starting with an “h” sound because of the Spanish “j”), it was hard to go a while and say no to El Bajareque when people were going so frequently. So one day not long after my co-worker’s experience I went and of course got the jibarito. I went for the steak version, which is the original and supposedly still the most common version (according to Wikipedia the jibarito was invented at a Puerto Rican restaurant in Chicago after hearing about tostone sandwiches being made in Puerto Rico). This jibarito came with steak, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and little fried potato sticks on it. The steak obviously provided a lot of flavor, but didn’t dominate, especially with the tostones “bread” also providing a lot of flavor. I could tell however that the steak was tender and delicious in its own right. I was glad it wasn’t too difficult to eat it like a real sandwich (you’re able to keep things inside pretty well), although I did endure the tostones still being a little hot in my excitement to eat it. The combination of steak and tostones (with tomato, lettuce, and a little bit of cheese) was an excellent combination. I fell in love with the flavors. I would say it also fills you up a little bit more per capita than a regular steak sandwich.
No matter what time of day it is El Bajaraque is always packed. It definitely has a great mom-and-pop, authentic Puerto Rican feel and you can’t really go wrong with many of the dishes. Besides the ones I mentioned you can also get specialties of the day (oxtail, different stews), plus some excellent coffee (according to coworkers) and frozen lemonade (it’s like a lemonade slushie). The mofongo and jibarito (whether at El Bajaraque or elsewhere) is highly recommend for anyone. I think El Bajaraque will be a new go-to to bring visitors to, so they can be exposed to foods they might not be as familiar with. I know I’ll be visiting many more times in the future to El Bajaraque down the street and look forward to many more delicious adventures!
El Bajareque- 278 NW 36th Street, Miami, FL 33127