Trying to find the best Cuban sandwich in South Florida can be overwhelming, given the sheer number of available options. There's plenty to choose from, but in the end it comes down to being selective about quality.
The best Cubans have a special touch — some are grilled and pressed on 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.
1. Havana. The most authentic Cuban sandwiches aren't served in a fine-dining atmosphere. Rather, it's the roadside cantinas serving traditional fare in rustic digs — preferably with a 24/7 walk-up, to-go window. Many area restaurants offer such an experience, but Havana in West Palm Beach owns it: the owners wanted to recreate the Miami “ventanita," where early morning or late night customers could enjoy a Cuban coffee and pastelito. It's also how you should order your Cuban sandwich here (celebrities including Eric Clapton, Cameron Diaz, Paul Newman, Bonnie Raitt, Sophia Vergara, and Martha Stewart have, too). It's all because of the restaurant's utterly sublime combination of roasted pork and thick-sliced ham, paired perfectly with a thin layer of melted Swiss cheese, yellow mustard, and thin-sliced pickles. The bread here is key: flaky, chewy, buttered and pressed until a golden brown crust forms for just the right amount of crunch. 6801 S. Dixie Hwy., West Palm Beach; 561-547-9799; havanacubanfood.com.
2. It's A Cubano B. Once a Delray Beach-based food truck, this family-run affair made it all the way to brick-and-mortar status thanks — in part — to their amazing Cuban sandwiches. South Florida native Rob Menendez, his father, Bob, and sister, Renesi Thompson, are the trio behind It's A Cubano B. The family business got its start supplying food for local breweries and today you can still get some solid craft beer along with your sandwich. No longer a rolling kitchen, Menendez — a graduate of Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale with experience working at two well-known Boca Raton establishments — prides himself on his family's take on modern, Cuban-inspired cuisine, served up at the Pompano Beach restaurant. Of course, the Cuban sandwich that started it all remains a specialty to this day. The Big Cubano starts with buttered Cuban bread pressed using a traditional plancha, then stuffed with a 24-hour slow-roasted pork, thick-cut ham, and imported Swiss cheese. The finishing touch: homemade pickles and a slick of yellow mustard. 3350 NW 22nd Terrace, Pompano Beach; 754-222-8711; cubano.com.
3. Nuevo's Cubano's. Luis “Lou” Valdes, the restaurant’s charming owner, has roots at this location. The restaurant, originally built in 1976 by Valdes’s father, Luis Valdes Sr., was once the front portion of the family home where Valdes grew up (his great-aunt still lives in the building). Now, food is cranked out of a tiny open kitchen surrounded by a bar spanning the front. As a kid, Valdes helped his father prepare Cuban cuisine, learning the secrets of a great mojo marinade, succulent roast pork, and — of course — how to prepare one hell of a Cuban sandwich. While The 925 sandwich Valdes added to the menu features a “secret sauce” he makes with red peppers he grows himself should not be overlooked, you should probably get the Cuban, too. 925 N. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale; 954-806-8375.
4. The Cuban Cafe. There's nothing fancy about a Cuban sandwich, but at the Cuban Cafe in Boca Raton, you'll feel like you're getting something extra 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, melted queso. The side of plantain chips doesn't hurt, either. 3350 NW Boca Raton Blvd., Boca Raton; 561-750-8860; cubancafe.com.
5. Little Cuban Cafe. Drive west on Griffin Road in Fort Lauderdale and just past I-95 you'll find the Little Cuban Cafe. A family-run restaurant, breakfast and lunch are what they do best. Here, sandwiches dominate the menu — there's over a dozen to choose from — including two types of Cuban: a traditional and supreme. The straightforward Cuban is served cold, made with three types of ham, Swiss cheese, and pickles piled between two slices of buttered and mustard-slathered bread. The Supreme kicks it up a notch with fresh-baked Cuban bread smothered with melted Swiss Cheese, Serrano ham, house slow-roasted pulled pork, Mt. Olive brand pickles, and Famous French's Mustard. Wash it all down with a Jupiña, Materva, colada or mamey milkshake. 3423 Griffin Rd., Fort Lauderdale; 754-216-1266; littlecubancafe.com.
6. Don Carlin. Step inside this small Cuban café and you'll feel as though you've been instantly transported to Miami. In reality, you'll just be 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 and chicken Milanese to homemade tres leche and flan. If you're in the mood for lighter fare, try the perfectly-pressed Cubano Especial 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 before your meal arrives. 1447 W. Oakland Park Blvd., Sunrise; 954-578-1464. restaurantji.com.
7. Little Havana Restaurant. A good family-run Cuban restaurant seems to multiply into additional locations quickly. This Cuban staple hails from Miami, and its Deerfield restaurant is its second location. It's best-known for the "Taste of Havana" platter, a plate of roasted chicken thighs, ham croquettes, salted plantain chips, cornmeal tamales, and fried yucca wedges. The Cuban sandwich is equally stellar, 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. 721 S Federal Hwy., Deerfield Beach; 954-427-6000; littlehavanarestaurant.com.
8. Padrino's Cuban Cuisine. 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, including locations in Plantation, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, and Orlando. Its Cuban sandwich is a stellar example of classic Cuban fare, made with the house-roasted pork stuffed between bread that's delivered to the restaurant from a nearby bakery daily. 801 S University Drive, Plantation; 954-476-5777; padrinos.com.
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 coladas. Luckily, the area also boasts a wide range of Cuban concepts, including everything from authentic upscale restaurants to small, family-style eateries. 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, standalone 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. 101 S 3rd St., Lantana; 561-586-5867.
10. Publix. Your favorite Florida grocer will always stand as one of the best spots to get a top-knotch Cuban sandwich. Any self-respecting Floridian can vouch for the beauty that is a Publix sub, and the chain's Cuban sub sandwich is no different. Housemade mojo-roasted pork is thick-cut and stacked atop a massive amount of Boar's Head sweet ham. It's finished off with Swiss cheese, a slathering of yellow mustard (and mayo, unless you request otherwise) and house or garlic pickles. Then it's all stacked and pressed between Publix's own freshly-baked, flaky-fluffy white bread. Multiple locations; publix.com.