Done right, the sándwich cubano is one of my favorite things. It’s sort of a ham and cheese panini with the addition of slow-roasted pork, pickles, occasionally salami—heated and pressed flat within a baguette-like Cuban roll. But this story isn’t about that.
At some point in 20th century Mexico, a quite-possibly insane sandwich builder invented the torta cubana, perhaps inspired by the pork-on-pork delicacy of south Florida. I can only assume the creator’s state of mind. This sandwich is a Mexican Dagwood that can’t possibly be good for you. If you’ve never had one, and you’re game to try, Carniceria La Chiquita is the place to go.
“The petite butcher shop” doesn’t begin to define Carniceria La Chiquita. Most supermarkets average 35,000 square feet, yet this shop provides most of the same functions in a tenth of the space. There’s an excellent meat counter, fresh produce, packaged and baked goods, soft drinks, liquor, novelties. Then there’s what amounts to a complete taqueria and deli with freshly-prepared entrees, snacks, desserts and a fresh juice bar. If you’re claustrophobic, you may feel a bit cramped, but it’s definitely worth a visit.
Seeking a quick dinner, my wife and I had each ordered a burrito when I saw “Cubana” at the top of the menu board. I figured I could save the burrito for lunch, so what the heck. My wife added a baked dessert to our order, the food was prepared muy rapido, we paid and departed. The only place to sit at this shop is outside in your car.
My wife’s burrito carnitas ($7.29) included slow-cooked pork, refried beans, rice, spicy guacamole, and pico de gallo. For her taste, the number of beans was a bit overpowering, and I agreed you had to pick out a chunk of carnitas in order to taste it amongst the other stuff. Perhaps the burritoista got a little carried away with the bean scoop.
The burrito chicharrones carnudos en salsa verde ($6.29) was much better and well-balanced. The combination of fried pork belly (with skin), fresh green sauce made with tomatillo, jalapeño, onion, cilantro and salt, refried beans, rice, and spicy guacamole was delicious in its fresh flour tortilla. However, if you let it sit too long—or store it overnight for lunch—the chicharrones soften up and lose their crispy texture, resulting in a more gelatinous experience than you may care for. I still enjoyed it despite my lapse in judgement.
Choco-flan ($3.99) is chocolate cake topped with flan (baked caramel custard). The flan’s texture was disappointingly akin to extra firm tofu, though the sweet caramel sauce did its best to punch things up. I prefer a smoother, creamy consistency with flan. The cake was a bit bland and barely sweetened, surprising since it was moist and had a nice devil’s food color. Together they were two mediocre tastes that did nothing to improve each other.
But what about the monster sandwich? It was shock and awe at first sight. Wrapped in paper and foil, then cut in half and placed in a paper bag so both cut ends are facing up, you can’t help but be happy when you open the bag and look inside. The torta cubana ($8.29) is a telera roll stacked with seasoned bacon, thick-cut roasted ham, thin-cut pressed ham, a hot dog sliced in half, milanesa (Mexican schnitzel), quesa oaxaca and quesa fresca (cheeses), fresh onion, lettuce, tomato, and lengthwise-sliced jalapeños. After a couple of bites, I decided the insanity must be catching. So help me, I ate the whole enormous thing and didn’t feel hungry until the next day’s lunch. Though likely loaded with nitrates and other nutritional nightmares, it was a crunchy, chewy, cheesy, spicy, fatty, meaty, deliciously guilty pleasure I look forward to repeating. Right after I consult my physician.