Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Best Cuban Sandwiches in Miami

There is only one true "Sandwich Cubano" - that classic combination of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles, pressed on la plancha until the exterior is toasty and the interior is warm and melted.[1] But there are actually many varieties of Cuban sandwiches that can be found in Miami.

I was recently asked to recommend five Cuban sandwiches and give short descriptions for a publication (which may or may not actually appear, I don't know). Needless to say, I struggled to limit myself to five, to say nothing of the abbreviated word count. Here's an expanded, unedited version of some of my personal favorites.


For the classic "Cubano," there's still no better place to go than that most classic Cuban restaurant, the hall of mirrors that is the unofficial capitol of Cuban Miami: Versailles. Is it the best Cubano in Miami? Honestly? Maybe, maybe not. But eating one there, followed by a cafecito to wash it down - either in the mirrored, chandeliered dining room, or probably even better, outside at the counter from the take-out window, where the locals hang out and gossip - is a true Miami experience.

3555 SW 8th Street
Miami, FL 33134

Versailles on Urbanspoon


Enriquetas may not be much to look at, and it may not be in the toniest part of Miami (its location, near the warehouse district / art district that is Wynwood, is what a realtor might call a "transitional neighborhood"), but their Pan Con Lechón - tender shredded roasted pork, splashed with some garlicky mojo, topped with sautéed onions, and smushed into toasted buttered bread - is my favorite. I like mine with a side of tostones, with some more mojo for dipping. You won't be very kissable afterwards, but you'll be satisfied.

186 NE 29th Street
Miami, FL 33137
(breakfast & lunch only)

Enriqueta's Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Luis Galindo's Latin American

I still fondly remember the original Latin American Cafe on Coral Way, an indoor-outdoor space that got decimated in a hurricane several years ago and never reopened. But the newer location on the outskirts of Coral Gables still tastes just as good. The dozens of whole hams hanging all around the restaurant are a good sign, but for nostalgia's sake I like one of my old-time favorites: the "Sandwich Miami," which features turkey, ham, bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce and tomato, all pressed on la plancha just like the original.

Luis Galindo's Latin American
898 SW 57th Avenue
Miami, FL 33144

Luis Galindo Latin American 2 on Urbanspoon

La Camaronera

If Garcia's Seafood Grill on the Miami River has the best grilled fish sandwich in town (and it does), then the Pan Con Minuta at La Camaronera[2] is the best fried fish sandwich in town - and one of the best you'll find anywhere. The place started as a seafood market, and 25 years ago added fryers and a stand-up counter so they could also cook and serve their catch. There's still no seating at the counter, or anywhere else, so step up and place your order. Your fish will be freshly battered and fried to order, and come to you in a few minutes with a crispy, lightly spiced crust around some beautifully tender flaky fresh fish, topped with onions and ketchup. Hit it with a bit of the hot sauce that's out on the counter too. This is no "filet-o-fish" - the minuta comes with the tail sticking out of an edge of the bun! The best part: it's only $3.25. Get some bollitos de carita (black-eyed pea fritters), also expertly fried, to go with it, or if you're more adventurous they have fried fish roe. But I figured out when I last went that the item everyone was getting was the grouper soup; now I know.

La Camaronera
1952 W. Flagler Street
Miami, FL 33135
(Open 9am-5:30pm Mon-Sat, 10am-4pm Sun)

La Camaronera Fish Market on Urbanspoon

El Mago de Las Fritas

"Mago" = magician. "Frita" = Cuban hamburger. These chorizo-spiked fritas, smashed thin on the grill, topped with raw onions, crispy julienned potato and ketchup, and dripping paprika-stained red oil onto a soft bun, are indeed magical. When I need burger advice, I go to the source: the Burger Beast. El Mago are his favorite. I got my frita authentic-style with no cheese. It was delicious, and gave me no cause to question the Burger Beast's judgment. But how come nobody told me I could get it a caballo with a fried egg on top? I'll have to do better homework next time.

El Mago de Las Fritas
5828 SW 8th Street
Miami, FL
(Closes at 7:30pm)

El Mago de Las Fritas on Urbanspoon

Bin No. 18

For a more contemporary, upscale take on the Cubano, try the "Re-Constructed Cuban" at Bin No. 18, a funky bistro near the Performing Arts Center. It's untraditional - ciabatta bread rubbed with tomato like a "pan con tomate," slow roasted pork, caramelized onions, and oozy triple cream cheese - but delicious. Plus, you can wash it down with something from their nice selection of wines or craft and imported beers.

Bin No. 18
1800 Biscayne Boulevard
Miami, FL 33132

Bin No. 18 on Urbanspoon

Puerto Sagua

It's a little divey, it's a little grungy, but Puerto Sagua has a couple things going for it: it's in South Beach, and it's open late. If you need some sustenance for late-night South Beach partying, grab a Media Noche (midnight) sandwich here. Like a Cubano but with soft, sweet egg bread, it's just the right size to keep you going through the rest of the night. When chef Nate Appleman was in Miami, three of his five meals here were at Puerto Sagua; though - to answer his question - that probably says more about Chef Appleman than it says about food in Miami.

Puerto Sagua
700 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139
(Open till 2am)

Puerto Sagua on Urbanspoon

Here's a closing question: where can I get a really good pan con bistec? I tried the one at Sergio's, where it's supposed to be a house specialty, but I was underwhelmed. It had all the right components - a thin-sliced churrasco steak, onions, tomatoes, potato sticks - but just didn't hit the spot. Still and yet, Sergio's still was the source for one of my more amusing restaurant stories.

Several years ago, Mrs. F was there, and, trying out her then-nascent Spanish speaking abilities, ordered the bistec de pollo (grilled chicken breast). She speaks Spanish pretty well now, but then, she was probably much like me: I can order off a menu, and then usually just stare blankly if asked a question in Spanish, especially if it's at a usual speaking pace rather than some super-slow "This person is an idiot" intonation.

The waitress, perhaps sensing this, and looking to share a little joke with Mrs. F's Cuban table-mates, asked her "¿Cocinado o crudo?" Which means, "Cooked or raw?" Not immediately understanding the question, but knowing some response was necessarily, she quickly replied: "Normal!" Good answer.

[1]OK, maybe not entirely true. In Tampa, whose Cuban community may predate Miami's, they also put salami in the mix - something I've never seen anywhere in Miami. Go figure.

[2]Owned by Garcia Brothers Seafood - I am presuming the same family but haven't been able to confirm.


  1. Well I'll put my money on the pan con bistec from Enriquetas and the pan con lechon at "La Esquina Del Lechon" it's the best I've ever had

  2. I have booked a 4 night stay at the Clinton Hotel on South Beach Miami for this coming Summer. While I am a huge music fan - the trip is like a pilgrimage for me to take in some big band music, frequent Kravitz studio, I no very little idea on places to eat out. Having visited Miami once in my youth, I have been fortunate enough to enjoy Sandwich Cubano, so will be keen to venture down to west st. and check out versailles. I guess with Cubans not traditionally known for great cuisine, it's cafes and grills that are most commonly found. Do they have any Cuban restaurants in Miami to enjoy a full evening?

  3. Jack - my difficulty with Cuban food in Miami is that there are many places that are adequate, and not really any I've found that are truly exceptional. For a place that you'd actually want to spend the whole evening, you may want to take a look at Douglas Rodriguez's new place in the Astor Hotel, De Rodriguez. I've not tried it yet, but it's upscale, updated Cuban in a beautiful setting (the Astor has always been a great room).

    For something less fancy, but still a pleasant place, I like Sazon in North Beach (up around 73rd St. and Collins Ave.). Their garbanzos fritos, vaca frita de pollo, and rabo encendido (the last being a daily special) are all pretty good.

  4. I'd suggest a crawl but I'm not a big fan of Cuban Sandwiches but pan con lechon is a different story

  5. This is not a new idea, but I admit being from Tampa I'm biased-- the best Cuban sandwiches hands down are in Tampa. It was the mix of Sicilians, Spaniards and Cubans in Tampa that created the taste combo that is far superior to the ham and pork modified "mixto" sandwiches here. You need the couple thin slices of genoa salami or mortadella, and you need the real cuban bread baked with a palm frond. Recently, the Colombia in Ybor City, went back to the old ways and now makes, IMHO, the best Tampa-style Cuban out there.See also

  6. Frod, how your arteries are still clear afer this research I have no idea! What a great list. And soon you'll be able to add another. I've seen on Coral Way in a spot that's gone through many tenants (among them a Don Pan) there's a Latin American opening. And I think it's the original chain as it sports the phrase "Especializando en sandwiches". If so, I'm there as soon as it opens. I miss the old one on Coral Way, but this'll be close enough.

  7. I like Rio Crystal for pan con bistec but I suspect I like it because of the shoe string fries. It really is super divey. However, everyone tells me the steak sandwich at Graziano's (the grocery store not the restaurant on Bird) is extremely good with excellent quality meat. I have not personally tried it because of they do not have shoe string fries and I am biased like that sometimes.

  8. All - thanks for the pan con bistec advice. Though I'm disqualifying Graziano's solely on account of being Argentine not Cuban. I may need to check out Esquina del Lechon.

    Alejandro - I've not tried a Tampa-style Cuban, but I'm not dismissing it either solely out of regional loyalty. I can see how some salami would be a good thing, though having become so accustomed to a Miami-style Cubano, it just sort of seems wrong.

    L2M - I did a lot of half sandwiches and brought home leftovers. And some of these I'd been to recently enough that I didn't have to pay a special visit just for research for this particular project.

  9. I think the traditional Pan con bistec is made with palomilla, however there's no doubt a churrasco would be better. Also, I always order mine with cheese and sauteed onions, its a must.

    Another version of the cuban is from Sarussi's, which although not my favorite it is still a good sandwich, and HUGE.

    Another cuban-style sandwich that I enjoy is the croqueta preparada. Basically ham croquettas, cheese, pork, mustard, pickles and pressed. This sandwich is only as good as the croquettas inside it so that is the key here.

    Great list!

  10. I love how Versailles has the special 20-minute parking for coffee drinkers. Only in Miami!

  11. Ever try Jimmy'z Kitchen Cuban Sandwich? You will love it!

  12. L2M's mention of a new Latin American opening in Coral Gables is correct. It just opened a few days ago and while I love the Luis Galindo's Latin American on 8th street this new location is indeed a re-opening of the Gables version of the chain.

  13. my coworkers agree that la casona on sunset has the best cuban sandwich. & the one we had on monday was so big i had to squish it to get it in my mouth!

  14. you forgot Ayestaran, which was voted best Cuban sandwich in the United States. I've tried it. It is by far the best.

  15. croqueta preparada at Casavana in Homestead ,hands down