Some folks trace the meaty roots of the Cuban sandwich — pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles on lard-infused Cuban bread — back to the lunches of Havana's cigar-factory and sugar-mill workers in the early 20th century. Others argue that today's incarnation of the sandwich came from Cuban expats in Key West and Tampa.
Either way, it's been immortalized in Miami and beyond. According to Florida transplant Lance DeLibero, co-owner of Jammin Cabana, if you walk through Miami's Little Havana neighborhoods today, you'll find lively street cafés (called loncherias) full of folks dipping Cuban sandwiches into café con leches. But the real liquid that separates the best from the rest is the citrusy Cuban Mojo sauce, used to marinate the slow-cooked pork.
This week, I rate three local interpretations.
Lance DeLibero and his brother Timothy Roegele swear that their Cuban sandwich ($6.50, includes barely serviceable fries) is the real deal, exactly what you'd find if you ventured tomorrow into South Florida. They use a bottled Puerto Rican Mojo sauce on their pork and smoke it for 19 hours, resulting in a really mature, bright flavor — the rightful focal point of the sandwich.
Convinced that the traditionally used sandwich press (a plancha) dries out the meat too much, they finish their noticeably succulent Cuban on the grill, melting the Swiss and gifting the thin bread a nice crunch. The pickles and mustard come through as proper back-up notes, as does the quietly redundant ham. My favorite Cuban of the batch.
Cucuru Gallery Cafe
2332 W. Colorado Ave., 520-9900, cucurugallerycafe.com
By contrast to Jammin Cabana and more in line with the traditional method, Cucuru owner Guillermo Alvarado does press his Cuban rendition ($8.55, includes two dry cucumber wedges and a fresh slice each of cantaloupe and honeydew) in a panini press, which gives it handsome, deep charred grooves and a greater crispness. But the brothers' point is proven by a slightly drier sandwich that had me wanting a bit more mustard to moisten the meat.
Alvarado marinates his pork tenderloin overnight in a house-made Mojo sauce that includes orange juice, garlic, cumin and cilantro, then sears it and braises it in the Mojo sauce, before slicing it thick. The other elements are fine and altogether pair nicely with a well-made High Rise Coffee latte ($2.90), making this a tight second place.
2 N. Nevada Ave., 635-0278, quiznos.com
In search of a third local Cuban sandwich, I stumbled upon Quiznos' version ($7.29/large). Fitting, we figured, since the chain is lead sponsor of this week's USA Pro Cycling Challenge. (See here.)
The first aspect that breaks tradition is the bread; my chipotle jack option was toasted, and too fluffy and spongy to hit the mark. The pulled pork is plentiful and moist enough, but is the same basic pork used in the Southern barbecue sandwich. Without Mojo saturation, it lacks the depth of flavor found elsewhere.
The Swiss melts nicely onto the ham on the upper layer, wet also by a mayonnaise addition to the mustard, but the pickles dominate the aftertaste. This one's fine as a tribute and fast franchise meal, but can't keep pace with the independent kitchens.