Every time I go to Miami, I mean to find a souvenir.
But when I visit this tropical city, its white sand beaches, crimson sunsets and electric vibe all seduce me away from any premade plans. Weekends pass so quickly here it feels like they’re over before they’ve barely begun. Then before I even realize it, I’m on the plane home, already missing this lush city.
When I’m back home in New York City, I’m always a little wistful that I didn’t take the time to bring home a souvenir to remember my trip. Well, unless you count the menu from my favorite Cuban joint (since lost) and the giant shell I came home with after an evening out (don’t ask).
Souvenir Recipe: a Miami Cuban Sandwich
But while I haven’t yet found a traditional souvenir in Miami, I can still bring home my favorite Miami dish, the Cuban sandwich (also called the Cubano). I’m going to make a bold statement here and say that the Cuban sandwich is my favorite sandwich in the world. Yes, I know that the Cuban isn’t as trendy as other sandwiches– but really how many Vietnamese Banh Mi can you have before tiring of them? I’ve ordered Cubans three times in one weekend– and still could have eaten more. For me, it’s the combination of crusty, yet soft bread and oozing cheese, cut by the sharp bite of pickles that sets off my cravings. The pork is tasty too, but I am mostly concerned about the cheese to pickle ratio.
When in Miami, it’s easy to try a Cuban sandwich– you’ll find them pretty much everywhere. While there are all sort of “best” lists out there, I doubt you’ll want to run around and try them all (some are inconveniently located, so unless you want to spend half a day hunting down a sandwich, you might want to forget the lists). After taste-testing a few, I can recommend two exceptional, and centrally-located Cuban sandwiches that are worth a stop.
David’s Cafe Cafecito
David’s (919 Alton Road) is the go-to Cuban spot of my friend and her Cuban-born husband. I loved the bright and airy layout, with plenty of comfortable seating and a long counter, perfect for watching the action. While the Cuban sandwich here was tasty, we also loved the amazing roasted pork, mariquitas (banana chips), and stellar croquettes. My friends also recommend the traditional soups, especially the sopa de pollo.
If you’re staying in South Beach, the most accessible yet still authentic Cuban spot is Las Olas (644 6th Street). While the atmosphere here is bare bones (don’t expect table service or spacious seating) the Cuban sandwich here is bar none. Expect flavorful pork and ham, held together with lots of melty swiss cheese and balanced perfectly by the acidic bite of dill pickles.
Souvenir Recipe: Easy Cubans at Home
At home, I recreate my favorite Miami snack by making my own bastardized version of the Cuban sandwich. To make a truly authentic Cuban sandwich is a lot of work– especially if you’re cooking for only one or two people. So I sub out the traditional long marinade and large hunk of pork shoulder for a more manageable pork tenderloin.
One ingredient that I find irreplaceable though, is the Cuban bread. If you live somewhere with no Cuban population, well I feel sorry for you. If you absolutely must use something else, others have suggested lightly crusty rolls with a soft interior (like a Portuguese roll). Under no circumstances should you use a baguette, it might look the same in shape but is completely wrong in texture.
Miami Cuban Sandwiches (the Lazy Way)
1.5 to 2 lbs pork tenderloin (1 package), trimmed
1 small onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 limes, zested
1 large orange, zested
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
Transfer pork to a cutting board and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing into 1/8-inch slices.Preheat a stove top griddle over medium high heat.
Slice Cuban bread. Butter insides. Spread yellow mustard on one side. Add pickles, then ham. On other side, layer swiss cheese, then pork. Brush top and bottom of bread with more butter.
Now you are ready to grill and press the Cuban sandwiches. I recommend improvising with whatever cookware you have. A panini press works, as does a grill pan with something heavy on top (I use a dutch oven or cast iron skillet, but you can wrap a brick with foil if you need to). Toast over medium high heat until golden and cheese is melted, 3-6 minutes.
Special thanks to friends L., N., J. and of course the adorable A. for making my latest stay so memorable!