By: Jason Perlow
Coral Springs has been on something of a Cuban restaurant growth spurt lately particularly with the recent openings of Mima’s 1868 Cuban Cafe and Little Havana, both full-service restaurants that echo the wide range of traditional plates that you will find at many Cuban-American eateries in Miami’s Little Havana/Calle Ocho neighborhood.
As with any international cuisine, Cuban-American food has specialties that are served at dedicated shops. One of these is the Frita Cubana, which is a sandwich that is similar to a hamburger, but differs in a number of important ways from its purely American counterpart.
A Frita starts with the meat mix itself, which is generally a blend of ground beef and chorizo (pork) sausage that has been heavily seasoned with salt, pepper, cumin, garlic, and paprika, so it is a little bit spicy.
The meat patty is cooked on a griddle and is pressed panini-style on a special toasted, round, crispy Frita bun that is similar to the long Pan Cubano that is used for Cuban sandwiches.
The meat is then topped with crispy fried onions, potato stix, and other items, depending on the order.
You get Fritas (as well as Cuban sandwiches) primarily at Frita shops, which began dotting the Miami landscape during the Cuban exodus in the early 1960s.
Two of the most notable ones on Calle Ocho — El Rey De Las Fritas and El Mago De Las Fritas — are fiercely competitive with each other and have their own groups of loyal fans.
Entire Miami food blogs, such as Burger Beast, have been dedicated to chronicling Fritas all over the city and parts beyond, such as in Hialeah, which boasts many such places serving it.
Coral Springs now has a Frita shop all of its own, El Cubano, on 99th Way, just off Sample Road, across from the Checkers.
El Cubano only has a few tables, and most people will likely choose to grab their Frita and go. They’ve also got UberEats doing delivery. But I feel to really enjoy the food at this place, you have to dine in and get it while it is hot off the griddle.
Don’t rush. It may be Quick Serve, but it is not Fast Food.
The Frita itself ($6.99 regular, lunch special $5.49) is a prime specimen and having experienced this sandwich in a number of different shops, I think it gives the best ones in Little Havana a run for their money. I ordered mine with a fried egg and melted cheese on top, and it was utterly mouth-watering.
It has just the right amount of spiciness to it, and the blend of beef and pork keeps it nice and juicy. I could practically hear Salsa music in my head when eating it — but it may have been the Bluetooth speaker on the counter.
Of course, you’re going to want to have your burger with fries. You can get regular french fries — which are nice commercial, thick fries with some of the skin on it — or you can get Mariquitas, which are razor-thin fried plantains that are sliced lengthwise into crispy ribbons and are simply seasoned with salt.
The restaurant also has Croquetas, the ubiquitous ham and bechamel croquettes, which fried to order.
If you’re not up for a Frita, of course, all of the major Cuban sandwiches are well-represented here. All of the bread is brought in each morning straight from Miami.
The standard Cubano ($6.99), which is layers of roast pork, sweet ham, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard — and then panini-pressed with Cuban bread, is by far one of the most generous ones we’ve had in Broward County. You can certainly order it with extra meat, but I think that’s totally unnecessary here.
The Medianoche (“Midnight”) variant switches out the Pan Cubano for Pan Suave, an eggy bread that is similar to Brioche or Challah.
If you are extra-hungry, you can get El Super Cubano, which adds an entire marinated Palomilla steak on top. This is an utterly massive sandwich for $8.99, and you might have to share it. I had to take half of mine home, and my wife re-heated it in foil in the toaster oven. It was just as good the next morning!
The Pan Con Bistec ($7.99) is just the steak, with lettuce, tomatoes, fried onion, mayo, and the potato stix from the Frita.
I also recommend the Pan Con Lechon ($7.99), which is a pile of garlic mojo (sour orange) shredded marinated roast pork that is served with lettuce, tomato, cooked onions, and mayo. This again is another huge sandwich, as is the Vaca Frita, which gets the same marination treatment as the Lechon, but it’s shredded, fried beef instead of pork.
You’re going to need to wash these big sandwiches down. In addition to Coke, they have the usual Jupina and Materva, the classic pineapple and yerba mate-flavored sodas.
However, no self-respecting Frita shop is without Batidos, which are fruit milkshakes ($3.49). El Cubano’s come in three flavors — Papaya, Mamey, or Mango. Mamey has a subtle, almost custardy flavor, whereas Papaya — or Fruta Bomba as you’ll find it in Miami — has a bold tropical fruit taste and has natural enzymes in it that aid in digestion.
In addition to the Cuban specialties, the restaurant serves breakfast sandwiches all day long, and has Cuban coffee as well, which is made on their Rancilio espresso machine with Cafe Bustelo.
Should you really need to wake up, get the Colada ($1.99) — which is a triple ristretto shot of espresso mixed with three spoons of sugar served in a styrofoam cup. This comes with additional tiny thimble-sized shot cups if you are inclined to share this with a friend, which is customary.
If you want something to grab and go with your supercharged coffee in the morning, try the Pastelitos — which are small pastries filled with your choice of Guava, Cheese, Guava/Cheese combo, or meat.
EL CUBANO SANDWICH SHOP
3439 NW 99th Way
Coral Springs FL
Mon-Fri 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sat-Sun 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Jason Perlow is a long-time foodie who spent 20 years in the New York City and New Jersey metro areas reviewing restaurants for The New York Times and his personal food blog, Off The Broiler, which he started in 2006 and ran for ten years. He is also the founder of eGullet, a popular food discussion site and not-for-profit organization that was formed in 2001, which was featured on Tony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” cable television program.
As a technologist by profession, he writes the Tech Broiler blog for CBS’s ZDNet web site. He has been a Coral Springs resident since moving to South Florida in 2012.
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