I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while. Actually, let me re-phrase that. I’ve been wanting to eat the Frita that is subject to this post for a while!
You can’t live in Miami and escape it’s Cuban culture, since it represents its largest non-American population group, totaling almost 1 in every 4 Miamians. When it comes to food, the number of authentic Cuban restaurants is probably lower in percentage vs. the universes of options, but spread throughout the entire space with at least a small level of influence. In Miami you can find a wide range of options, from the most typical Cuban eateries, built by the large influx of exiled Cubans from the 60’s aimed at replicating their culture back home to the “versions” of Cuban food staples available at newer, more modern eateries.
I recently went out seeking a few Cuban classics to compare against their offerings at non-Cuban places. When I first arrived to Miami a few years back, one of the best things I remember eating was the Cuban sandwich at the blt. It was hot and pressed and had delicate flavorful presence of each of the components, which are ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on, of course, Cuban bread. I have yet to find a better version, but whenever I see it on a menu, I try it to see if it stacks up. I’m still seeking the best version, and I’m sure it is probably at some tiny, hole in the wall shack I’ve never heard of but which I’m really looking forward to finding out. A recent visit to a Cuban steakhouse in Doral, La Esquina del Lechon, yielded a decent Cuban sandwich, but not pressed enough and lacking pork flavor.
An impressive derivative of the Cuban sandwich is offered by the ever so creative Joshua Marcus at his Deli in Surfside, which you are probably familiar with if you live in Miami and if are not, and are reading this, you need to put down your phone, pad, pc, etc. and go there now!. Josh replaces the ham with his in-house cured pastrami and has appropriately labeled his creation the “Jewban”. The replacement is a clever welcome, and elevates the classic to another level.
A cousin of the Cuban Sandwich is the Medianoche (midnight), which has the exact same ingredients but comes in a different type of bread, one made with an egg based dough and therefore creating a softer, more Challah like bread. I have yet to try a Medianoche at a classic Cuban place, but a recent quick lunch at Florida Cookery drew me to this menu item. It’s very difficult to differentiate from the Cuban, but Kris Wessel’s version is greatly executed, similar to the Cuban at the blt.
Another Cuban staple is of course, the Frita. The Frita, the Frita, what on earth is a Frita? I have been asking myself over the last two years, only to discover recently I had been eating them all my life. Close to my grandmother’s home back in Caracas there was a burger place called “El Cubanito” which had the most amazing burger in town, one for which people line up for blocks. It was a simple bun, with a simple patty, a secret sauce, and tons of shoestring fries inside. Since my recent visit to El Rey de Las Fritas I’m now in doubt as to whether those where real fritas, but I don’t actually remember the exact nature of the sauce from the El Cubanito ones to be able to say so. You see, apparently, the secret to a real Frita is that ground beef is mixed with a blend of secret spices, main of which I suspect is paprika, which leads to the chorizo type flavor. Debates abound as to whether it is actual chorizo in the Frita, but at least at El Rey De Las Fritas, where I recently went to, they guaranteed me it is 100% beef. It’s a great thing in any case. The crunch from the fries, the chorizo flavor. I’ll be looking out to try other versions from El Mago de Las Fritas and other places soon.
A place that has it’s own twist on the Frita is Pincho Factory, where I returned to recently and am still a fan. A debate ensued over twitter on whether it’s a real Frita or not, and probably there is no one better judge for that debate that Burger Beast, our local institution when it comes to burgers, fritas and all things comfort food. Burger Beast reckons isn’t a frita, but a “great burger”, and the father of the baby, Nedal (Pincho Factory owner), loves to disagree. Whether it is a proper Frita or not is irrelevant, it is an amazing bite on a Cuban roll with Proper Sausages waygu beef chorizo blend, Cuban coffee caramelized onions, and potato sticks. A perfectly fried egg sits on top and explodes in your mouth upon first bite.
During the visit to El Rey I also went for the Pan con Bistec, which in case you are wondering is simply a steak sandwich whose name derives from the Latino take on “Beef Steak”, based on its pronunciation. The El Rey version has a thin soft slice of meat, juicy and comes with lettuce, tomato and the same fries from the Frita. The bread is the same Cuban bread from the Cuban sandwich. I’m glad I tried it at El Rey because the one I had had at La Equina del Lechon was dry and disappointing.
I love Cuban burgers and sandwiches and am looking forward to trying and comparing more classic staples and seeing what alternative versions newer places come up with. Only in Miami. Pan con Lechon is my next target.