Broad Street Bounty: The Chimi Trucks of South Providence
“Damn.” Standing on a Providence sidewalk, I had crunched too eagerly through the roasted skin of a piece of pork shoulder, and the reckless attack spurted sticky fat down my chin. The hungry crowd in line at Johnny’s looked back atme and laughed as I wiped the grease off my face.
Full mouth and all, I said it again, this time more quietly: “Damn.” I wasn’t complaining about the mess, mind you. I was testifying to the delicious glory of chimi truck fare.
If you’ve ever taken an evening drive on Broad Street in South Providence, you’ve seen them on both sides of the thoroughfare, with handmade signs and paint jobs, impromptu seating and generators sputtering on makeshift appendages. The chimi trucks serve a variety of Latin American street food to folks on the way home from work, taking a break from partying at a nearby club or looking to feed the family on a budget.
Chimi is short both for chimichurri, the Dominican hamburger sandwich, and for the trucks that sell it. If you start at the Roger Williams Park entrance and work your way north on Broad Street, you’ll find up to a dozen trucks lining one of the busiest central arteries of Latino Providence.
The converted ice cream trucks, RVs and trailers have names like La Casa del Chimi, La Gran Casa del Chimi and La Universidad del Chimi, reflecting restaurants back in the Dominican Republic or the turf battles on the street where these trucks have been fixtures for 20 years.
If you’re craving hearty, rich food, their battles can be your victories, as the trucks prepare Latin American street food that can be superior to any “fast food” in the state.
Let’s start with chimi itself, a DominicanWhopper whose quality varies widely among the trucks. Ideally, the ground beef is seasoned for a day or two with adobo, oregano, Goya Sazon (seasoning) or a combnation, after which the meat is grilled, placed in a soft white split roll and garnished with grilled onions, cabbage, tomatoes, plus a Thousand Island substitute made from mayonnaise and ketchup. You can also get chimis with fillings like braised pork, but if you want the true chimi experience order it straight up—and grab an inch of napkins for the inevitable messy collapse halfway into your meal.
As good as they are, chimis are the least interesting of the available offerings, and many trucks offer specialties that are hard to find anywhere else. If you get there early enough, you can be among the first to enjoy slow-roasted, lime-accented pork shoulder fresh from the oven at Johnny’s long red truck, permanently parked off the road near Sumter Street. At Ruben’s food truck, serving Puerto Rican food near the park entrance at the I-95 overpass, you can sit down on a chair and enjoy a heaping serving of cuajito con guineo, a stew with braised cow’s ear and green bananas in all its beefy goodness.
Standard chimi fare is excellent but you have to know what to order and where to order it. Most trucks offer pinchos—shish-kabob meats grilled with standard-issue barbecue sauce and served with a strangely useless piece of bread—but I’ve found that other items are far better.Take the pastelitos—savory dough folded empanada-style over ground beef, ham and cheese or chicken—fresh out of the fryer. They can be a delight.
Nearly every truck offers an array of fritura, fried foods that include pollo frito (fried chicken), papas fritas (french fries), chuleta (pork chops), tostones (green plantains), sausage, intestines—you name it. You don’t want something that’s been sitting on a tray for several hours. Trucks with working fryers, such as Johnny’s, not only fry their own fritura in the truck but also assemble many items by hand there as well. Grab a few kipes (relatives of Middle Eastern bulgur wheat kibbeh that are stuffed with ground beef ) or bollitos de yuca (fried stuffed yuca balls), both of which benefit from a splash or two of hot sauce.
The undisputed king of all fritura is chicharrones, thick strips of skin-on pork belly that have been seasoned and deep fried until they curl into a crunchy, fatty crown. (Look for the Posada Vegana truck at Sackett Street for hot, tasty chicharrones.) If you’ve never taken a first bite of fresh chicharrones out of the fryer, you’ll likely hesitate but never again. Trust me.
Finally, be sure to hunt down the antojitos (fried snacks) called papiajo sold by a man who, following tradition, shares the name of the food he makes in his truck at Sassafras Street. After frying green plantains once, Papiajo takes the tostones and presses them with a special tool that turns them into little cups. The cups are then fried again and filled with a sauced meat such as beef, chicken or shrimp, six per shotsized serving.
Armed with a $20 bill, you and a friend can spend a happy hour or two among one of Providence’s great food scenes, testing and debating the merits of different trucks, foods and preparations, in two different languages. And if you’re laying down a carb-and-protein foundation for the long night of dancing and drinks ahead of you (or recovering fromone behind you!), well, no food will serve you better.
Dominican Chimi Truck Glossary
When you’re cruising the Broad Street chimi trucks and your stomach’s growling:
Bollitos de yuca: Like it sounds, these savory orbs are made of boiled, puréed yuca that is then stuffed with seasoned chicken or other fillings
Carne: meat, usually beef. Carne molida is ground beef
Cerda: pork (also pernil)
Chicharrones: skin-on, deep-fried pork belly
Chimi: a chimichurri sandwich, comprised of a soft bun and a seasoned, grilled burger patty
Cuajito con guineo: Puerto Rican stew with sliced beef ear and green banana
Fritura: fried stuff—meats, plantains, cow intestines
Kipes: the equivalent of Middle Eastern kibbeh—bulgur wheat stuffed with ground beef and fried
Pastelitos: savory pastries, also called empanaditas, made of dough stuffed with ground beef, ham and cheese or chicken.
Pinchos: shish-kabob of chicken, pork or beef, marinated, then grilled with barbecue sauce and served with a piece of bread
Tostones: double-fried green plantains (platanos)