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Best Cuban Sandwich in NYC -- What makes it authentic?

  • t

I just got back from my first trip to Florida where I ate every cuban I could get my hands on. However, none of them were as good as my favorite at the place on 8th and 19th street in Chelsea. Granted, I was in Tampa not Miami but what makes an authentic Cuban?

The one I love here has great garlic butter melted, and has pickles, mostly the roast pork, then some quality ham and cheese.

In the tampa area the Cubans were long on ham and short on pork -- plus they dressed them with mustard and mayo -- and there was no lovely garlic flavor?

Which is right?

What do you think are the best spots for Cubans in NYC?

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  1. There was just a top 5 piece in NYMetro about Cuban sandwiches in NYC.

    Link: http://www.newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/f...

    6 Replies
    1. re: hilldweller

      Most of the cubanos in NY are NOT authentic (pickled jalapeƱos? salami?). I'm Cuban-American and spent many summers in Miami's Little Havana. My favorite in NY is also the 8th Ave Cuban place.

      According to the iCuban website (http://icuban.com/terms/index.html), a true Cuban sandwich is "A delicious combination of ham, Cuban roast pork, Swiss cheese and dill pickles served on half a loaf of fresh Cuban bread. The sandwich is heated and pressed flat in a sandwich press (plancha). This melts the cheese and crisps the crust."

      The recipe here has more information, stating that the condiments are optional: http://icuban.com/food/cuban_sandwich....

      One note: For a true Cuban, the right BREAD is essential. Italian or French won't do. Cuban bread is much lighter.

      1. re: Ariel
        Mark DiBlasi

        hilldweller is asolutely right. A true Cuban sandwich is the height of simplicity, and depends on that airy "pan cubano" which seems to thrive in the tropical climate of Florida, and not here. Although there is a pretty good version of pan cubano that comes from New Jersey.

        A Cuban sandwich does not have mortadella, jalapenos (unknown in Cuban cuisine) or other ingredients. They might make a good sandwich, but it won't be a Cuban sandwich.

        1. re: Mark DiBlasi

          If I may offer an entry from NJ. Martino's in Somerville makes a great Cuban Sandwich.

          1. re: Marty

            YES YES!!! Martino's in Somerville has probably the best Cuban Sandwichs ever made!!! And the one in Chelsea 8th Ave. is pretty good too...! I live in Jersey and work in NYC so I get the best of both!

            1. re: Hazel

              Does anyone have an address for Martino's?

          2. re: Mark DiBlasi

            But, the type of pan cubano must be "pan de agua".

      2. g

        this seems to be a popular topic. i just posted on it in "outer boroughs." anyhow, i had a really good cuban at a place called Grand Central in Williamsburg (Grand and Manhattan).

        1 Reply
        1. re: greeneggzandham

          what's the price on the cuban? i've passed by this place but haven't felt like stopping in yet.

        2. I believe an authentic cuban sandwich also includes mortadella.

          1. a
            always hungry

            The "Best" Cuban sandwich in New York is at Mosaico, Food of the America's, on Madison Ave between 33rd & 34th streets. They went to Miami to get the press and to learn the authentic technique.The ingredients are awesome. You would be hard "pressed" to find a better Cubano...anywhere

            1 Reply
            1. re: always hungry

              The one I had there was on a focaccio like bread, kind of crumbly? I have always had them on a more french or italian type loaf, and pressed flatter and crispier. I personally didn't much like the Mosaico Cubano.

            2. s
              silvia dones de sauza

              The best and most authentic Cuban sandwich, among cubans, is the one served at the "LATIN AMERICAN" coffee shop in Miami, Fla. The second best could be the one served at "Versailles" another coffee shop/Restaurant in Miami. Quite acceptable Cuban sandwiches are served at "La Carreta" in Miami's Airport (If that is still open after 9/11 - having been back since)

              Now, with respect to the authentic receipe, It had roasted pork marinated with lots of garlic, oreganon and sour orange, salt and pepper.) Gruyere cheese and first choice sweet ham - in equal shares. Bread covers* had butter on one side and mustard on the other, no garlic included there, and no mayon either. Pickles were added according to individual choice - I love them!
              *The Cuban sandwich can be served in a long "bun" and is called "medianoche" and the traditional sandwich served in a baguette.

              Cuban sandwich is one of my favorites, and being Cuban originally, my friends love my Cuban sandwiches! - No modesty, sorry.

              (the CUBAN SANDWICH, I think, is originally from the Sloppy Joe bar, in Havana, near the harbor. Very famous place from the early 50's until the upcoming of the Revolution.)


              3 Replies
              1. re: silvia dones de sauza

                My family and I have been going to the Latin American Cafeteria since I was a little girl in the 70s. It's the perfect Cuban sandwich. There was an article singing their praises in the NY Times from Feb 2002. You can still read the story for free if you do a search.

                My uncle told me, "When you die and go to heaven, they feed you Cuban sandwiches." I think he's right. Buen provecho!

                1. re: silvia dones de sauza

                  I know we are getting off topic--the question was about cuban sandwiches in NYC, but I just have to chime in and agree about LATIN AMERICAN coffee shop. Also where I had my first "Maria Elena".

                  (also by the way, LaCaridad Dos, a food cart in the warehouses of Hialeah made a killer scrambled egg sandwich on pressed cuban bread)

                  1. re: silvia dones de sauza

                    Absolutely and totally agree! The Latin American Cafeteria has the best Cubans in Miami, if not the world.

                  2. It's the bread that makes or breaks a Cuban. The bread should be soft and contain lard or fat. Cuban bread is made to be toasted and pressed, period.

                    Tampa and Miami have slightly different bread styles--in Tampa the bread is baked with a palm frond on the top to make the split. Unlike NYC, both towns have many bakeries that do nothing more than crank out thousands of loaves of cuban bread a day for sandwiches and cuban toast.

                    Tampa cubans do not have mayo. If you got one with mayo, you were in the wrong place. The garlic flavor should come from the roast pork, not from anything else. Mustard and pickle are standard. Roast pork and ham should be well balanced. No tomato, no lettuce, no crusty bread, no relishes, no sauces, no spreads.

                    Almost any place that offers a cuban sandwich in FL will also have a roast pork sandwich, which leaves off the ham and has more pork.

                    1. Completely agree with you tugboat- the place on 19th and 8th is great.

                      1. I am a cuban from Tampa, funney right. What you had was what we call a "Tampa Cuban Sandwich". More ham than pork, if any at all, mustard, mayo, pickles,white cheese (queso blanco o jicotea)tomatoes & lettuce. Pressed.
                        What is authentic? Well, butter on both sides of the bread, pork (that has been marinated in limes and garlic)white cheese, ham, maybe pickels.Pressed! In both cases, the secret to a good Cuban sandwich is the bread! You cannot have a Cuban Sanwich without Cuban bread. I have found NO restaurant in NYC & Jersey, so far that can serve any sort of Cuban sandwich, maily b/c of the fact that authentic Cuban Bread is not used.
                        As for your place on 8th, maybe I am wrong. I'll give it a try.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: elizabeth

                          try las vegas restaurant in long island city (that's queeens) one stop out of manhattan on E or V 23rd and ely. on the corner of 21st street

                          1. re: djalexis

                            Las Vegas has the best chicharrones de pollo. A bit salty, but damn good!

                        2. The first Cuban sandwich I ever had was in a city called West New York, New Jersey. (Yes, it is actually in NJ, directly across the river from Manhattan, with one of the best views of the Manhattan skyline) WNY has a majority Latino/Hispanic population, with a significant Cuban population.

                          This Cuban sandwich, from Las Palmas Restaurant, was the real deal. It was Cuban bread, with roast pork, ham and thinly sliced pickles, white cheese, pressed of course. Unfortunately for me, this was to be the delicious standard by which I measured all subsequent Cuban sandwiches, and none of the others have compared! It is horrible to order a Cuban sandwich and get something with lettuce!! My Cuban-American friend, who introduced me to the sandwich, thinks the addition of mustard or anything else is disastrous.

                          1. On an authentic Cuban Sandwich, you would never find garlic butter. It would seem that your description of the Tampa version is close to authentic. There's a site (Three Cuban Guys...something or other) that says you need to use EQUAL amounts of ham and roast pork. ALso swiss cheese is the only cheese to use. Mustard or Mayo (or both as I prefer) are both acceptable. But I cant knock something till I try it. I love garlic and I love "Cuban's". Could be good.

                            1. I am no expert. But I do love a good cuban sandwich and have been comparing them. hands down the winner is at Las Vegas restaurant in Long Island City.. right across the subway (E or V--23rd ely stop back entrance from manhattan).
                              The sandwich: reaal roasted pork with crispy crackling pieces. they make it with deli ham and strong swiss. my only criticism is that sometimes they put garlic spread on the bread. I think it ruins the sandwich...so order no garlic. (and i love garlic but i think this stuff is cheap).

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: djalexis

                                I am cuban american born and raised in Miami, Fl. I just moved to NYC and the cuban sandwiches here are not cuban. What makes a cuban sandwich a cuban sandwich is the cuban bread. The bread is soft and is made out of lard. This bread only lasts one day because the next day its get hard as a rock. The cuban sandwich is composed, or processed pork shoulder, ham, swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard.

                                In NYC i dont know why they put a garlic sauce, that is not authentic. I have not been able to find cuban bread here, but its really easy to make.

                              2. The best cubano I've had in the NY tristate area was at EL ARTESANO (41st & Bergenline in Union City, NJ). Made me ashamed to go anywhere else.

                                Think thin. Freshly baked-on-premises Cuban bread pressed with love so it's almost all an ethereal, light crispy crust. Bolo ham, a generous slice of pork shoulder, silky swiss cheese that melted in my mouth like good chocolate, and a razor-thin sliced pickel. Spicy mustard optional.

                                Had a churro, a rich flan, and an excellent Cuban coffee for desert all for about $8.00. Puts anything in NYC to shame and for half the price.

                                El Margon (the garlic soaked mojo bread and salami are nice but not at all authentic) & La Floridita in Manhattan aren't even in same league.

                                Cafecito and similar downtown trendier places are, IMHO, awful. Dry pernil, thick, bad bread.

                                If you don't hear the grinding of the fresh coffee machines every five minutes and rapid fire Spanish in the thick Cuban accent when you walk in, walk out.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: nobody special

                                  So very true!!! El Artesano has amazing food. The chops, the steak, it's all good in the Bergen hood!

                                  1. re: nobody special

                                    I agree on Berenline Ave in Union City, there are several good places for a Cubano sandwich. Also Mi Bandera Supermarket has good Cuban bread and makes a good Cuban Sandwich.
                                    There are large Cuban populations in Miami, but Tampa also has a large Cuban population , as does Union City. So, you can be sure that Cuban/Cuban Americans want the real thing, and get the real thing. Manhattan is lacking in this department. Mainly because of the bread as others have said. I personally always ask for some chicharron on my sandwich.

                                  2. Ive never been but heard about a cuban spot in Hoboken that is supposed to be fantastic. I believe its called La Isla. Check it out but dont blame me if its a bust.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: YoungHood

                                      La Isla is on the top of my list of places to try.

                                      1. re: nobody special

                                        La Gloria (86th and Northern, Jackson Heights) has a really good Cuban Sandwich. They're newly opened and I had it for brunch today. At least as good as some I've had in Miami.

                                    2. not authentic but there's the cubano christo is delicious at carteles. the cuban sandwich is deep fried!

                                      1. Havana Cafe in Astoria by Ditmars has the best one I've had in NY by far. Which doesn't say much, but when I have the craving I'm happy I live so close.