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'Jibaritos de la Isla" brings Puerto Rican, Dominican food to City Heights

The food truck, created by owner Ana Rivera just before the COVID-19 pandemic, is one of a handful of restaurants bringing Caribbean Latinx food to San Diego.

SAN DIEGO — From established Mexican restaurants in our neighborhoods for decades, to Asian spots dishing up foods from countless countries, San Diego's got no shortage of food; and the diversity is getting better.

Five days a week, you can find Ana Rivera getting her food truck, Jibaritos de la Isla, ready for business.

"I can't believe it, honestly," Rivera said. "We opened three months before COVID, and we had no idea what we were in for..."

The truck sits in the middle of Fair 44, the plot of land on the corner of El Cajon Blvd. and 44th Street; and on the corner of commodity-- as one of few Puerto Rican and Dominican restaurants in Southern California.

"When I moved here, you know, I tried a few different spots, but I was really missing that home-cooked, home-meal feeling," she said.

Rivera says she made do, until she became pregnant with her daughter.

"All the cravings started kicking in, my pregnancy cravings, and they were strong," she explained. "That's when I was calling mami, [asking] 'dame la receta esta,' abuela, you know, anyone I could call for recipes for things I was craving, I was calling."

She satisfied her hankerings, and eventually her husband and his friends', who did not shy away from hyping her up.

"Him and his friends are eating this and they're loving it and saying, 'you have to start something, we've never had any of this food here in San Diego."

Starting a food truck business wasn't always in Rivera's plans. After meeting her now-husband, she moved from Chicago to attend school at the University of San Diego. She eventually earned her Master's Degree and did some work in her original field. Now, the truck has become her livelihood and almost a mission of sorts.

"We've noticed there is a lack of Puerto Rican and Dominican food out here," she said. "To be able to represent and show where we're from and that people can come here, this whole space is for everybody to enjoy our culture."

Chicago has historically been a stronghold of Puerto Rican and Dominican populations outside of the Caribbean islands. Now, Rivera is bringing a taste of it to San Diego, not just for herself, but for others.

"The stories I hear from customers, a lot of them are in the military and just miss that home-cooked meal," she added. "A lot of people don't have family here, and so when they come here, I like to say we're all kind of family. We are here. Estamos todos aquí."

Jibaritos de la Isla is open Wednesday through Sunday. Wednesday evenings, they serve "chimichurri," a mostly Dominican plate. On the last Sunday of every month, you can try their lechon, or pig roast.

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