Ah Cuba. America’s Communist boogeyman 90 miles from our doorstep, but this red stronghold soon might become the hot, new Caribbean vacation spot based on current political currents. While they have been famous due to the US embargo, exporting great baseball players, and upstanding fictional citizens like Tony Montana, Cuban food and drink is without parallel. Nothing like a Cubano sandwich with a cigar and a rum cocktail on the side. What more could you ask for? Well, at Cafecito in the South Loop area of Chicago, a full menu of Cuban sandiwiches, salads, and entrees. While there are neither alcoholic drinks nor cigars to blow smoke in other diners’ faces, they do have Cuban cortadito coffees that are the java equivalent of speed mixed with rocket fuel.
I went there around noon after teaching at Roosevelt U. If you do not like crowds or waiting in line, pick some other time to go. Looking over the menu, I had no clue which sandwich to pick because they all looked so scrumptious. Would I go with the Perfect Cuban sandwich in Chicago ($5.79) or the Spanish stylized “Elveez” made of sweet plantains, guava jelly, and peanut butter($4.99)? Instead, I got the Jerk sandwich since I wanted to see their take on the traditional Jamaican spiced dish in handheld form ($6.19). To drink, it was hot outside, so I looked at their “batidos” or milkshakes in English. One selection that caught my eye was the mamey option. I had absolutely no clue what it was, but I knew I had to try it. After the meal, I found out through a little research that mamey is actually the natural fruit of Cuba, so it was my own way of saying “Viva la revolucion!”. They take your name, and then you have to wait amongst the waiting throngs until they shout you out. The waiting time flew by as I inspected the walls that were decked out with all types of accolades to Cafecito’s place in sandwich Valhalla. After taking in all of the hype, my time had come to finally see if this sandwich was all that and a side of chips. First, I took a sip of my mamey milkshake.There were hints of sweetness, but it really didn’t taste like anything I could definitely put my finger on. Maybe it could be likened to a blander version of a taro bubble tea, but it’s a huge shot in the dark. However, the Jerk sandwich was full of flavor. While I wouldn’t liken it to the bold and savory spices known to the world through Jamaican cuisine, but there was a definite red pepper undertone to give the meal a great punch with every pressed/toasted bite of the fresh Cubano baguette. I personally thought that they heaped a bit too much lettuce on top which got in the way of the juicy, all-white chicken breast that was slathered with habanero lime mayo. With the mayo, I couldn’t really taste it over the red onions, but I love mayo in any way, shape, or form. Taken as a whole, it was a fresh sandwich with plenty of high quality ingredients but with the improper ratio of certain ones like red onions and lettuce. Maybe next time, I’d try their Cuban pork sandwich. Overall, it was a visit that was well worth the walk down from work.
So if you want to get a bit of Miami’s Cuban sandwich scene, rumba, don’t walk, on down to Cafecito! It’s not the best sandwich in Chicago I’ve tried, but it is a unique and popular local eatery.