In search of Miami’s Cuban sandwich
Behind a Plexiglas window my sandwich was made to order. A perfectly pressed Cubano emerged, as compact as a hand-rolled cigar. It was thinner than most versions I had seen, but inside the layers were brilliantly married and the textures sublime. The Swiss cheese oozed, the ham was freshly roasted and the pork was rich and moist. The grilled bread was a touch sweet and beautifully crisp. One bite – er, sandwich – later and it did not matter where the Cubano was born, just that it made its way here.
If Las Olas is a revelation, Puerto Sagua is an institution. Opened 47 years ago in Miami Beach, the modest diner-like eatery is today flanked by Gap and Benetton clothing stores. Inside, a long, countertop meets dark wood panelling, and the handful of tables are lined with paper placemats promoting Florida. Like La Olas, my Cubano was brought to the plancha (grill-like press) before making its way to the table, though this time the end result was less compact. The pork was melt-in-your-mouth, slow roasted in the traditional way with a mojo, a garlic and citrus marinade, which left the meat sublimely tender.
A third gem is Enriqueta's Sandwich Shop, a modest diner/lunch counter where a fully female staff serves up extraordinary Cuban eats to the hipsters and young entrepreneurs in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District. Here, the bread of my Cuban sandwich was less sweet, toasted until crisped and lightly brushed with butter before hitting the plancha. A hint of garlic hidden somewhere in the sandwich made it pop. Within, each element – from the salty ham to the delightful pork – was well-executed, coming together to create a balanced and rich snack.
Dotted throughout the city, Cuban cafeterias and markets, carts and restaurants are plentiful. But no Cubano tour is complete without a stop at legendary Versailles in the West Flagler neighbourhood. Adorned with large windows and over-the-top chandeliers, the eatery feels as though it’s from another era. Self-titled the “world’s most famous Cuban restaurant”, Versailles has been a mainstay for Cuban expats since opening in 1971. The mostly older clientele happily dine and chat nearly exclusively in Spanish.
Follow the green, red and white hexagon-tiled floors to the restaurant’s take-away counter and order a Cubano to go. Although an institution, it is not Miami’s best. My bread was warmed, not heavily pressed, and covered with a thin layer of mayonnaise – sacrilegious on any Cubano. Still the ham was tasty and beautifully chased with a pastry and a strong Cuban coffee from their adjoining bakery. If you really want to go local, pick-up one of their cigars – sold alongside the cookies and tarts – for a truly authentic end to the experience.