Cuba might have the Cubano, but Puerto Rico has the tripleta and jibarito.
In fact, think of the tripleta as Puerto Rico’s answer to the Cuban.
Our Puerto Rican food scene is small, but a newcomer just added the tripleta to it. And there’s a 3-year-old Puerto Rican restaurant in Lakewood with a menu that includes the jibarito, a steak sandwich made with an unusual ingredient standing in for bread. Read on.
Q’S COFFEE HOUSE
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401 Garfield St., Parkland; 253-537-3929
Jose and Qiana Velez, with help from family, opened their small Parkland coffee house and deli last month in the former space of Northern Pacific Coffee Company, a favorite haunt for nearby Pacific Lutheran University students.
The coffee stop lists a full espresso menu, plus a Reuben, ham and cheese, tuna, turkey and grilled cheese sandwiches.
The Number 6, the tripleta (also spelled trippleta), is what Velez said his diners are most interested in sampling. “That’s our No. 1 seller right now,” said Velez, who named the coffee house after his wife’s nickname, Q. The cozy coffee house comes with a corner piano, a bookshelf with material to borrow and seating for 24.
The tripleta is named after the number of meats, which can vary depending on the sandwich maker’s Puerto Rican address. Some make it with chicken, ham and turkey. Others with beef, chicken and sausage.
Velez uses chopped ham, turkey and pulled pork.
What gives the three-meat sandwich its signature flavor is a tangy sauce. His sauce comes with a puckery finish like a mustard-heavy French dressing, but others make theirs heavy on ketchup or barbecue sauce.
Velez uses a roll that is close as he could find to a Puerto Rican pan de aqua, a soft textured French style bread with a crisp crust. The roll he found comes from Tacoma’s Baker Boys.
The lightly toasted roll offered an exquisite fluffy texture, the exterior dusted with flour. The bread-to-filling ratio favored the diced meat wrapped in the clingy sauce. The chef — Velez’s uncle — finished the sandwich with a slice of melted American, shredded green leaf lettuce, sliced tomatoes, diced red pepper and the surprising addition of shoestring potatoes for an extra layer of crunch. Seasoned chips were served on the side, $8.99.
12822 Pacific Highway SW, Lakewood, 253-301-2453; facebook.com/OSJInternational.
The charming little Puerto Rican restaurant is the second for Juan and Elizabeth Aponte, who operated Old San Juan just down the street in Lakewood from 2010 until just after they opened OSJ International in 2013.
It’s a bustling restaurant tucked into a small space next to a card room. It caters to nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord with a weekday soldier special. It’s also lively enough for a weekend date dinner, thanks to the pulsing Latin music, a dining room outfitted with vibrant decor and a full cocktail bar.
The menu reflects their Puerto Rican heritage, but also delves into different pillars of Latin dining, such as Spanish paellas and Argentinian-tinged dishes. There’s also the Puerto Rican standards of mofongo, rellenos de papa and pastelon balls.
The Apontes’ el jibarito is a steak sandwich served since they opened. The sandwich, Juan said, is a descendent of a sandwich traditionally served in Puerto Rico born out of a shortage of flour. “People from the mountains didn’t have a lot of income. They got to the point that flour was more expensive, but the plantain (is easily found) in the rural areas,” Aponte said.
Swap bread for a smashed, fried plantain and you have the base of the jibarito.
At OSJ International, the squished plantains were liberally swiped with garlic, a scent that floated from the kitchen before the plate hit the table. Marinated, thinly sliced steak with tangy acidity was stacked three layers deep between those sturdy slices of plantain (it did not disintegrate and was easy to hold). Green leaf lettuce, tomato and a plucky sauce, resembling a special sauce found on a burger, finished the sandwich, which was flanked by a mound of seasoned yellow rice ($13.95). The sandwich was huge, enough to feed two, or one hungry soldier.
AN EXTRA HELPING
Soul, a second-story restaurant featuring Latin and southern soul cuisine, doesn’t list a specific Puerto Rican sandwich on its menu, but it does offer tostones, mofongo, pernil and other Puerto Rican favorites. Find it at 2717 N. Proctor St., Tacoma; 253-507-5720; facebook.com/TacomaSoul.