Paladar vs. Chan Chan: The Cuban-on-Cuban Cubano

Categories: Dish Duel
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Jonathan Kauffman
Paladar's Cubano, $9.50.

Cuban sandwiches do come from Cuba, Paladar Cafe Cubano owner Rita Abraldes assured SFoodie the other day. (Though there, of course, they're not called "Cuban sandwiches" ― often they're referred to as "mixtos"). The Cuban sandwich has a long history in the U.S., arriving in Florida in the late 19th century with Cuban immigrants who settled in Key West, Tampa, and Miami. Some say the pickles started here, while others think this country's most distinctive introduction to the sandwich is the Tampa variation in which salami is added to the two other kinds of pork.

So while there's no particular advantage to ordering a Cuban sandwich from a Cuban restaurant, you can do so. Paladar and Chan Chan Cuban Cafe follow much the same template as the dozens of San Francisco restaurants offering the Cubano these days: a press-grilled sandwich filled with roast pork, ham, cheese, and sliced pickles.

Hit Paladar at noon, and you'll see an assembly line of the sandwiches making their way in and out of the press grill. Abraldes says she models her sandwich after the Cubanos she grew up with in New York. With one exception: the bread: "Cuban bread is an airier white bread ― it's great, it's just not available here." So she uses a French baguette-like loaf. She rubs Niman Ranch pork with a mojo of garlic oregano and citrus juices, then slow-roasts it. Cooked garlic perfumes the sandwich, and the meat is moistened with a little mayonnaise ― heresy to the purists, Abraldes adds, and so she's happy to make it without.


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Chan Chan's Cuban, $8.

Chan Chan, tucked away above the Castro, takes a slightly different approach to the Cuban Cuban, with thinly sliced, lean roast pork loin instead of slow-roasted pork shoulder and a few slices of tomato added to the pickles (for health reasons?). The sandwich tastes more functional than Paladar's, less aromatic and meaty, the cheese merely warmed instead of melted to an indecent fluidity. Where Chan Chan's sandwich improves upon Paladar's, though, is the bread: a wider, flatter, slightly less crusty roll that forms a crisp shell when press-grilled but doesn't harden the way French breads do.

Paladar Cafe Cubano: 329 Kearny (at Pine), 398-4899.

Chan Chan Cafe Cubano: 4690 18th St. (at Danvers), 864-4199.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.
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