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Cuban sandwiches get a makeover at Duke’s Grocery, Cafe Mayo and Fast Gourmet

Fast Gourmet offers a version of the Cuban sandwich (Elizabeth Kennedy/For Express)
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Last month President Barack Obama announced that the United States would restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba. “Took you long enough,” says the Cuban sandwich, which has done its part to link the countries for decades.

The sandwich, also known as the Cubano, first appeared in Florida in the late 1800s as a popular lunch option for Cuban immigrants. Though there’s much debate over whether it originated in Miami or Tampa, the sandwich is typically made with roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard and pickle slices between pressed Cuban bread.

“Sometimes restaurants in D.C. add [other ingredients], because we don’t have too much Cuban people around here, and there are other ways people like it,” says Jacqueline Castro, who owns Mi Cuba Cafe (1424 Park Road NW; 202-813-3489, with her husband. “It may not be original, but people can make it however they want.”

Though purists would argue there’s only one way to make the sandwich, some local restaurants offer the following substitutions.

Meat swap
In Dupont Circle, English gastropub Duke’s Grocery serves its Torta Milanesa “Cubano” with ham, a chicken cutlet breaded in panko flakes, Jarlsberg cheese, mustard, avocado, onion, lettuce, tomato, pickled jalapenos and garlic mayo (1513 17th St. NW; 202-733-5623,

“Having the crispy panko crust on the pan-fried chicken cutlet adds crunch and heft,” says owner Daniel Kramer. “Granted, it’s a bit nonstandard, but it keeps diners interested and inquisitive.”

Saucy switch
Cafe Mayo, an Asian-Spanish fusion spot that opened in Georgetown in June, serves its Cuban on a baguette with ham, salami, roasted pork marinated overnight and provolone (3147 Dumbarton St. NW; 202-735-0760,

To that it adds honey Dijon mustard and cilantro lime mayo, serious departures from tangy yellow mustard. “We decided to do something more our style,” owner George Ruiz says. “Our customers feel like it’s a better taste than the yellow mustard.”

Changing rolls
Fast Gourmet’s Cuban pretty much plays by the rules, with pork butt, ham, Swiss cheese, kosher pickles and Dijon mustard (1400 W St. NW; 202-448-9217, The main difference is it’s served on a soft roll rather than Cuban bread, which is shaped like a French roll but is softer and usually made with lard.

“Cuban bread is hard to find so we use a soft roll we bake in-house,” says owner Lina Chovil. The plush bread helps keep ingredients intact, so you don’t have to worry about a big mess.

If it ain’t broke …

If you’re craving something a little more traditional, the following restaurants offer an authentic take on the Cuban sandwich.

  • Sophie’s Cuban Cuisine, 1134 19th St. NW; 202-833-1005,
  • Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar, 801 Ninth St. NW; 202-408-1600,
  • Havana Cafe, 1825 I St. NW; 202-293-5303

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