“Mexican Panini” Hits Fair Haven

Jose Luis Palacios pulled a breaded chicken breast filet out of the refrigerator and slipped it into bubbling hot oil to start a “chicken parmesan” sandwich. But he didn’t reach next for the parmesan, or the mozzerella, or even the marinara sauce. He pulled out queso fresco, avocado, and homemade chipotle salsa.

Palacios was making a “Mexican panini.” The toasted sandwich is a new offering at Iguana Burrito, the restaurant opened recently at the corner of Lombard and Ferry streets in Fair Haven. Click the video to see him prepare the meal.

After 16 years working in other people’s restaurants, Palacios is finally running his own kitchen, and using those years of experience to meld his native Mexican cuisine with Italian and even Jamaican food.

Iguana Burrito is a family affair, owned by Palcios’ uncle (who’s known as “Iguana”) and staffed by a variety of relatives. It opened on April 21 in a site formerly occupied by Rokas restaurant.

Iguana opens at 6 a.m. to serve an early breakfast crowd, and also offers 16 flavors of Hershey’s ice cream.

Palacios, who’s 33, is originally from Tlaxcala, the area of Mexico where many Fair Haven immigrants hail from. He said he’s been in the United States for 24 years, and working in restaurants for 16.

He worked in a Hartford Jamaican restaurant for three years, learning the secrets of that Caribbean cuisine, he said. Iguana Burrito offers curried chicken and jerk chicken, Jamaican style.

Iguana Burrito (pictured) also serves up a variety of “tortas,” Mexican sandwiches. Other places in Fair Haven offer similar fare, but he’s the only one who gives them an Italian twist with his panini press, Palacios said.

On a recent afternoon, he demonstrated how he prepares a “pechuga de pollo” torta, or what he calls a Mexican Panini. Palacios starts by dropping a pre-breaded chicken breast in the fryolator. He slices a fresh-baked torta roll in half and layers it with refried beans, queso fresco (a mild Mexican cheese), onions in vinagrette and oregano, mayonnaise, sweet and spicy marinated chile peppers, and special blended sauce he makes from chipotle peppers.

Topped with a crispy chicken filet, the result is a tasty sandwich. The crunchiness of the chicken is offset by the creamy avocado. The refried beans and the touch of mayonnaise further refine the mouthfeel. And the spicy peppers add a kick that brings the experience into full relief.

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posted by: Claudia Herrera on May 14, 2013  8:53am

Mexican panini make me laugh.
Tortas noting to do with a panini. We Mexicans say tortas calientes (hot sandwich)o planchadas. I think Mr.Palacios tried to explain it by comparing the concept of preparing it. But that’s ok with this video you can tell what it is.And now I’ll have to go there!

The food looks great but like in many low income areas; our small bushiness owners have to deal with a not so great environment and not encourage outsiders to enjoy this food. Hopefully the new Mayor can inject enough effort to help these areas who are creating jobs.

posted by: Theresa on May 15, 2013  9:34am

Looks good but watching the video gets me nervous.  It appears he picks up the raw chicken cutlet with rubber gloves on and then uses the same gloves to make the sandwich.  Can we say “cross contamination”.