Because of the influx of immigrants working in Key West and Tampa cigar factories, a quick, affordable lunch was needed…
The Cuban sandwich was born.
The Cuban is a magical variation of a ham and cheese sandwich originating in cafes that catered to Cuban factory workers in Key West and Ybor City, Tampa–two early Cuban immigrant communities in Florida. Later on, Cuban expatriates then brought it to Miami, where it is so popular that they tend to claim it originated there! But we know better…
It all starts with the bread.
After the bread is made, the ingredients are placed inside. And here is what every good Cuban boils down to (the nitty-gritty, if you will)…
- Roast Pork–marinated in Mojo (a blend of spices like sour orange, oregano, cumin, garlic, onion, vinegar, and salt) overnight.
- Swiss Cheese
- Pickles (3 to be exact)
- And Ham (some say to only use sweet cured ham or something similar to not overpower the other ingredients’ flavors)
However, our local Key West “Cuban Mix” has a few tasty additions…
- Sometimes Onions
- And Salami. Yes, you heard right– a THIRD MEAT. If Salami is used, it should be Genoa (that’s the Tampa way)
Then, you press.
And are all Cubans created equal? Unfortunately not. But before you go crying into your Cafe con Leche, rest assured that we’ve got you covered with the Key West insider tips to make your Cuban Sandwich treasure-hunting dreams come true! Don’t take our word for it, try them yourselves!
1. Kim’s Kuban
“I once was blind, but now I see.” If you don’t understand, you will after having the Cuban Mix from Kim’s. This family run business runs their shop like a well oiled machine. Great service, great food, AND fast, free delivery–a trifecta that is hard to find here in Key West. This meaty and deliciously sloppy sandwich, which comes in under $8, is enough to share! Do yourself a favor and add their house Chipotle Sauce to it. *Fireworks*
Kim’s Kuban |2300 N Roosevelt Blvd, Key West, FL 33040
For a true neighborhood feel where the locals rub elbows and ask about how “the family is doing,” head to 5 Brothers. The small convenience store doubles as a Cuban grocery with Carribbean favorites in terms of sodas and pastries. They’re keenly aware about the constant competition within Florida about which style cuban is “the real style” so, they offer both. They don’t over-sauce or over-cheese, but they DO over-meat, and no one is complaining. Many swear by their cafe con leche, so grab one to go.
5 Brothers |930 Southard St, Key West, FL 33040
Ana’s: Home of the Spicy & Fiery Cuban. The Spicy adds pickled jalapeños to the sandwich, and the Fiery adds a habanero mayo on top of that! “The Classic” is still the top of the menu for those who like tradition, or have already had enough heat in the Florida sun. Their outdoor picnic bench seating makes them one of the few Cuban spots in town that actually offer a place to sit and enjoy the fruits of their labor comfortably. The beauty of Ana’s is that it’s a deli-style service where you can actually watch them assemble the goods and press it as well. Take notes, because this one is a winner and you’ll want to at least try to recreate it.
Ana’s Cuban Café |513 South St, Key West, FL 33040
While not completely authentic, this sandwich IS completely deserving of this list. Bien is Key West’s most 5-star reviewed café in town. Obviously Caribbean, from the restaurant’s paint job to their side items, they manage to create a noticeably elevated Bien-style “Cuban.” They start like any other, with ham, and then add their pork that’s marinated in their signature Bien sauce which is drool inducing. Next goes the cilantro cream, followed by thick cut caramelized onions, and is finished with pickled jalapeños. Bien serves their sandwiches on a crusty baguette, but a Cuban bread substitution is available, because this is Key West, duh.
“Authentic” or not, you’ll be dreaming “Bien” long after your vacation ends.
Bien Key West |1000 Eaton St, Key West, FL 33040
So tell us…Who makes YOUR favorite Cuban in Key West?