Here, the top Cuban sandwiches (a.k.a., Cubanos), ranging from an old-school classic that calls for minimalist restraint to another that swaps out Swiss for bandage-wrapped Cheddar and artisanal fromage from the Loire Valley.
136 W. 46th St., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-354-5013
This bustling old Latin luncheonette (bright red counter, bright yellow menu board) dishes up good cheer and soulful chow in equal measure, and also smooshes the city’s second best Cubano. Unlike La Flor’s version, it’s on the sloppy, sluicy side thanks to a no-holds-barred approach to lubrication that calls for garlic sauce, hot sauce, and — most controversially — mayo. More controversy: In addition to slices of roast pork and ham, they toss on salami the way they do in Tampa, Florida, the city that much to Miami’s consternation claims the Cubano as its own invention.
110 E. 7th St., nr. First Ave.; 212-777-2151
Tampa sandwich scholars theorize that the Cubano is actually a culinary mash-up, a mulligatawny soup of a sandwich, reflecting the ethnic diversity of that city circa the late 19th century. In other words, it’s Spanish ham, Cuban pork, Jewish pickles, and Italian salami, all pitching in and doing their part. That sets a precedent of sorts for Sara Jenkins’s terrific interpretation, which consists of smoked ham from the Ukrainian butcher down the block, housemade porchetta, Jarlsberg, Israeli pickles, Dijon mustard, and Kewpie mayo — essentially a tasty United Nations of East Village foodstuffs well pressed on a Sullivan St Bakery ciabatta roll.
4. The Spotted Pig
314 W. 11th St., at Greenwich St.; 212-620-0393
If it wasn’t restricted to lunch, April Bloomfield’s upscale-ingredients supersize Cubano (confit pork shoulder, prosciutto, Gruyère, pickled chiles, chopped cornichons, arugula salad on the side) might be as popular as her Roquefort burger. It takes as long to make as a La Grenouille soufflé. It costs $20. And you may have to eat it while perched like a shoe salesman on one of the restaurant’s notorious footstools. Worth it, though, for forward-thinking Cubano gobblers.
740 Driggs Ave., nr. S. 2nd St.; 347-763-0434
Bunk’s Cuban sandwich strikes a nice balance between innovation and tradition. Modernists will like the Frankenpork fusing of two cuts of roast pig (belly and butt) into a single slab, while classicists can get behind its streamlined good looks, if not the addition of mustard and hot sauce.
6. Casellula Cheese & Wine Cafe
401 W. 52nd St., nr. Ninth Ave.; 212-247-8137
On paper, this is a Cubano purist’s worst nightmare. It has two types of cheese, Fiscalini Cheddar from California and the French Fol Epi from the Loire Valley, not to mention Rick’s Pick’s bread-and-butter pickles and aioli. (Putting aioli on a Cuban sandwich is considered a criminal act in certain parts of Florida.) To be fair, they don’t dare call it a Cubano but rather a Pig’s Ass Sandwich, alluding to the two types of pork butt (a.k.a. shoulder) they cram into the thing — one that’s been brined and glazed with maple syrup like a baked ham, the other one rubbed with a slew of spices and Peet’s coffee then slow-roasted. But what can we say? It’s in the Cuban-sandwich ballpark, and it’s damn good.