With piquant flavors and portability on its side, sandwich lovers would be hard-pressed to pass up a Cuban. A staple shaped by Southern Florida's rich Cuban diaspora, the mixto (Spanish for "mixed") melts savory deli ham and succulent pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard between sliced Cuban bread. The thin, toasted proportions lend a crisp sensation on the tongue that, paired with the tangier condiments and filling, imparts a surprising decadence.
Though territorial battles have been waged over the sandwich's true roots -- was it born in Tampa or Miami? -- the age-old row refuses to temper the entree's hearty draw. Chain restaurants often riff out regional fare for diners outside those borders to enjoy. For the majority of us, our exposure to the Cuban might come from a well-known sub shop or sit-down eatery with an expansive menu and footprint, not Little Havana.
Looking to avoid a ham-fisted panini suited for throwing into the Caribbean? Deciding which chain restaurants to seek out for a fabulous island-style sandwich can be tough, but through looking at various restaurant review sites (which we'll touch on further), customers who've done the devouring can at least point us in the right direction for a worthwhile Cuban.
11. Jimmy John's
Listen. Jimmy John's makes incredible subs -- cold subs, more specifically. So how is this sandwich brand with shops by the thousands getting away with serving an unheated, unpressed Cuban sandwich? The Jimmy Cubano (listed, ironically, as #13 on the menu) arrived for good in 2019, and since then, it's racked up feedback rife with disappointment. The primary reason seems to stem from the sparse meats and hollowed-out bread loaf that deprive visitors of a substantial mouthful. "I'm aware that Cuban sandwiches need to be pressed thin," a paying customer commented, "but there's like NO meat on this thing." This point also dovetailed with the excess amount of pickles and mustard compensating for the lack of cold cuts.
Previously, we've demonstrated how well the Jimmy Cubano delivers stacked against other popular Jimmy John's menu items. In terms of taste, it achieves the savory notes without much of a problem. But within a broader scale of restaurant chains, even the tempting ingredient list (applewood bacon, anyone?) is colored by the obvious plainness of the sandwich. Sure, customers can modify it to fit their preferences -- that's the beauty of a counter-serve establishment -- but are diners content with the slim portable as advertised? It sure doesn't sound like it. Keep this one on the back burner, at least until you've sampled some better renditions.
10. Jason's Deli
Jason's Deli launched its Cuban sandwich (a first) back in October 2023, and per the chain's Instagram post, it's "the ham and cheese sandwich you've been waiting for!" Called the Bacon Cubano, it certainly boasts fancier ingredients than the typical chain restaurant. The ham, for example, is culled of the preservative nitrite, and the franchise uses toasted telera bread (the vessel for Mexican tortas). The hand-held boasts crisp bacon followed by melted Swiss, mustard, and thick-cut pickle chips to add some zing.
For context, the Bacon Cubano is a "specialty" item, and that's where some of the eatery's most popular options reside, including The Carmela and Bigger Better BLT. Whereas those sandwiches seem to have stood the test of time, we can't say the same for this one, as feedback has been slow to trickle in over the last few months. According to the few reviews out there, the sandwich lacks that "porky" sensibility, so to speak. While Cubans are quite flat, Jason's Deli manages to make the deli meat non-existent while going off the rails on the condiments. "Who needs meat when you have a mustard panini," one disappointed reviewer wrote. Hmph. There's too little information out there, and what we've encountered up to now doesn't seem promising for a proper Cuban.
9. Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar
For $17.95 as of January 2024, Lazy Dog's Cuban (unveiled last fall) is one of the higher-priced sandwiches on our round-up. This is understandable once you see what's stacked within it. Sustainably sourced hickory-smoked ham from Beeler's is rounded out with succulent pork shoulder, while the Swiss cheese and pickles are complemented by the "spread de resistance" -- a mustard suffused with Liquid Blanket IPA, a hop-filled variety from Golden Road Brewing. Each sandwich comes on grilled sourdough and features a side of fries or apple cider slaw, but customers can just as well upgrade their order (at extra cost) with onion rings or sweet potato tots.
Scouring the comments left by restaurant-goers testifies to a mouthwatering hand-held, bolstered by some deluxe fixings (fancy ham! beer mustard!) that really enhance the Cuban to a higher level. That gourmet flair can be credited somewhat to the seasonal availability. Yet Lazy Dog's version might leave foodies wanting when it comes to a Cuban sandwich that scratches the itch year-round. One visitor was slightly underwhelmed and wrote, "It tasted like a pastrami sandwich." Pressed sandwiches flourish when they're served at maximum heat, so the lukewarm temp reported by another reviewer also leaves something to be desired: "Cuban tasted alright but would have excelled hot."
8. Beef 'O' Brady's
The Hot and Pressed Cuban from Beef 'O' Brady's has encountered a mix of responses, to say the least. Discover it under the Sandwiches & Wraps section of the menu, where it boasts salami and ham, creamy Swiss, and two spreads (mustard and mayo) buttressed between a Cuban-style roll. It also touts lettuce and tomato, two toppings more in line with a Club or BLT than the Tampa delicacy. One diner described the entree as a "disappointment," claiming "it was not prepared like the traditional Cuban sandwich should be."
Barring pricing differences dependent on location, charging $13.99 puts it in the average bracket for chain restaurant offerings. However, we sensed customers struggled to taste how Beef 'O' Brady's version could justify the dollars. From the sounds of it, the chain can be a little stingy with the cold cuts and the bread tends to get mushy, a recipe for disappointment as far as a mouthwatering Cuban is concerned.
Be that as it may, the chain's unconventional preparation wasn't entirely viewed by customers as culinary treason. A different visitor shared a more generous opinion, stating, "It wasn't a traditional Cuban by any means, but I liked it anyway."
7. Rusty Bucket
An Ohio chain with 21 restaurants, Rusty Bucket serves an array of pub staples that warm the heart and belly. El Cubano is one of the eatery's sandwiches, and from our research, tends to welcome both devotees and critics. Though the location will dictate the specific price, the ballpark range (about $15.99) appears decent for the hand-held, considering that it features kettle chips, coleslaw, or fries for accompaniment.
Simply put, proponents are eager to praise the shredded pork and sliced ham, which combine to form a balanced counterpoint to the zingy mustard and pickles. The vessel, a well-toasted white roll, retains a tasty crunch that gels with the steamy filling inside. A reviewer wrote, "The sandwich had a good portion of moist pork layered with the ham & pickle ... not dry and perfectly toasted on tasty Cuban bread." Unfortunately, regarding the freshness, Rusty Bucket's sandwich sometimes arrives tepid and lukewarm. As one unlucky diner recalled, "It seemed as though it could have been assembled early in the day and heated to order."
Issues surrounding quality control might flare up more noticeably as a result of the smaller footprint. Will you devour a melty mixto worthy of Miami or a stale, room-temperature panini? These conflicting experiences urge some caution.
6. The Cheesecake Factory
Jammed somewhere in between is The Cheesecake Factory's Cuban Sandwich, which remains a standby order for some and a gastronomic fiasco for others. Tracking down this sandwich is a much easier undertaking since, in comparison to our other contenders, the eatery is mainstream and staked in over 40 states nationwide. The hand-held also seems to honor the flavor components down to the blend of meats and smashed chargrilled bread. It's built with sliced Swiss, ham, and pork on top and yellow mustard and pickles oozing from the bottom.
Joy is the usual emotion expressed toward a Cheesecake Factory entree, so it's not surprising to find this sandwich is a slam-dunk. To one starry-eyed visitor, it's "One of the better Cuban sandwiches outside of Little Havana." So what, exactly, is forcing the chain restaurant off of its mighty perch? The sheer oiliness, for one, has taken some diners by surprise -- and not in a good way. It's borderline impossible to polish one off without soiling your hands; one customer described it as "very, very greasy," adding, "It was a mess eating it." These characteristics foiled its chances of a glowing verdict from several dissatisfied diners.
5. Bahama Breeze
Traveling to Key West out of the picture? Dipping into Bahama Breeze isn't quite the same, but visitors have word that its Cuban is higher-than-average. Sold alongside vibrant choices like Blackened Mahi Tacos and a Honey Butter Crispy Chicken Sandwich, the sandwich nestles pork and ham between Swiss cheese, crisp pickles, and judging by the photos, mustard spread on both sides of the bread. Each plate allows for one side (mashed potatoes, fries, or yellow rice), and has the added benefit of coming in half portions for the lunch crowd.
Costing $13.49 at several locations, it's downright affordable for a Cuban fix. Contrary to the typical pitfalls franchises can be guilty of, many visitors couldn't help feeling impressed with its tastiness. One positive review raved, "The Cuban sandwiches are fantastic for a chain restaurant." Patrons with diverging views noted the flavor felt more mass-produced than marvelous. Those seeking out a truly authentic hand-held will be disappointed by any chain eatery on the block, but what Bahama Breeze's detractors convey is that there's little razzle-dazzle to distinguish the thin sammie from its competitors. One dismayed diner pointed out, "It was basically a melted ham and Swiss."
4. Sophie's Cuban Cuisine
Sophie's Cuban Cuisine has stores scattered all over Manhattan, proffering regional specialties spanning empanadas, sandwiches, and hearty hot plates since 1997. What's the low-down on El Cubano? It's pressed to serve on Cuban bread, featuring a melted mass of ham, Swiss, pickles, mustard, and mojo pork, a marinated delicacy frequently found in Cuban cooking that's prized for its tender texture and heap of spices, including garlic and cumin.
Our takeaway is that Sophie's El Cubano is solid, but not without its faults. The traditional mixto appears to hit the spot for numerous customers, although some opinions suggest the sandwich isn't as mind-blowing as it could be, especially for the price. "The sandwich was delicious, pressed to crispy, buttery perfection," gushed one visitor, and their delight was echoed by other reviews chiming in on the well-toasted roll and green mojo sauce that reinforced the pork's zesty sensibility.
A mixed assessment knocked off points for the "unnecessarily dry" meat, but even when execution wasn't concerned, expectations seemed to go unmet. As an example, one reviewer who'd recently traveled to Florida had a hard time sampling Sophie's version in the wake of the real deal, claiming, "The Cuban sandwich wasn't bad, but it didn't remind me of the sandwich I got in Miami."
3. Earl Of Sandwich
The Cuban entered the Earl of Sandwich lineup back in 2021, and despite the marketing tease of a limited-time availability, the sub's still kicking almost two years later. More to the point, customers are consistently enraptured by the freshness and delectable taste. What also raises the sub shop above the fray is that it builds each creation from the ground up, which guarantees a piping, hot-to-the-touch hand-held every time. "The Cuban sandwich was freaking right on," applauded a five-star review, and rightfully so.
Patrons repeatedly rave about the juicy blend of meats (shredded carnitas and deli ham) that meld beautifully with the melted Swiss and tongue-tingling fixings, which the chain caps at the basics -- classic pickles and a so-called "Cuban mustard sauce." One reviewer comments, "the flavors were perfectly balanced unlike some places who use too much dressing, meat, or cheese. Here it is perfect and tastes amazing!"
Those turned off by spicy condiments can take comfort, considering first-hand feedback attests to a temperate, rather than fiery mouthfeel. The bread, crucial to any Cuban, retains a crusty disposition that's fit for holding in those mouthwatering ingredients. Look out, Little Havana!
2. Pollo Tropical
You don't have to be high on the hog to sample Pollo Tropical's Cuban. Recently awarded "best fast-food sandwich" by Miami New Times, it's one of the few options under $10 (at most locations) and over-stuffed (in a good way) with cheesy, meaty goodness. What also gives the Florida chain some clout is its focus on Latin and Carribean-style cooking, since the ingredients on the menu -- mojo pork and ham, plus gouda, pickles, and mustard -- signal loud and clear that the drive-thru knows what it's doing. Take it from this happy customer who wrote "The Cuban sandwich was maybe not as good as I have had in other places, but blew the idea of 'fast food' out of the water." People can't get enough!
Suffice it to say, the bargain-friendly pricing is undoubtedly attractive, but it isn't the sole factor pleasing diners. Ticking the boxes on a simple, filling hand-held that's assembled accurately is enough to gain the sort of praise associated with premium eateries, and for a drive-thru, that's something to take notice of. True, careful attention to prep can take a nose-dive in quick-serve environments, as evidenced by one diner who received an unpressed sandwich. But the pros in favor of ordering it seem to outweigh the potential negatives.
"If you've never had a Cuban sandwich you're in for a treat." That's one of many rave reviews for Padrino's, one of the few franchised operations we'd wager Floridians patronize regularly for genuine mixtos. Descended from the namesake family's culinary traditions on the Caribbean island, the micro-chain (only five locations in the Sunshine State) is renowned for its authentic array of Cuban entrees. An entire section is dedicated to Candida Rosa's (the founder's) original recipes, on top of hearty staples like churrasco, paella, and ham croquettes.
Honing these special delicacies well beyond 40 years puts Padrino's a cut above the typical establishments, and in our view, explains the fervor surrounding its classic Cubano. To those who've sampled it, the flavors are "spot on" and "first rate." One diner extolling the entire dining experience even took pains to applaud the sandwich on its own merits, proclaiming it "the best Cuban sandwich I've ever had."
The base of the sandwich starts with carved pork and deli ham, leading the way to a gooey blanket of Swiss and tangy pickles that peek out from between crisp slabs of Cuban bread. On the side, your choice of fries or plantains rounds out the meal, though the sandwich alone can be purchased off the lunch menu. Utterly sublime, this Cubano is deserving of first place.
How We Chose Our Chain Restaurant Cuban Sandwiches
Choosing Cuban sandwiches for this piece relied heavily on customer feedback. We searched for nationally-renowned chains and filtered through responses posted on review platforms, including TripAdvisor and Yelp, as well as miscellaneous internet blogs. Our ranking took value and accessibility into account, but most selections paid heed to personal opinions and claims made by the diners themselves.
Read the original article on Mashed.