Best Cuban Sandwich 2007 | Crazy Cuban | Food & Drink | South Florida
There are half a million Cubans in South Florida and something like four decent Cuban restaurants. OK, maybe five. Evidently, the ex-pats have far better things to do than to open cafés where everything on the menu costs less than $15 — like manage gargantuan sugar farms, run for office, or study for the Florida bar. Who can blame them? Standing over a hot iron pressing sandwiches all day is no picnic. You Ôd have to, in fact, be a crazy Italian to want to do it, especially to do it twice. But when Sam Mancuso opened a second outlet in Boynton Beach last year (the first Crazy Cuban was in Vero), he answered the prayers of many a hapless local who, when faced with a hearty appetite and the contents of his change jar, thinks inevitably: Cuban sandwich ($5) with extra pickles (free). If the jar runneth over, he might even splurge on a Cuban Special ($6.25), which adds sliced turkey breast to the classic ham, pork, Swiss, pickle, and mustard combo. Both, of course, are served on excellent, deliciously oily pan Cubano — heated, smooshed, and crisped in a sandwich press — so the textures and flavors that have rightly made this neat little meal a staple of penniless hacks everywhere are thereby perfected.
Let's imagine, for once, that your out-of-town guests are under the age of 70 and not living on a pension. Let's fantasize that your guests like to stay out late and drink strong mojitos, that they have their own sporty little coupe and a suitcase full of shimmery minidresses and linen trousers, and that they'll undoubtedly offer to buy the empanadas and capirinhas if you'll just point them in the right direction. A night of their lives is waiting at Spice Resto-Lounge, the Hollywood epicenter of what South Florida might have been had it taken its cues from Havana: lots of booty, rum, and rumba set on a busy, breezy boulevard where the moon seems ever full. The menu here is supper-club Latin-Caribbean, and the floor show is nonstop, from a series of crooners singing Astrid Gilberto hits through the bouncers and cocktail waitresses who'll hop up on raised platforms and dance their asses off at the slightest provocation to a house band that strikes up around 10 p.m. seven nights a week and keeps the place rocking until the very wee hour of 4 a.m. Anybody who fails to have fun here isn't your friend.
There aren't a whole lot of good things you can say for rampant development in South Florida. But one quality-of-life improvement associated with those high-rise condos blocking your view of the beach is the arrival of the upscale corporate eatery. For as surely as the moneyed snowbird flies south, so does the better restaurant chain follow in her updraft. Goodbye, Olive Garden; hello, Seasons 52. Good riddance, Taco Bell; bienvenidos, Rosa Mexicano. Rosa was the first upscale Mexican restaurant in Manhattan, opened by the late Josephina Howard — who invented the tableside-guacamole phenomenon where servers dice and mash onion, tomato, peppers, and avocado into the dip of your dreams. The tables at this Palm Beach Gardens location are filled not only with bowls of guac and warm tortillas but also with pasilla chili soup, zarape de pato (pulled barbecued duck between tortillas), boneless beef short ribs, and baby goat tacos. This ain't one of those frozen-margarita-and-chimichurri palaces that have simultaneously wrecked your waistline and your taste buds.
Michele Sandberg
Everyone knows necessity is the mother of invention. It's also the mother of Big Al's Steaks, a recently opened Philly cheese-steak joint that gives a damned good reason to visit otherwise lame Coconut Creek. Big Al Costillo and his son Adam migrated from Philly to South Florida expecting to find some place that compared to their favorite local cheese-steak shop, Geno's. But they didn't. So they opened one in a little space (and by little, we mean ten people fit, at most) in a depressing strip mall between State Road 7 and the Sawgrass Expressway. It really didn't look like much — your typical little sandwich shop with a couple of TVs, some barstools, and white walls adorned with Flyers and Eagles paraphernalia. But then we watched the assembly of our sandwich behind the plate-glass window. The thinly sliced rib eye searing on the flat-top grill. The American cheese whiz dripping from the ladle. The even distribution of fried onions. Our saliva was practically gushing when we finally took a bite, chewed, and entered cheese-steak heaven. Then we found out that our Philly roll had actually been in Philly earlier in the day. Big Al wasn't about to compromise on fluffy Philly bread. Now we just wish he'd throw some good brews on the menu. Coming soon: Big Al's expansion into Delray Beach.
OK, so it isn't set in a railroad dining car, and there are no waitresses named Madge. Henry's doesn't serve breakfast all day — there isn't an egg on the menu unless you count the organic egg-white omelet served at lunch (with mushrooms, spinach, Gruyre, and a side of skinny fries). But in spite of a brave attempt to attract the young and the feckless in Boca and Delray with a spiffy martini list and generous ladles of lemon aioli, the well-to-do Northeastern retirees who frequent Henry's know exactly what this place is: the Jersey diner they always aspired to. The place gives itself away with the cushy booths, the banging pots, the shouts emanating from the open kitchen, and its list of American classics like gourmet pot roast, chicken pot pie, spaghetti with meatballs, and stuffed roast chicken with Brussels sprouts. Don't let the demi-glace and the "balsamic roasted" fool you. These are meals best finished off with a hot fudge sundae — and there it is on the dessert menu. And damned if that sundae isn't improved with a shot glass of 100-year-old Grand Marnier ($17.50) upended into it.
If aliens invade our planet tomorrow, the odds of our having anything they haven't already thought of are slim-to-none. Our one saving grace, ace in the hole, and lone olive branch to extend might be the sandwich. Because, when properly executed, the perfect sandwich represents centuries of architectural design, layered with worldwide gourmet influences, all served with two handy slices of bread so your fingers don't get sticky. Yes, it might be our greatest invention to date. And with all that said, we should find ourselves fortunate to have the sandwich masters of My Market so close at hand. My Market is an unassuming corner store that, when driving by, looks like an ordinary bodega. But go inside and you find shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of construction workers, business folk, and pretty much everyone else who could squeeze in. They all know that the deli-style, made-to-order sandwiches are concocted out of Boar's Head meats and cheeses and whatever homemade sauces and extras My Market feels like throwing in. Are you craving something exotic? Maybe bite into the French Quarter, a French bread-based hot sub made of brie, roast beef, "Want Mo!" sauce, and fresh rosemary. Heading to the beach? Grab a La Baja — it's got fresh cracked peppermill turkey and jalapeno pepper cheese slathered with Russian dressing and then pressed flat and hot. But the real trick about the folks at My Market is that they understand our human love of all the accouterments that go with the sandwich experience, which is where the store's minimart alter ego comes into play. Any size and variety of chip and dip is at your beck and call, along with every fathomable type of juice, soda, and iced tea. So when the invasion happens (and just wait; it will), let's nominate My Market to be our ambassador.
Liz Dzuro
French fries are like air: all around you and important as hell but never given a second thought. Most eateries just open the bag of freezer-burned potato lumps and dump them in the fryer. But not the Rum Shack. This indoor tiki bar (with a real thatched roof) offers big, wedge-cut fries available straight-up, beer-battered, or beer-battered and covered in a special secret gorgonzola cheese sauce and with a side of herb au jus for dipping. And at just $3.95, they're damned near a meal in themselves.
For an abridged history of Tony and Erica Sindaco's culinary progress in Broward County, look to nearly a decade of New Times Bests-awarded Sunfish Grill. In the nine years since they opened, chef (Tony) and owner (Erica) have brought crab Charlotte, a jewel-toned tower of gastronomic power, to the collective consciousness of South Floridians, along with an appreciation for the way seafood becomes a transcendent experience in the right hands. But about 2003, after word got out about their braised littleneck clams, seared rare tuna over oxtail ragout, and grilled swordfish with mushroom reduction, to say nothing of their Symphony of Chocolate, our once-cozy, one-room Sunfish morphed into the sort of place where you had to scream your endearments while playing inadvertent footsie with strangers. That was the year we awarded Sunfish Best Restaurant Ready for an Expansion. Four long years later, we've been granted our fondest wish, as Sunfish has reopened in a spacious, grown-up couple of rooms without missing a beat or compromising a flavor.
Anthony Cave
As tasty as it is eccentric — Tom Jenkins' is right off Federal in a log-cabin-inspired building that began accepting credit cards only last year — this is a communal dining establishment. There are no reclusive tables for two here. Just long tables with benches, where blue-collar, white-collar, and no-collar types bump elbows as they munch on racks of secret-sauce-drenched spare ribs and coarsely chopped pork sandwiches. The desserts are just as sought-after: homemade sweet potato pie and a weekend-only treat of juicy, bubbling fruit cobbler. Started in a roadside stand by two frat brothers from Florida A&M in Tallahassee, Tom Jenkins' is now marketing two sauces (Original and Country Gold) in grocery stores.
You probably thought we'd pick one of those fancy Mexican restaurants with tableside guacamole engineers. Nope. Have you seen the price tag on that shiiiiiit? Like $10 plus tax plus tip for a bowl that's gone before the Sangria even arrives. For guac that's just as fresh and delicious, why not make for one of the South Florida green markets, where you can shop among crisp vegetables and pulchritudinous plants, then stumble on Anita's Guacamole, a small business based on an authentic Colombian recipe that's been passed down for four generations of Mauricio Mendez's family. Mendez, just 25 years old, has been running the business from North Miami for two years now, sending out worker friends to deliver his great-grandmother's mouthwatering guac to the masses. When we found this avocado dream at the Lake Worth green market (sadly, now closed for the summer), it was a young Colombian architecture student named Giovanni who delivered the goods. We watched the graceful mashing of his sinewy, twitching forearms and listened intently as the ingredients spilled softly off his supple lips — avocados, lime juice, onions, tomatoes, and secret herbs and spices. Let's just say the process was appealing. We were dying to hand over $6 for that eight-ounce container of guac that came with a bag of yellow corn chips. If only there were some price we could have paid to keep our beloved Giovanni in the country.

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