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Jun 26, 2004 01:13 AM

Cuban Sandwiches

  • c

Does anyone know where I can get a good Cuban Sandwich in the South Bay or anywhere in the Bay Area?

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  1. In my opinion, no. As a former Floridian, I can pretty much tell you that the West Coast, and the Bay Area in particular, is the worst place to find Cuban food (that isn't "nuevo latino" con-fusion). It also sucks to find a real hot dog. Or anything Eastern European (besides Russian).

    But then again, we can't always get what we want, and sometimes it's just as well. It makes me appreciate my trips to Florida and New York more realizing that I can enjoy the things there I can't get here.

    Although, I have ended up making my own Cuban bread (some store-bought crusty french breads will do the trick) and roasting my own pork when I've truly been desperate. Mmmm, pressed cuban sandwiches with black beans and yellow rice, cafe con leche, and good cigar!!! I'm set to go!

    13 Replies
    1. re: kevin
      ChowFun (derek)

      What about that incredible guava (with or without cream cheese) puff pastry dough.
      There is a Versailles in the L.A area, I wonder whether it has the same ownership as the one on Calle Ocho?!?

      1. re: ChowFun (derek)
        Cyrus J. Farivar

        David Boyk had a pretty good one at the taco truck in Fruitvale, El Ojo de Agua -- but the guys were from Districte Federale, Mexico, we think -- so I can't speak for their authenticity, but tasting it, it tasted pretty damn good.

        1. re: Cyrus J. Farivar

          The "Cuban" torta at Ojo de Agua is not a Cuban sandwich, although I agree it's tasty.

          Like Kevin, I've never had anything resembling a Cuban sandwich in the Bay Area (I'm also from South Florida). But this is less surprising considering I haven't met more than a handful of Cubans here.

          Haven't eaten at Havana (Habana?) in San Jose, so I can't comment on their food. Or Laurel's on Oak in the old Eliza's space. But these are both sit-down restaurants, not the kind of place I'd expect to find a great medianoche.

          1. re: Windy

            The Cuban sandwich I had a couple years ago at Bodeguita del Medio in Palo Alto was much better than the medianoche I got at a place recommended by Manhattan chowhounds in Midtown. But not nearly as good as the "good but not great" one that Jim Leff recommended from a place near Shea Stadium. Maybe those comparators help.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Umm, probably not Atlas Cafe either. Just looked at the menu (linked below) and don't think that "Grilled Cuban Beef on baguette with sage-tomato pesto, pepper jack, roasted scallions and oregano vinaigrette" is what the OP is looking for.


      2. re: kevin

        i do know of one in southern's called La Cubana in might want to try it out next time you're down there

        1. re: kevin

          I've read positive reviews of Havana in Walnut Creek but haven't eaten there. Anyone?

          1. re: JoAnn

            Interesting...I've heard uniformly poor reviews of the service and food from chowish friends...what have you read good about it?

            Anyway, here's a link to a thread from a few months ago on Cuban sandwiches with some leads. Have also heard good reports of the Cuban at Citizen Cake available at lunch time. However, the $12 or so tariff keeps me from trying it myself.


              1. re: JoAnn

                Thanks for providing the URL. Doesn't sound like the place to get an authentic Cuban sandwich, but who knows? Maybe someone who's been there recently can chime in - I'll alter the subject heading.

                The article confirmed my recollection of what I'd heard about the poor service and fixation with mangoes and pineapples. So, I went back to my inbox to try to find the email from a chowhound who ranted about how awful his meal was. I tried to get him to post, but I think he didn't want to remove the colorful profanity from his communique for our G-rated forum! I've done so in quoting part of his comments below from a dinner some 6 months after the East Bay Express review.

                "Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. And expensive, to boot. . . Inauthentic menu (no Cuban has ever eaten
                this crap even in the worst Castro years), sloppy service, poor execution,
                minimal d├ęcor, loud, and worse of all (to any self-respecting hound) way
                over-priced. . . It's got to be an elaborate hoax or the work of a delusional
                fusion-cuisine dude trying to invent what it might be like to eat Cuban
                food. "Uh, let's see. They're an island so I'll throw in some mangoes. Oh,
                yeah, and some pineapples!" The menu starts off with "tapas" (no Cuban would
                use this word unless they were going to a Spanish restaurant. It's akin to
                having "dim sum" on the menu), half of which are traditional accompaniments
                to any dish (e.g., fried plantains, fried yuca or black beans and rice, for
                Christ's sake!). To make matters worse, the chef adds some chi-chi ________ on
                the side which no one in La Habana ever made (e.g., tamarind cream dip -
                yeccch). These dainty jewels were in the $7 range. The $17 medium-rare steak
                was well done and a mess. The paper-thin $16 pork chop was dry and tough.
                The $14 chicken was passable. I'm glad I passed on the "Mango Gazpacho". . . The
                worst sin of all: I asked for some hot sauce (thinking "habaneros") and they
                brought a huge, industrial bottle of Tabasco and presented it to me as if it
                were a bottle of fine wine, so that I could read the label. Tears came to my
                eyes from laughing so hard. "

                Anyone have an update?


              2. re: Melanie Wong
                david de berkeley

                i ate the cuban sandwich at citizen cake two weeks ago and it was definitely tasty, and it had most of the proper components: pressed bread, a well marinated and tasty pork loin, homemade pickles (which tasted like ordinary bread and butter pickles), and nondescript cheese (which is fine, considering most places use white american cheese food product). the only thing missing was the ham, but the sandwich itself packs plenty of favor, so the saltiness of the ham was only slightly missed. it also came with a salad of jicama and madarin bits, but i'm not really a fan of jicama. i was eating here on business, so i did not pay for the meal, but if you have a really strong craving, the twelve dollar tax is not bad, especially considering the price of a lunch these days.

                1. re: david de berkeley

                  Thanks so much for test palate-ing, David! Wonder how they'd feel if someone showed up with a slice of ham to slide between the sheets . . . (g)

                  Any recent reports on Bi-Rite's?

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    finally I can chime in!
                    I ate Bi Rite's a few months ago. It seemed more like a bbq type sandwich to me. the garnish was so strong that the taste of the meat was hidden. they do in fact say that they marinate it "the way they are supposed to". but for me it was not satisfying.
                    when I was in Key West in April I saw a lot of signs for Cuban sandwiches but it just looked like a hoagie to me. here's another case of tasting the Cali-Re-Do version first, sorry.

          2. r
            Robert Lauriston

            El Nuevo Frutilandia at 3077 24th Street in SF makes Cuban sandwiches good enough to please my Cuban mother-in-law.