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The Café team of tasters crowned Señor Pan as best Cuban sandwich in Chicago.

Sabor a Cuba
In search of the Windy City’s best Cuban sandwich
words Maura Wall Hernandez photo alBerto Treviño

Whether you call it a Cuban sandwich, a cubano or a mixto, this cubano to come with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato. Another
unique Cuban take on a ham and cheese sandwich undoubtedly version of the sandwich – called the medianoche – has all the same
will leave you with visions of sandwiches dancing in your head and main ingredients, save for the pineapple juice-sweetened and egg-
strains of Celia Cruz melodies tinkling in your ear. based bread akin to Hawaiian bread.
Most experts agree: a true Cuban sandwich consists of roasted Café editors voted on a list of top-rated Cuban establishments in
pork, cured ham, swiss cheese, thinly-sliced dill pickles and Cuban Chicago, focused on serving mostly sandwiches, and enlisted a team
(or French) bread, slathered with yellow mustard. Typically, the of in-house taste-testers (and friends and relatives) to check out half
bread ranges anywhere in size from 7 to 12 inches long. Some a dozen locations to find Chicago’s best cubano. The following is an
versions also include butter spread on the crust or mayonnaise on evaluation of a select list of restaurants serving this traditional sand-
the bread, though there are those who will argue over a Cuban sand- wich. They took into consideration six key elements when rating
wich’s authenticity if it includes mayonnaise. the sandwiches: the bread (which should ideally be Cuban bread,
The exact origins of the sandwich are unknown, but according toasted a la plancha, but French bread was considered an acceptable
to some sources the sandwich tradition first became popular in the substitute); that it contained all the standard ingredients; rating the
late 1800s or early 1900s among cigar factory and sugar mill workers meat seasoning and moisture; thickness or heartiness of the sand-
in Florida. The sandwiches were sold at restaurants, lunch wagons, wich; overall balance of flavors and taste; and size and value for price.
and just about anywhere else factory workers ate frequently. What our team noted most is that traditional preparation always
The bread, grilled to a crispy perfection on the outside but main- wins out – but not always where you expect. Some of the older
taining softness on the inside is achieved with a plancha – an appara- establishments received low marks, mostly for inconsistency, missing
tus similar to a panini press but without the ridges, so that it presses ingredients or poor overall taste and value. The new crop of Cuban
the sandwich flat. Not everybody’s got a plancha, though. Some sandwich shops that received highest marks are relatively young and
home cooks improvise by pressing the sandwich with a bacon press, owned or run by the under 40 crowd.
a cast iron pan or even a brick covered in aluminum foil. The Café team of tasters, Marilia Gutiérrez, Maura Wall
In Tampa, we hear they add Genoa salami to their cubano – Hernandez, Diana Ramirez, Alejandro Riera, Christina E. Rodri-
probably a result of accommodating the taste buds of local Italian guez, alBerto Treviño, and Susan Willey, crowned Señor Pan as
immigrants since the 1800s; in Key West, it’s common for your Chicago’s best.




Señor Pan 4: Per- 4: All ingre- 3: The pork was 3.5: One of 3.5: All the in- 4: With two sizes
4612 W. Fullerton fect, toasty dients were a bit dry, perhaps the meatiest gredients live (7- or 10-inch),
Ave., Chicago goodness. present and in from over-roasting, sandwiches we together in per- Señor Pan is an
(773) 227 - 1020 abundance. but the ham was tried. fect harmony. excellent value. juicy. TOTAL RATING: 4

El Cubanito 3.6: Nicely 3.6: All ingredi- 3: The meat was 3.3: Very meaty 3.6: Well- 4: A satisfying
2555 North Pulaski toasted. Not ents were pres- thick-cut and ham. balanced and sandwich – you
Rd., Chicago too hard ent and in good moist, making it satisfying. can’t go wrong
(773) 235-2555 and not too proportion. very filling. here!
heavy. TOTAL RATING: 4

90 Miles 4: Toast- 3.6: All the in- 4: Very flavorful 2.3: The ham 3: Well bal- 3: Excellent value
3101 N. Clybourn ed to gredients were and tender meat. and pork were anced flavors in for the price. Plus
Ave./2540 W. Armit- perfection. there, but the thick cut, but each bite. plantain chips at
age Ave., Chicago pickles were only one layer no extra charge.
(773) 248-2822 fairly bland. of each. TOTAL RATING: 3

Cafecito 4: Skinny 3.6: All ingredi- 3.3: Juicy and 2.6: This sand- 3: Inconsistent 3.3: This sandwich
26 E. Congress and flat but ents were pres- slightly fatty, the wich is pressed use of mustard. comes in one stan-
Pkwy., Chicago delicious ent; the pickles pork has a garlicky as pressed Sometimes too dard and satisfying
(312) 922-2233 and crusty. were nice and flavor. One of our gets. But it’s much, other 7-inch size.
tangy. favorites. pretty filling. times, too little. TOTAL RATING: 3

Cafeteria 2.3: Bread 2: Zero mus- 2: The pork was 2: The regular 2.3: If you aren’t 2.6: Not a terrible
Marianao tends to be tard and only well-seasoned but size isn’t very looking for value given the
2246 N. Milwaukee overheat- two dime-sized too dry, and the thick. For only 100% authen- sandwich size.
Ave., Chicago ed, even pickles. C’mon! ham seemed like $1 more, make tic, you might TOTAL RATING: 2
(773) 278-4533 burned. normal deli meat. it a double. like it.

El Rinconcito 2: Properly 1.5: No pick- 2.5: Slightly thin- 2.5: Just barely 2: Too much 2.5: A large sand-
Cubano cooked, but les and barely cut, but still tasty. enough meat. bread put a wich, but not very
3238 W. Fullerton the bread any mustard. damper on the satisfying.
Ave., Chicago was too But, mayo and flavor. TOTAL RATING: 2
(773) 489-4440 thick. butter? 75