Miami is best summed up by a series of floating images: half-naked babes slathering gallons of baby oil on South Beach, palm trees swaying in the sun, dudes playing dominos while smoking puros, and closeups of the Cuban sandwich. It's the quintessential Miami snack.
Though the sandwich's origins have been disputed (Tampa believes it was first, but Tampa is certainly confused), Miamians pride ourselves on the sublime quality of our concoctions. And though it might be difficult to get a cubano wrong in this town, there are places that go one step above the rest to ensure that their version (whether old-school or nuevo) of the simple classic is sublime.
Think croquetas finding their way onto your cubano. Or pork rillettes rather than the typical sliced pork. And even house-made mustard that's been spiked with local brewery Wynwood Brewing Company's La Rubia. ¡Coño!
Leave it to a barbecue joint to serve an "ex-patriot" Cuban sandwich. If there's one thing Sparky's in downtown does better than anyone else, it's roasting pork, so it's really not surprising that this joint masters a sandwich where pig is the most important part. As for this little piggy, shoulder and leg get bathed in sour-orange juice, garlic, and sazon mojo. It's then smoked for eight hours. On the sammie, it shares the spotlight with juicy picnic ham that has been salted and cured overnight. Swiss cheese and creamy Dijon seal the deal, but if you want to take it to the next level, squirt some house-made apple-cider sauce on there. It does the Cuban proud.
9. El Exquisito
People often forget about this Calle Ocho gem that not only cooks up some of the best Cuban food in the city but also makes one mean cubano. Tradition is honored at this family-owned business, and on any given day you'll find a nice mix of Cuban exiles looking for a taste of home and inquisitive tourists craving a true Miami experience. Both will likely be biting into the cubano especial (a larger version of the Cuban). And once they've finished, they'll cross the street for some ice cream at Azucar. It’s the Miami way.
8. Rio Cristal
This is one of those sandwiches you could easily have five of. That's because the molten, gooey Swiss cheese makes you finish it in seconds, so you're left with the taste of bliss in your mouth and want more of where that came from. The pork is seasoned in a house mojo, and like everything else at Rio Cristal, it comes under a heaping pile of papitas. Open up your cubano and throw some inside. You're welcome.
7. Islas Canarias
You know you've made it when Anthony Bourdain Instagrams your sandwich with the hashtag #miami. And even though it was the medianoche Tony shouted out, it's just a version of the cubano. The secret to both lies in the bread, which is baked every morning in the Islas Canarias bakery. There's nothing out of the ordinary about the preparation here, but it's the execution that counts, and Islas Canarias has perfected it.
Somewhere in Doral, amid all the areperas, pepitos, and tequeños, you'll find a cubano that gives all others in town a run for their taste (and money too). Here, they thinly slice the pork and ham so you get to taste it with every nibble, but what really makes this sandwich stand out is the mouthwatering pork, which is made in house and rubbed with a secret mojo recipe.
Enriqueta's packs a nice little surprise in its cubano: croquetas. That's right — as if the classic needed any more refining, they’ve one-upped everybody by throwing Miami's irresistible finger food into the mix. The full lineup includes sweet ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, a pickle or two, and generous squirts of mustard, all on Cuban bread that's been toasted to give the precise amount of crunch. So go ahead, take a bite, and preparate to go to Cuban sandwich heaven.
4. Luis Galindo Latin American Cafeteria & Restaurant
Raul Galindo, the king of the Cuban sandwich, may be long gone, but his legacy continues at Luis Galindo American Cafeteria & Restaurant at Red Road and Eighth Street. It was Galindo's sandwich from the original Latin American Cafeteria on Coral Way that inspired countless copycats (both sandwiches and restaurants). Decades later, none have gotten it quite as right as he or Elias G. Elias, the current Lebanese-Syrian man raised in Cuba running the show and pushing the culture of the cubano forth by serving one of the best in town.
Lawsuits and sex scandals aside, there's a reason the cubano at this Calle Ocho landmark had its 15 minutes of fame in the film Chef, and that's 'cause it's divine. The four-decade-old sandwich has inspired many knockoffs, but none has mastered the classic quite like Café Versailles, which slings 200 of them daily. So what's the secret to this oldie but goodie? Lots of meat — like four slices of golden bolo ham coated in brown sugar, pineapple juice, and cloves, followed by three slices of Swiss cheese and pork that's been roasted low and slow. It all finds its proper place between slices of crisp, airy, and dense Cuban bread that's brushed with butter and then grilled to perfection. Oh, and yellow mustard and pickles make their mandatory appearance.
2. Miami Smokers
Andres Barrientos and James Bowers are Miami's smoke whisperers, and at their shrine to pig in Little Havana, they bring home the bacon. It's their artisanal, new-age cubano, however, that deserves to be put on a pedestal. What sets this baby apart is the hog itself: Berkshire heritage breed in this case. As for the preparation, pork butts are tossed in a top-secret cure, vacuum-sealed, and finished off with a sous vide preparation for half a day. Ham gets the same treatment. English cucumbers are pickled in house. And the mustard — whose seeds are planted in a fermenting barrel of Wynwood Brewing's La Rubia — gives a robust and tangy finish to an already impeccable creation.
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1. Little Bread
At Alberto Cabrera's not-so-little sandwich shop that could, the classic Cuban gets a grown-up twist. It begins with the bread, which is a blend of Pullman and Cuban and baked every morning at Little Bread's big brother, Bread + Butter. But pillow-like yet subtly crisp bread is only the beginning. Instead of using traditional sliced pork, Cabrera cures pork-belly slabs overnight before cooling, pulling, and blending the tender meat with more fat. The result is a juicy and succulent third-generation Cuban anchored by French-inspired pork rillettes. It’s then crowned with Swiss cheese, bread-and-butter pickles, red-wine mustard, and Molinari salami (like they do in Tampa). Yep, salami on your Cuban. Life might never be the same.