The Cubano is Not Your Grandma's Ham and Cheese

By Carey Jones |

© Jannie Huang

What makes a ham-and-cheese sandwich even better? Mustard, pickles, toasting the whole thing--and oh yeah, a ton of roasted pork. The fact that they often cost about $4 doesn't hurt either. 

The Cubano is often associated with Miami due to the high concentration of people with Cuban ancestry. However, that's not where it was invented. Though its exact origins are disputed, the Cubano likely evolved in the Tampa area as a cheap, handheld lunch for shipping and mining workers in the area, many of Cuban descent. 

The filling: Roast pork, ham, and Swiss are key, together with pickles and mustard. (You can get mayonnaise, tomato, and such, but it's not traditional.) In Tampa, salami is sometimes added to the mix. What's key is that, as the sandwich is heated, all those elements fuse together in a single meaty core. 

The bread: Thin, crusty Cuban bread is imperative--strong enough to contain its substantial fillings, but light enough not to get in the way. The whole sandwich is heated on the plancha--the griddle--giving the roll a pleasant crisp; it's just a light shell to crunch through that supports the pork inside.   

Where to get one: While you can get excellent Cubanos all over the country, including all over Florida and parts of New York, today it's Miami that's the real Cubano capital. 

Traditional: Puerto Sagua. South Beach is a bit too flashy to support many mom-and-pop shops these days, but Puerto Sagua is the real deal. Says Executive Chef Christopher Lee of The Forge, “When I came to Miami, I was on a quest for great Cuban food, and [The Forge owner] Shareef [Malnik] led me to the place that is truly authentic down here: Puerto Sagua. Not only a great Cubano, but great Cuban food overall.”

Traditional #2: Versailles. The name is French and the dining room has chandeliers, but make no mistake, Versailles is as authentically Cuban as it gets. Head up to the "Ventanita," the take-out window, grab your Cubano, and linger outside for a classic Miami experience.

A Little Tweaked: Jimmy'z Kitchen. "I have to admit the La Tripleta at Jimmy'z Kitchen in Miami is truly memorable," says Juvia chef Sunny Oh. "Pressed like a Cuban, it has roast pork, Black Forest ham, bacon, caramelized onions and provolone."

A Little Weirder: Josh's Deli in Surfside. "There’s also this creation called a jewban at Josh's Deli," says Oh: "Pastrami, roast pork, house made pickles, Swiss cheese and yellow mustard. Pressed on Cuban bread. It is something you have to try to understand.  I literally crave it!"

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