¡Vamos plátanos!

by Christiaan Mader

Patacón Latin Cuisine introduces Lafayette to the savory delights of Venezuela, with the help of two crispy fried plantains.

Patacon Latin Cuisine owner Wanda Salazar
Photo Robin May

Somewhere around 2011, the jibarito sandwich became my star-crossed love. It was a simple revolution for me as a visitor in Chicago, a bold and juicy treasure of beef, mayo, lettuce, tomato and melted American cheese layered between two crispy discs of mashed and fried plantains. It was everything I liked about the cheesesteak — portable beef and cheese, with a massive upgrade in the delivery apparatus, plaintain “buns” instead of a hoagie roll.

Two Windy City robberies and four years later, I had not expected to see the likes of it again outside a reluctant return trip to Chicago. As far as I was told by the Acadiana expat who played John the Revelator to my sandwich vision quest, the jibarito was a purely Chicagoan phenomenon, invented in the deep dish capitol by Puerto Rican immigrants. So long as I stayed away from Chicago, my love for the jibarito would be unrequited, or be forced to continue on long distance terms.

But when the food gods close a door to Chicago, they open a Venezuelan restaurant in Lafayette.

While I’m in no position to dispute the Puerto Rico via Humboldt Park provenance of the jibarito, the fine folks at Patacón Latin Cuisine have brought to town a rose by another name: the patacón sandwich. As far as I can tell, the patacón is a less Americanized version of the jibarito, although it does present similar cosmopolitan components. Both are served on crispy twice-fried and flattened plantains more commonly referred to as tostones. Both feature mayonnaise (though Patacón’s is less slathered) and can convey a variety of savory proteins like pork, chicken, cheese or beef. The jibarito uses American cheese in the fashion of its adopted nation, while the patacón (at least the one at Patacón) features a mix of feta and mozarella. The real difference maker is the presence of avocado and a refreshingly mild and richly textured green-herbed sauce. In Latin American food, it’s not uncommon to see a lot of recurring concepts given the overlap of natural resources and colonial histories that abound the region. Hence the welcome apparition of dishes such as vaca frita and ropa vieja in several different Latin American culinary traditions.

the Patacon sandwich
Photo Robin May

But I digress, the patacón at Patacón (a little confusing, I know) is a real gift to Lafayette in a time of more inclusive food exploration for the hub city. As a food town, Lafayette has been somewhat slow to catch on to crazes that have reached pandemic levels in other culinary capitals. Not to denigrate or dismiss the value of Cajun and Southern foodways, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to continue expanding our vocabulary when it comes to world cuisine. While we do have some fine Latin American and Caribbean spots around the city, food of that region has not yet developed widespread currency in the way southeast Asian cuisine has since pho and sushi rolled into town.

Photo Robin May

Here’s hoping that the appearance of Patacón is a sign of great things to come. In the meantime, I’m reunited with the plantain sandwich, by whatever name it's known.

Patacón is located at 308 Bertand Drive across from Deano’s.