Jollibee first opened in Quezon City, Philippines, in 1978 as a mom and pop ice cream shop that served hot meals upon request. In the last few decades, it has become one of the fastest growing food chains in the United States. As of 2022, Jollibee is valued at $5.5 billion and has 56 locations across the U.S. The secret to its success lies in its incredibly innovative menu items with a Filipino twist on traditional fast-food.

Chloe Pestano Que

As a Filipino international student, I was eager to try Jollibee in the U.S. for the first time and decided to visit their Chicago location. I embarked on a mission to rank their most popular menu items, considering three key criteria: authenticity, uniqueness and taste.

First and foremost, authenticity was paramount. I assessed whether the menu items could survive the scrutiny of my Filipino taste buds. Were these dishes true representations of Filipino cuisine, or had they been Americanized?

Next, I pondered whether these menu items were truly one-of-a-kind or if they could easily be found elsewhere. After all, true culinary adventures should bring something new and innovative to the table.

I evaluated the overall taste of the meal last. No matter how authentic or unique the dish, I determined its value based on taste quality. With these three criteria in mind, I embarked on my Jollibee food taste-test.

Coming in sixth place is the Yumburger. I will be the first to admit that Filipinos do not do hamburgers well, and this Yumburger isn’t an exception to that. The Yumburger is a hamburger with a dollop of Jollibee’s sweet and tangy dressing served on a soft bun with cheese available upon request. The burger, although tasteful, is too plain in my opinion and not a true reflection of Filipino cuisine. It gets bonus points for being one of the first menu items, but that’s about it.

The next item is the Adobo rice. Interestingly, Adobo rice is not a menu item in the Philippines, and you’d think that might revoke points for authenticity. I think this dish demonstrates Jollibee's creativity in incorporating traditional Filipino flavors into a fast-food meal, which deserves serious credit. Adobo is a classic Filipino dish of pork or chicken marinated in vinegar, soy sauce and spices, providing a savory and tangy flavor profile. In Jollibee's Adobo rice, this iconic flavor is infused into the rice. I think the Adobo rice is best paired with ulam (meat dish) for more flavor, as it creates a seasoned and aromatic base that complements the meat. Alone, it is too plain.

In fourth place is the Palabok Fiesta, a noodle dish that features thin rice noodles, known as bihon, tossed in a flavorful sauce and topped with an array of savory toppings like chicharon (pork cracklings), boiled eggs, sauteed shrimp and green onions. Because of the Palabok Fiesta’s traditional serving style, it doesn’t get as many creativity points as Adobo rice, but it is an authentic fast-food recreation of the dish.

Jolly Spaghetti gets third place. A banana ketchup, made from mashed bananas, vinegar and spice, adds a unique twist to the classic spaghetti and meatballs dish with bits of hot dog, pork and ground beef. With a flavor profile starkly different from traditional Italian-style spaghetti, this dish exceeded my expectations. Jolly Spaghetti has been a favorite food of mine since childhood, and this authentic, creative recreation pleasantly surprised me. Nostalgia did not glorify the dish–Jolly Spaghetti is as amazing as I remembered.

The second best item is the Peach Mango Pie. I was surprised a dessert item ranked so highly, especially since this dish is not a traditional Filipino treat. The pie is delightfully tropical. A fresh, sour taste blends harmoniously into the creamy filling encased in a crispy and flaky crust. The peach’s sweetness perfectly complements the mango’s sourness. I believe that many people in the United States don’t quite appreciate mango enough, so I hope everyone gets to try this dish. It’s the perfect fast-food pie.

Now, for the star of the show: the Chickenjoy. Jollibee's Chickenjoy stands out among the plethora of fried chicken options in the U.S. The chicken sits in a perfectly crispy batter, which ensures a satisfying crunch in every bite toward the tender and juicy dark meat awaiting inside. An accompanying sweet gravy enhances the Chickenjoy’s flavor, and this dish can also be eaten with rice or, my personal favorite, the Jolly Spaghetti. Ranking highest in all three of my criteria, Chickenjoy is an essential item to try at Jollibee.

Chloe Pestano Que

That concludes my review of Jollibee Chicago. Given its massive success, who knows? Jollibee may open its doors in Evanston next!