I don’t always rely on Zagat when I travel, but there is a system I’ve invented that uses it to scope out the best restaurants. I call it “Restaurant Arbitrage.” You go through Zagat and find the greatest disparity between the food rating and the décor. Invariably, the higher the food rating and the lower the decor, the better and more undiscovered a restaurant will be. The reason: only food diehards eschew atmosphere in favor of sabor.
Enriqueta’s Sandwich Shop in Miami is a corner truck stop with a takeout window and a miniscule parking lot. Zagat gives the non-descript Cuban coffee shop inside a 22 for food and a too generous 9 for décor. It has received honorable mentions in Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine for good reason.
The hairnetted Cuban women work furiously to press fantastic sandwiches, and make Cubanos, media noches, croquetas, and frothy batidos. All this while mainstreaming Café Cubanos to caffeine addicts who line up at 6 a.m. at the take-out window to get their fix. The made-to-order Cubanos use classic ingredients: sweet ham, léchon, Swiss, pickles, mustard, and mayo. They’re placed on Cuban bread that is made with lard in the flour to complete what I call, “the holy jamon trinity,” ham, pork, and lard in a single sandwich.
For a side there’s the croquetas de jamon, scraps of ham mixed into a béchamel sauce. It’s allowed to set in the fridge then rolled into Cuban cigar shapes, breaded and deep-fried. To wash it all down, a Cuban milkshake made with milk, ice, and mamey, a fruit that is pinkish in color and tastes like strawberry, sweet potato, and vanilla all blended together.
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