Finding the best Cuban sandwich in NY is nothing short of grail-like quest: ingredient details are debated, locations are either revealed or remain secret, and the search continues anyway in the end. Just a stone’s throw from Cotton Club in Harlem is El Floridita, a workhorse diner that might skirt year end best-of lists. But remains a great destination for simple Cubano sandwiches. El Floridita is the last outpost of 3 original Floriditas; its owner opened Floridita Tapas next door this past summer.
Putting the idea that you’re probably not going to get the best Cuban sandwich of your life aside, there’s something deeply reassuring about a late night Cuban diner that serves decent, cheap, big bowls of chicken and rice. Espressos are $1 and the booths are diner standard, which means borderline uncomfortable. But it doesn’t matter; get a sandwich. Breakfast menu choices are complemented with mangu, a Dominican-derived plantain mash with onions and some fat, and portions are huge for the price. Fried cheese is served on the side of fried eggs, and there’s something to be said for a restaurant that uses dismantled cigar box tops as salt and pepper table caddies, especially when it’s almost assured an interior designer wasn’t paid $200 an hour for the brainstorm, to make the place look authentic.
Check out the front counter where sandwiches are assembled, the one that sits atop a refrigerated display case filled with fresh squishy bread, pork, and pallid tomatoes: Medianoches ($3.50) emerge from the foil-wrapped sandwich presses and rest briefly on a hunk of butcher block that’s perfectly bowed and smooth in the center from years of use. Think of the thousands of little toasted sandwiches that have come before it, sliced right there in the same spot, and that’s perfect winter comfort food.
Photo: Condiment caddy at Floridita; yeah, they’re Cubans