Battle of the Cuban Sandwiches
Babaloos Cuban Cafe vs. Havana Cafe
Created by immigrant laborers at the turn of the 20th century, the Cuban Sandwich is a tasty alternative to Plain Jane ham and cheese. Some versions have salami, some have lettuce and tomato, but the basics are the same: pork, spiced ham, cheese and pickles on toasted bread. We headed to two authentic Cuban cafes in SoPo/Ahwatukee to test out their versions of this popular 'wich.
In one corner: Babaloos Cuban Cafe
1241 E. Chandler Blvd. in South Phoenix
The Famous Cuban Sandwich, with yuca fries, at Babaloos
We passed by the shopping plaza that houses Babaloos three times before finally spotting the restaurant tucked in the far corner. Not the best location. Babaloos uses their end unit location to their advantage though, sporting a lovely corner patio that backs up to a swath of natural desert.
Babaloos is a color explosion.
Anytime something on a menu is advertised as "Famous," we're already starting with high expectations. So, how did Babaloos' The Famous Cuban Sandwich measure up? So-so. The sandwich arrived warm, on fresh crusty bread with grill marks that let us know it was pressed on a panini grill rather than on a traditional plancha (flat grill). Shh....it'll be our little secret.
Layers of lechon asado (marinated pork), ham and Swiss were accented by crisp dill pickles and a sour orange and garlic sauce called mojo. "It makes my mouth pucker," said one friend who couldn't be with us for lunch but enjoyed the leftovers later. The mojo was heavy on the sour orange, with a pungent flavor that overwhelmed the rest of the dish. We dug the lean meats and the pickles, though the latter were so crisp and perfect that we figured they must be out of a jar.
The best part of the meal was the side of yuca frites -- fries made from cassava, a tropical plant that also yields tapioca. Delicious! The frites were crisp and slightly sweet, a lighter and more enticing alternative to French fries. "They're more powdery than fries, but I love the sweetness. It's like fries dusted with sugar...and I didn't think fries could get more addictive," remarked our friend.