Roscoe Village cafe offers authentic Cuban fare

April 17, 2009 In the past year or so, a number of mom-and-pop Cuban joints have opened up in the city. They usually offer the same few items: sandwiches, coffee and ropa vieja.

But the new 90 Miles Cuban Cafe has been so successful since it opened its tiny doors a few months ago, it's already planning a second location. Their terrific Cubano sandwiches are one of the reasons why.

The story of the cafe begins with a young couple who saved up, bought a small place near Roscoe Village and are now recreating the feeling of eating in a real Havana cafe.

"I wanted to recreate a place that I remember as a child and also introducing typical Cuban dishes. And when you walk in here you get the Cuban hospitality," Alberto Gonzalez, of 90 Miles Cuban Café, said.

You also get one of the best Cuban sandwiches around, beginning with crusty bread, continuing with sliced ham and roasted pork, and then adding the hallmarks of Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. They then do something rarely seen at other joints: They first press the sandwich while split in half, so the interior ingredients get heated up, then they put the top half on the sandwich and lower the top of the panini press again to cook everything together.

"There's a lot of work that goes into our Cuban sandwiches. I mean everything is about the taste," Gonzalez said.

They also put considerable work into their lechon, a sandwich with grilled pork and onions, a little garlicky mojo, lettuce and fried plantains.

Ropa vieja is translated as "old clothes" due to its shredded appearance. The beef is tender for a couple of reasons.

"The ropa vieja is a classic, what we do here at 90 miles is we marinade our meat in a papaya enzyme. It's kind of like a tenderizer with no additives or anything," Gonzalez said.

Sides of congri--black beans with rice--are prevalent, as is the strong coffee, which is part of the Cuban identity.

"Every morning, if you want to come in for coffee, you'll have a nice cup of coffee with a fresh pastelito," Gonzalez said.

Those pastelitos contain either guava or guava and cheese. Another good sweet ending includes a homemade bread pudding; great with a Cafe Cubano. Gonzalez says the space may be small, but it's the feeling that counts.

"We want to bring the warmth of our culture to Chicago," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez is already making plans to open up a second location, in Logan Square, near Western and Armitage.

90 Miles Cuban Café
3101 N. Clybourn Ave.

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