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What's a Cuban sandwich without any pickles? It's just a ham and cheese sandwich, that's what it is. And too many supposedly legitimate "Spanish food" joints think they can get away with serving their Cubanos sans pickles.

Even at Mambi's, a Washington Heights institution where they spread an incredibly tasty garlic mayo on the classic sandwich, Cubanos come without pickles more often than not. Mambi's ham and cheese sandwich is delicious, but when I order a Cubano I expect pickles.

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So if you want to be sure your Cubano is packed with robust pickle punch, head to El Gran Castillo de Jagua. At Flatbush and Park Place on the Prospect Heights side, you'll find Castillo's austere dining room and cramped, sweltering lunch counter. You can watch as your pickles are loaded onto your sandwich alongside two kinds of salty, juicy pork and Muenster cheese. Once it's pressed, the flavors merge to produce a Cubano the way the lord intended.

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The pickles exhibit a Roy Rogers fixin' bar quality, but I'm no pickle snob so that's a good thing in my book. Real Cubanos are usually concocted out of kitchen leftovers anyway, and a classy pickle would be out of place.

The Cubanos at El Gran Castillo de Jagua are certainly the genuine article. They're bona fide. What are you?

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El Gran Castillo de Jagua, 345 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-622-8700