Over the last year, I have been on a great sandwich quest across the city of Houston. It continues in earnest (and will return next week), but one of my favorite sandwiches has mostly eluded me: the Cubano. I wrote about the quite delicious variety at Flor de Cuba. It is a really tasty sandwich, but it can't quite match up to those I had in Miami a few years ago.
In fact, Miami, not Cuba, is where the Cubano originated. It was mostly served to workers, many of whom had immigrated from Cuba, throughout South Florida. And when you are in Miami, it isn't difficult to find one.
Within an hour of wheels down there about three years ago, I was on Miami Beach in search of a tiny hole-in-the-wall sandwich and coffee shop called Las Olas Cafe. It holds just a handful of tables and bar seating so a line forms at the window along the street while sandwiches are made efficiently inside.
At Las Ola's, they serve what many consider the best and most classic version of a Cubano. The soft baguette is slathered in yellow mustard and sandwiched around roast pork, ham and Swiss cheese. It's finished off with briny dill pickles. It was a near perfect way to start my long weekend in Miami. The bread was soft and pillowy, the pork (both varieties) salty and tender, with just enough moisture from the mustard to make keep it from being dry.
It is unquestionably one of Miami's best Cubanos, but the best is reserved for the spot I hit on my last day there: Enriqueta's.
What sets the Cuban sandwich at Enriqueta's apart from virtually all others is the sheer decadence. This place is the equivalent of a greasy spoon diner, complete with waitresses who call you darling or honey, but in Spanish. The chrome table tops and red vinyl seats make it look like a '50s-era diner and the food reinforces that feeling, with quite a bit of that Cuban influence coming through in the recipes.
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And at the top of that list is the stellar Cuban sandwich. Like most, it has ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles on a soft baguette. It also comes with mayonnaise, a sometimes controversial choice among Cubano purists, but I personally love it.
The magical secret ingredient comes on the Sandwich Cubano Preparado Con Croquetas, a deluxe version of the sandwich that comes with what amounts to fried cheese. Creamy béchamel is breaded, fried and smushed into the middle of the sandwich. It's fatty. It's creamy. It's salty. It's nothing short of incredible.
Now, I haven't had every Cuban sandwich on the planet. I haven't even had every Cubano in Houston — gimme some options, friends. But, if there is a better one than at Enriqueta's, I want it in my mouth as soon as possible.
Still, I'm hopeful to find close options somewhere in Houston even if I have to make the damn thing myself.