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In Hollywood by way of Peru, a pork-belly sandwich like no other

Review: Four stars for J28 Sandwich Shop in Hollywood.

 

★★★★

 

I came to J28 Sandwich Bar with one mission: to try what folks at the annual Taste of Peru festival in South Florida voted the best sandwich at the festival. If you believe, as I do, that the best sandwiches start with good bread, then you'll be delighted to know that the fresh, crispy white rolls at J28 are baked in-house.

The winning sandwich is called the chicharron ($10.50). It starts with a layer of thinly sliced sweet potatoes. Nicely trimmed pieces of pork belly with just the right ratio of lean to fat come next. Added to that are pickled onions that provide a bit of vinegar to cut through this gloriously meaty sandwich. If you're a fan of heat, ask for a side of Rocoto Fire, the house-made hot sauce made from the rocoto pepper that adds still another flavor to this multilayered sandwich. One bite, and you'll understand why owners Marco and Javier Rondon keep their best sandwich medal hanging behind the cash register. Like so much Peruvian food, it almost tastes Chinese.

The Rondon brothers were born in Arequipa, Peru, but have lived in the United States for years. Marco, 46, worked in restaurants, while Javier worked for 15 years in corporate banking and is now the restaurant's head chef.

J28 gets its name from the date of Peru's national independence day, July 28. It's also the day the Rondons opened the restaurant in 2014. Its name immediately attracts anyone with Peruvian roots, but the brothers tell a funny story about a woman who stopped by because her name was Jennifer and her birthday was on the 28th of the month.

Right now, the Rondons have just one location, but J28's fast-casual concept seems ripe for re-creation, from the style of hospitality to the décor. It's a stark, concrete room that seats 28 with white-topped tables and red chairs. Red and white are the colors of the Peruvian flag.

If you don't know a thing about Peruvian food, this is the place to come. Before I'd even ordered, I was offered tastes of both flan and the sweet purple corn beverage called chicha morada. The Rondons encourage diners to start with things they know. A chicken salad sandwich ($8.50), for instance, is served with boiled potato or toasted corn.

I suggest you head directly to lomo saltado ($13.50 for the sandwich/$16.50 served with quinoa), which may be Peru's most popular dish. It's essentially a stir-fry that originated with Chinese immigrants to Peru. Like the best Chinese food, the beef has a smoky flavor from the wok. Along with beef, there are red onions, tomato, cilantro and onions. Beef, by the way, is all-natural Angus. Likewise, the chicken is hormone- and antibiotic-free. Order it with quinoa, and you'll have a complete meal. The same saltado preparation can be had with chicken ($12.50, sandwich) or mushroom ($11.50, sandwich).

I was also mightily impressed with the 11-spice chicken rice bowl ($7.50), pieces of seasoned boneless chicken thighs served atop white rice and black beans. There is a brightness to the flavors in Peruvian food, and these perfectly al dente black beans were no exception. Spooned on top of the rice bowl was bright-green huacatay sauce, made with the Peruvian herb of the same name, along with mint and yellow pepper.

That flan ($4.50) combined the best of traditional custardy flan with the addition of the subtropical fruit called lucuma, which some people say has a maple flavor, a nice compliment.

I know I've tasted something good when I can't stop thinking about it. And I can't shake the flavors in J28's chicharron sandwich. Try it, and tell me if you don't agree.

jtanasychuk@SouthFlorida.com or 954-356-4632. Read his blog at SouthFlorida.com/Sup and follow him at Twitter.com/FloridaEats.

J28 Sandwich Bar

1854 N. Young Circle, Hollywood

754-208-2902, J28SandwichBar.com

Cuisine: Peruvian-inspired sandwiches and bowls

Cost: Inexpensive

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday; 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Reservations: Not accepted

Credit cards: All major

Bar: Beer and wine

Sound level: Moderate

Outside smoking: No

For kids: Highchairs, menu

Wheelchair accessible: Yes

Parking: Street

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