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Memories from Miami Weekends: Sunshine and Cuban Sandwiches

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.

Miami views intercoastal

In Miami, I’m in my happy place.

miami beach water

Who says you have to leave the country for gorgeous beaches?

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On my last visit, Miami was the setting for a caper-filled weekend with friends old and new. This is a rare quiet moment in my friend’s backyard.

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I took my coffee here every morning.

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When not a houseguest, I like to stay at the low-key Raleigh, mostly so I can plant myself around the gorgeous palm-fringed pool.DSC00699 Like every other visitor, I love Miami’s art deco design. But while I find the buildings interesting, my true obsession are the interiors. I adored the curves of this coffee bar.

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Hanging out on my friend’s dock.

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).

miami shell souvenir

This shell is my only Miami souvenir.

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.

south beach diner menu

Unless you’re dining at an ethnic restaurant, pretty much every restaurant in South Beach will offer a version of the Cuban sandwich, some better than others.

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.

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The cafe con leche at David’s is delicious.

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The mariquitas (banana crisps) are thin and airy, served with an addictive garlic sauce.

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The tasty Cuban sandwich.

Las Olas

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.

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Place your order at the counter.

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Cuban sandwiches are made to order.

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Perfection.

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.

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I bought this Cuban loaf at my local supermarket.

Miami Cuban Sandwiches (the Lazy Way)

For the Pork Tenderloin:
1.5 to 2 lbs pork tenderloin (1 package), trimmed
Olive oil
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
For Sandwich Assembly:
1 loaf Cuban bread (or Portuguese rolls if desperate)
Sliced Swiss Cheese
Dill pickles (stackers, or whole dill pickles, sliced thin)
Sliced Cuban ham (like
Yellow mustard
Unsalted butter, melted (for basting bread)
Coat the pork tenderloins with olive oil. Mix the onion, garlic, citrus zest, salt, pepper and dried oregano together. Spread evenly on tenderloins. Heat a large oven proof skillet, add olive oil, sear tenderloins. Place skillet and tenderloins in oven at 350 degrees,  roast for 20 to 25 minutes.
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!

 

10 Responses to Memories from Miami Weekends: Sunshine and Cuban Sandwiches

  1. Shepard C Willner 03/06/2016 at 4:33 pm #

    I remember the first time I came to Miami. The time was mid-April of ’72, and the occasion was a cousin’s Bar Mitzvah in Plantation, FL. My family and I stayed at my maternal Grandma’s and her relatively new husband at their apartment on Indian Creek (part of of the Intracoastal Waterway). The next few times I visited Miami was to visit Grandma and Step-Grandpa during senior high school and college. Then I started visiting the city on my own as a cruise ship passenger. The first hotel I stayed on my own was Fontainnbleau Hilton in July ’87. I’ve also stayed at the Intercontinental, the Hyatt Regency, a no-name motel (I stayed there because I missed my connection to San Juan in December ’96, and American Airlines put me up for the night before my next flight to San Juan the next day), and other establishments. I’ve also used the People Mover and buses to get around. I’ve visited the Miami Seaquarium, Lion Country Safari, and the Everglades, and shopped at Bal Harbour and Bayfront mall (it’s close to the cruise ship piers). South Beach, Vizcaya, Miami Heat arena, and the Immigration Tower remain on my bucket list, along w/staying at the Epic and some of the hotels shown in CSI:Miami. One thing my family and I learned about Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and points North: Do not visit during December expecting warm weather because that won’t happen: You will be cold, so wear a sweater or nice jacket to keep warm. I don’t recall having tasted a Cuban sandwich, but if I do, I will ask that the servers refrain from inserting a pickle: I hate them with a passion. 🙂

  2. Shepard C Willner 03/06/2016 at 4:41 pm #

    A really good souvenir comes from MIA airport shops: the key lime cookies and anything made with key lime flavoring. I don’t think you can buy oranges or other fruits anymore with the expectation of bringing them home because of potential pest infestation issues wherever home is. Instead, cherish the memory of a juicy orange or other fruits while visiting this wonderful city. 🙂

  3. Ahmed Gusto 03/07/2016 at 9:16 am #

    The sandwich looks yummy. I will definitely try that recipe soon.

  4. Rolling Harbour 03/08/2016 at 4:52 pm #

    Looks good, Kristin BUT I never want to have to tangle with Miami airport! RH

  5. kereta sewa shah alam 04/20/2016 at 7:14 am #

    nice post Kristin!
    great time u’ve got on your Miami trip.

  6. Serhat Engul 04/30/2016 at 8:54 am #

    I would like so much to travel to Miami! So when I get there, this useful post will be a guide for me. Thank you for sharing Kristin!

  7. Megan 05/18/2016 at 12:32 pm #

    I am currently writing this comment in Miami, and I can easily say that there is no other place I’d rather be! I haven’t had a cuban sandwich yet, but there is always lunch. 🙂

    • Kristin Francis 05/28/2016 at 9:32 pm #

      Megan hope you had an amazing trip and got your cuban!

  8. Madison Ogburn 05/24/2016 at 7:29 pm #

    I’ve actually never been to Miami personally, but I would love to go there! I wish to travel everywhere, but currently – I’m pretty happy with my sunny shore beaches right here! I live on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. A great place for a family trip(: You might want to consider coming here and testing out our gullah culture!

    • Kristin Francis 05/28/2016 at 9:28 pm #

      Hi Madison, long story but I’ve actually spent a lot of time on HHI and know the history well. I would love to revisit to write about it– I’ve had a hard time pinning down where exactly any remaining Gullah culture might still exist so if you have any tips I would love to hear them!

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