The best Cubans have a special touch -- some are grilled and pressed with a traditional plancha, yielding that golden-brown, crusty finish. Others go overboard on the meat, either an abundance of roasted pork or stacked slabs of salty, thick-cut Serrano ham. Still others get fancy with house-cured pickles or homemade mustard.
Though the culinary landscape of Broward and Palm Beach may be dominated by Cuban concepts, we've singled out the best of the cuisine's eponymous sandwich. From the street counters to the longtime, family-owned establishments, here's our list for the best Cuban sandwiches in South Florida.
Anyone traveling on I-95 through West Palm Beach should detour and follow the signs from the highway to Havana. Since 1993, the walk-up outdoor order windows on the corner of Old Dixie Highway and Forest Hill Boulevard in West Palm Beach have been open 24 hours, offering an array of quick, inexpensive, and ready-to-go eats. It's Cuban-style street food for takeout, for just a few dollars. The Cuban sandwich is a winner here, wrapped and ready to go with a side bag of fresh-fried plantain chips.
9. El Bohio
Palm Beach County knows good Cuban food. From Jupiter to Boca Raton, dozens of establishments specialize in peddling meat-filled empanadas, hand-pressed Cuban sandwiches, homemade pulpeta (Cuban meatloaf), velvety flan, and a colada. Luckily, the area also boasts a wide range of Cuban concepts, everything from authentic upscale restaurants to small, family-style eateries. But it's the casual walk-up counter spots -- the café Cubanos, open all hours of day and night -- that seem to present the most authentic experience. And that's exactly what you'll find at El Bohio, a longtime Cuban pit stop off Federal Highway in Lantana. In Cuba, "bohío" is the name for the traditional hut or housing originally developed by the island's aboriginal groups. In Lantana, it's the name for owner Blas Serpa's small stand-alone restaurant with a busy, walk-up order counter. Here, the Cuban sandwich is pressed with a plancha, with a perfect proportion of bread, meat, and cheese.
This Boynton Beach establishment first opened in 2009, a quaint lunch and dinner spot off Congress Avenue offering authentic Cuban cuisine at affordable prices. Think fresh-pressed sugar-cane juice, family-style pitchers of homemade sangria, and lunch specials for just $3.95. Its Cuban sandwich is one of the best around, full of flavor with thick-sliced pickles, plenty of cheese, and layers of well-seasoned shredded pork -- but heavy on the ham, if you like an extra-salty bite.
Step inside this small Cuban café and you'll feel as though you've been instantly transported to Miami. Instead, you're actually in west Broward County, closer to the Sawgrass Mills Mall than to South Beach. Even so, the place is packed with people looking to load up on classic Cuban fare, everything from ropa vieja to a perfectly pressed Cuban sandwich. The same fresh-baked bread that's used to make the Cuban also comes out from the kitchen hot and crisp in a bread basket to your table. That alone is pretty awesome.
If it doesn't sound familiar, that's because it isn't. This Delray Beach-based food truck just hit the streets, a family-run affair. South Florida native Rob Menendez and his father, Bob, are the men behind the concept. Menendez, formerly with Boca Raton's Pinon Grill and Sybarite Pig, is now running his own kitchen offering a modern take on his family's Cuban-inspired cuisine. The Cuban sandwich is a specialty, buttered Cuban bread pressed with a traditional plancha and stuffed with a 24-hour slow-roasted pork, thick-cut ham, and Swiss cheese. The finishing touch: homemade pickles. Look for them during lunch on the streets from Boynton Beach to Boca Raton.
At Havana Hideout in Lake Worth, you can get what Guy got on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and order the Cuban sandwich. The restaurant may prepare most of its fare from its food truck kitchen, but the Cuban sandwich doesn't taste like it. The pork butt is prepped offsite, smothered in garlic and salt, then roasted for up to six hours until moist and tender. The Cuban bread comes straight from Tampa's Cuban bakery, La Segunda. It's fitted with a slathering of yellow mustard, Serrano ham, pickles, and provolone cheese, then slathered in butter and pressed to a deep-brown crisp. The secret ingredient here: a touch of garlic salt.
As with Padrino's, this Wilton Manors Cuban restaurant has several locations across Broward County, the first of which has been in operation since the early '90s. As a result, the menu offers a taste of Cuban fare at its finest. The Cuban sandwich it delivers is thick and meaty, with plenty of cheese, pickles, and mustard to balance out the salty, rich flavors at play.
A good family-run Cuban restaurant seems to multiply into additional locations -- quickly. However, this Cuban staple hails from Miami, and its Deerfield restaurant is the second location. It's best-known for the "Taste of Havana" platter, a smathering of roasted chicken thighs, ham croquettes, salted plantain chips, cornmeal tamales, and fried yucca wedges. The Cuban sandwich is equally stellar, everything made to exacting standards using longtime family recipes. The bread is toasted just right, and the sandwich itself is layer-upon-layer of slow roasted cerdo and ham, with enough cheese to make it all stick together.
Padrino's in Hallandale Beach is one of four Florida locations where the Padrino family serves its traditional Cuban cuisine. Founder Diosdado Padrino opened his first restaurant in Hialeah in 1972, after joining his wife and two children, who arrived in South Florida in 1968. Today, the family operates several restaurants in Plantation, Boca Raton, and Orlando. Its Cuban sandwich is a stellar example of classic Cuban fare, made with the house-roasted pork and bread delivered to the restaurant from a nearby bakery daily.
There's nothing fancy about a Cuban sandwich, but at the Cuban Cafe in Boca Raton, you'll feel like you're getting something special. Since its start in 1991, the restaurant has been serving some of the area's best Cuban cuisine. This comes as no surprise, since the family behind the business has been passing down recipes for generations. Its Cuban sandwich is no exception, arriving piping hot, the bread well-grilled and gleaming from a sheen of butter fat. Unlike most Cubans pressed thin and flat, this sandwich takes the title of heavyweight champ. It's stuffed with large cuts of pork and several slices of thick-sliced ham, melded together with hot, creamy queso.
Follow Nicole Danna on Twitter, @SoFloNicole.
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