Devotees of the overstuffed, hoagie-style sandwich known colloquially as the cubano claim this melty invention did not originate in Cuba at all, but rather can trace its roots to the Little Havana section of Tampa, Florida, at the turn of the last century. It was the addition of some new ingredients and the increasingly popular electric planchas, or grills, that helped transform the cigar workers’ traditional cold-cuts sandwiches, known as mixtos, into the bubbling, crisp-toasted, heaven-on-bread creations we know today.
Havana Sandwich Co. | El Segundo
The cubanos at this minimall spot have all the essentials: abundant layers of roasted pork, ham, and silky Swiss cheese and a long loaf that’s characteristically crunchy on the outside and airy inside. What makes these sandwiches outstanding is the cook’s skill at the plancha—his deft application of pressure and heat fuses the juicy flavors. For the adventurous, Havana has fanciful takes like spicy jerk chicken, corned beef, and the Mediterranean—a superb combination of roasted pork and feta cheese. » 229 Main St., El Segundo, 310-640-0014.
La Caridad | Filipinotown
Behind the Formica counter at this hole-in-the-wall, the day’s specials are prepared on a dinosaur of an iron stove. Chunks of meat from a just-roasted pork leg are piled between forearm-size pieces of bread along with ham, cheese, and pickles. La Caridad’s media noches—a cubano made on slightly sweet, eggy bread—may be the best in the city. The espresso machine produces fine Cuban coffee, and the carrot and orange juices are fresh squeezed. » 2137 W. Temple St., Filipinotown, 213-484-0099.
Mayumba | Rosemead
Given the hot weekend bar scene and stately dining room at this San Gabriel Valley institution, the trove of bodacious cubanos also on offer may come as a surprise. A particularly potent lechón asado sets Mayumba’s sandwiches apart. The roasted pork is imbued with a garlic and sour orange marinade and can be found stuffed in the classic subs and media noches. But it’s the sandwich de cerdo—a version heaped with subtly caramelized onions—that blows us away. » 3514 Rosemead Blvd., Rosemead, 626-572-9558.
Xiomara | Hancock Park
It’s unlikely you’ll eat a cubano with microgreens using Christofle silverware on a swank mezzanine anywhere else, but these high-class Cubans—served only at lunch—include a beatific pan con lechón of shredded pork flavored with imported Spanish peppers. There’s also a creative Cuban Club sandwich that comes on sourdough with applewood-smoked bacon, marinated turkey, and a garnish of watercress. Have it with a mojito made with sugarcane juice—pressed in-house—or a bottle of 2002 Finca Antigua Tempranillo. » 6101 Melrose Ave., Hancock Park, 323-461-0601.
Photograph by Jessica Boone