Florida takes a hell of a lot of abuse these days. I lived there for 26 years, and I will readily concede that most of that abuse is well-deserved. When I packed up and lit out for the west coast four years ago, I thought I’d never miss anything about the Sunshine State once I got here.
Well, I was wrong about that. Turns out, Florida does have a few things that I can’t find or replicate easily (or at all) here in San Francisco. Like, for example, the Cuban sandwich.
It took me a while to warm up to the idea of the Cuban sandwich, mostly because the junior high and high schools I attended all served a weak-ass knockoff of a Cuban sandwich in their cafeterias: an unpressed, not-even-warmed hoagie roll bisected by a micrometer-thin layer of ham, mayo, mustard and pickle. There might have been a sliver of salami in there too, but I wouldn’t swear to it. These things were dry and chewy and utterly bland, and having moved from Michigan in the 7th grade, I assumed this is what Cubanos were supposed to taste like. So I ignored them.
Of course, once I had a proper Cuban sandwich, there was no going back. Crap on Tampa all you want (and I do), but they do know how to do up a Cubano there. And they are everywhere, on both sides of the bay. It was almost impossible to go wrong when ordering a Cuban sandwich, and when that did happen, it was usually because the restaurant was owned by a transplanted New Yorker (or some shlub from Orlando, where they don’t know anything about anything) who’d never actually had one.
After four years in San Francisco, I can say I have – finally – found two restaurants that serve Cuban sandwiches I can recommend without reservation. One is Cha Cha Cha, in the Upper Haight, and the other is Caña in Oakland, east of Lake Merritt, though theirs is slightly less authentic. (There is also another place in the Mission that I have to check out again; I tried that Cubano right before going to see Flipper at the Elbo Room, where I had a decent amount to drink, but that’s another story.) But there’s no place I know of downtown, where my day job is, so my lunch hours are apparently doomed to be Cuban sandwich-free for the foreseeable future.
I will say, however, that San Francisco taught me why people care about burritos at all. Never understood the appeal when I lived in Florida, but I get it now. So there is that.