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Let the Food of El Sazon de Cuba Put You in a Miami State of Mind

It's only fitting they make a perfect Cubano.

Let the Food of El Sazon de Cuba Put You in a Miami State of Mind
Troy Fields
The classic Cuban sandwich found everywhere on the streets of Havana and Miami is reproduced for Houston diners.

Miami, baby. Miami.

Whenever he said the name of the city, he got a wistful look in his eyes, as if he were actually picturing walking along the beach in the hot Florida sun or eating a Cubano under the shade of a palm tree. He moved here from Miami, and even though he likes Houston, he still has Miami on the mind. That's part of the reason he loves being in the restaurant. It may be Cuban cuisine, but the vibe is all Miami, "Gateway to the Americas," the Cuban sandwich capital of the country.

It's only fitting then that Julio Iglesias, co-owner of El Sazon de Cuba (not the singer), makes a perfect Cubano.

In order to make the perfect Cubano, the sandwich must be grilled on a panini press until the cheese is melted and the bread crust crisp.
Troy Fields
In order to make the perfect Cubano, the sandwich must be grilled on a panini press until the cheese is melted and the bread crust crisp.
Julio Iglesias, right, and his father have brought a slice of Miami and their home country of Cuba to northwest Houston.
Troy Fields
Julio Iglesias, right, and his father have brought a slice of Miami and their home country of Cuba to northwest Houston.

Details

El Sazon de Cuba

16618 Clay Road, Suite 125, 832-427-5047. Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Empanadas: $1.75

Cubano sandwich: $7.50

Enchilado de pescado: $12.95

Filete relleno: $14.95

Ropa vieja: $10.95

Fried pork chop: $9.95

Cuban pizza: $7.50

Flan cubano: $2.50

He starts with Cuban bread, like white French bread only with more fat, often lard, mixed into the dough. He butters the bread, then smears a generous helping of mayonnaise on one side. On top of that goes a layer of ham, then roasted pork. On the other slice of bread, a squirt of mustard, a few pickles and several slices of Swiss cheese. He places the halves together, squishing them a little in his hands before laying the sandwich on a hot panini grill. He grabs the handle of the lid and presses it down, searing brown burn marks into the top of the bread.

As the sandwich warms and starts to sizzle, Iglesias sways to the rhythm of the Buena Vista Social Club playing over the speakers. You can see he's thinking of Miami, of the street-corner stands with hot griddles where vendors serve up Cubanos on the go. Somehow, as if by magic, he infuses a bit of that culture into every sandwich.

That's what makes it the best Cubano in Houston, and well worth the drive out to Highway 6, to a small shopping center where the unassuming Cuban restaurant is tucked into a corner next to a church. From inside the res­taurant, you can often hear percussion, loud thumping bass notes coming from the church. I don't know what's going on next door, but when I closed my eyes and bit into my Cubano sandwich with the staccato drum beat reverberating in my ears, I felt as if I, too, could be in Miami.
_____________________

Iglesias's family moved to Miami from Cuba years ago, bringing with them their recipes for traditional dishes that made the homesickness a little more bearable. When Iglesias decided to attend college in Houston, the family came with him, settling into the Addicks area of town, which Iglesias says is home to a large Cuban population.

Now he works two jobs to support his family. During the day, he has an office job. He wears pressed, button-down shirts — though always in bright, tropical hues — and a tie with slacks and shiny shoes. In the evening, he comes to the restaurant, where he unbuttons his shirt, rolls up his sleeves and plays host to whoever might wander in for dinner. More often than not, it's fellow Cuban immigrants, families like his who come by for food that reminds them of the island.

He guarantees the cuisine is authentic, not just because the recipes are his family's, but also because his uncle recently moved here from Cuba to work in the kitchen. He makes traditional dishes like ropa vieja (shredded marinated beef) and congris (black beans and white rice), but he also likes to experiment.

One of the best dishes I had at El Sazon de Cuba is the enchilado, which is nothing like a Tex-Mex enchilada. It's a spicy garlic, onion, tomato and olive oil sauce with cumin and paprika that's generally served over shrimp on a bed of rice. Iglesias's wife encouraged me to try it with chunks of fresh fish — her uncle's specialty — and I was blown away by the flavorful sauce and the way I could still taste the delicate white fish through the earthy chile powder and oil. I asked her to make it extra-spicy, and the kitchen delivered. The bright red sauce had chunks of jalapeño and slices of green olives swimming in it among the diced garlic and wilted cilantro. No enchilado recipe I've seen before had all these different elements in one dish. It's an Iglesias original.

The filete relleno isn't unique to the Iglesias family, but it is unique to Cuba. In Mexico, a stuffed fish is usually filled with more seafood or peppers and onions, but in Cuba, it's essentially a Cuban sandwich with fish as the bread. A whole white fish (whatever the restaurant gets in from the market) is stuffed with spiced cheese and slices of ham, then covered in a cornmeal batter and fried. It's not like most fried fish with a thin, flaky batter, though. The crust on this fish is like an eggshell, and the delicate flesh and cheese inside like the buttery yolk.

Many dishes are fried in Cuba, but unlike deep-fried seafood with a crunchy batter, pork gets a milanesa batter, which lends itself better to the meat. A bone-in pork chop is coated in egg, flour and pepper before pan-frying, so the meat inside stays juicy while the exterior gets crisp and brown.

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15 comments
cubanitoigl89
cubanitoigl89

No it's still in Business we are a few doors down from the Salvadoreno place visit the website for direction elsazondecuba.com or call 832-427-5047

sherry531
sherry531

It's no longer in business..New sign says SALVALDORENO"...

sherry531
sherry531

It's no longer in business.. New sign says "SALVADORENO."...

garyseeba
garyseeba

This reminds me of a cuban restaurant I used to frequent in the Atlanta area near piedmont park. 

Natalie A. Reyes
Natalie A. Reyes

No the place I was talking about is called Rincon Criollo. This place sounds interesting though.

Kristina Olmedo
Kristina Olmedo

Natalie A. Reyes is this the place you were talking about.

erichenao
erichenao

OMG. this is so close to work for me. Lunch time destination!!!!!

texmex01
texmex01 topcommenter

Mayo on a Cuban???? I think not....

metatronarchetype
metatronarchetype

That looks like a pretty skinny sandwich for nearly eight dollars.  How did his son get so big eating those little things?  Why should I get one of these when I can get a Hawaiiana torta for around six bucks at Tortas el Angel or Tortas la Vista?



RamonLP4
RamonLP4

Why is it that no Cuban restaurants in Houston serve Medianoches which puts the Cuban Sandwich to shame.  I can get them in Miami or in LA but here in Houston anyone running a Cuban restaurant totally ignores this superior variant of the Cuban Sandwich.   Find me a restaurant in Houston that can serve up one of those on the right bread (it's a sweet yolky bread that I guess you could describe as a Cuban version of Challah Bread) and I'll be interested but until then, meh.    

RamonLP4
RamonLP4

@metatronarchetype It's skinny because it is put on a press.   Maybe you've never eaten a Cuban sandwich but it's not a sandwich that's about piling on meat but about balancing flavors.  

KaitlinS
KaitlinS topcommenter

@cubanitoigl89 My bad! It was creamy like mayo, but I guess that was just the cheese. 

 
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