Chicago locales offer tasty Cuban sandwiches

September 25, 2009 (CHICAGO) Not that long ago, the Ambassador Cafe was the lone Cuban dining option on North Ashland Avenue. Today, there are at least a dozen remarkable Cuban restaurants in the region, all of them offering the national sandwich, which has certain elements that can never be messed with.

Cuban sandwiches must have certain characteristics: roasted pork, sliced ham and Swiss cheese for sure but also mustard, pickles and dense, griddled bread. All of which are in abundance at 90 Miles Cuban Cafe with locations in Lake View and now Logan Square. They say the key is their roasted pork, or pernil.

"We marinate it overnight, and then we have a process to get the right moisture into the Cubano and it takes about seven hours to cook the pernil," said Alberto Gonzalez, owner of 90 Miles Cuban Café.

The pork is stacked onto sturdy Turano bread, along with sliced ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. They then cover the halves with wax paper, and lower the sandwich press to begin heating the interior; after a minute or two, the paper is removed, it's doused with a mojo of garlic, sour orange and spices, then covered with the bread which gets a light brush of butter before being pressed again until the exterior is hot and crunchy. Served with a bracing Cafe Cubano, it's Cuban comfort food.

A few miles West, in a shoebox-sized building, El Cubanito does a steady business, cranking out thick Cubanos, all of which are stuffed with homemade, roasted pork shoulder, then bordered by thick slices of bread that are painted with butter and pressed until the cheese oozes and the flavors harmonize.

In the South Loop, the hard-to-find Cafecito is located right next to a youth hostel, so you know the kids are loving the fact they can get a hot, pressed Cuban just about any time of day. The beauties here begin with marinated and roasted pork, sliced thin, then griddled some more, and doused in a homemade mojo. Every element of the sandwich - from the in-house roasted ham, to the vibrant mustard and tart pickles - is thought-out. Yet the owner says the key is that mojo.

"Honestly I think it's the mojo. Obviously the grade of the ham and the pork, obviously the cheese and everything, but the mojo I make here. I think it's so important when you control the concentration of the flavors, whether it's the naranja agria - the sour orange - or the garlic or the cumin or the oregano," said Philip Ghantous, owner of Cafecito.

26 E. Congress Pkwy.

El Cubanito
2555 N. Pulaski Rd.

90 Miles Cuban Cafe (2 locations)
3101 N. Clybourn Ave.

2540 W. Armitage Ave.

Also mentioned:

Habana Libre
1440 W. Chicago Ave.

Cafeteria Marianao
2246 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Cafe Cubano
7426 W. North Ave., Elmwood Park

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