When my wife and I sat down at the bar of the Buchi Cafe Cubano on a lonely and snowy evening a few weeks ago, I thought to myself, "This is a nice Cuban cafe". It was simple but pleasant. There were fun pictures of smiling Cubans on the wall along with Cuban landscapes, dominoes stacked behind the bar, a Cuban flag or two and, of course, a Florida license plate. We struck up a conversation with our somewhat apathetic yet nice enough young server; I wondered to myself, "is this a Cuban family-owned and run place?"
"Is this a family-owned place?" I asked our server.
"Yeah," she said, and with no hint of sarcasm added, "This family from Florida owns it."
OK, I deserve that. "Cuban family?" I asked, hopefully.
"No," she said, and she thought for a moment, as if sensing my disappointment, "But I think the husband-- I think his best friend growing up was Cuban. Or something like that."
See what I mean? This guy is more Cuban than Castro himself. His best-friend is Cuban and he grew up in Florida. I'm not making fun, I just think it's really funny. I actually think there's nothing wrong with that at all, and I laughed to myself for secretly hoping our server was part of a large Cuban family come to Denver to rescue it from it's Cuban-less-ness by opening a cafe in Sunnyside. Anyway, I love the idea of cultures mixing so closely, and it is likely the single greatest thing our country has to offer. And in Denver, a Cuban best friend is certainly Cuban enough to open a Cuban restaurant. And if they make a good Cuban sandwich, all the better.
Cuba. Florida. Nuff said.
I've been wanting to go to this place for a while because I love Cuban sandwiches. Despite what may have come across earlier in this post as skepticism, if you make a good Cuban I will go to your place over and over again until you're sick of me, no matter where you hail from. In fact, my favorite Cuban in Denver has always been at Buenos Aires Pizzeria, and that is an Argentinean restaurant (but more on that later). So give me good sandwich made with pork and ham, press it on a grill, and I'll give you my unbiased yet highly opinionated opinion.
It is no secret what I order and out it comes. Before I get into the details, I would like to wander off on a tangent to clarify something: I could care less about luxuries such as "plates" and "utensils". At Buchi, this, apparently, is a good thing. Our server strolled over with our sandwiches wrapped in paper (like they should be) and sort of slid them down the bar in her (nice yet) apathetic way. This is totally good with me. I really don't need a plate. It just seemed out of place in a restaurant with table service and pretty nice wooden furniture. It is also funny (although the better word is ironic) as they have quite a few nice looking plates behind the bar, stacked on the shelves. (Maybe it's just for the atmosphere, like the dominoes.)
Looks... can be deceiving
So back to the sandwich. I unwrapped it and was surprised to see shredded roast pork, or lechón. Now at this point I was rather emotional and nostalgic, as lechón is like a brother to me. I calmed my excitement and took a bite. Salty. Really salty. And not that good. I tried to like it, bite after odd-tasting bite, but I didn't. A strange and offensive salty aftertaste stayed with me the rest of the night. A Cuban sandwich that I didn't like-- a first for me.
A couple of weeks later I was home and procranstinating some work-related activity; hungry, I started daydreaming of Cubans. I was on-line so started looking up more about Buchi. This place has more hype than the recent Pacquiao-Cotto fight (Pilipino!). And while I am certainly skeptical about hype and popularity, there were way too many ex-Floridians (AKA Cuban experts) who loved this sandwich. Now I'm not Floridian, but I have had my share of Cubans in other parts of the world that Cubans populate, and I like to think that I know what a good Cuban is. The one I had at Buchi the first time around was not one of them, but I caved to popular opinion and went back to give it another try.
I went back on another lonely and snowy weekend evening. I ordered the Cuban and got in the car. My wife was not willing to give them another try, so we were off to get some tacos (and eat them from a plate). I skeptically unwrapped and took a bite, ready to confirm my dislike in the face of all the Floridian fawning this sandwich receives. Surprise. It was much better. It was actually really good. The lechón was soft and tender as before, but was decidedly less odd-tasting. It was mustardy, full of pickles and a little drippy with tender pork juices. Gone was the acrid aftertaste. I liked it. To me it is still not Denver's Cuban savior, but it was a very good sandwich. I still prefer the straight sliced pork, or maybe it is just the way they prepare this shredded pork that doesn't quite do it for me.
And that brings me back to Buenos Aires Pizzeria. I still like their Cuban better, and over the years it has stayed consistent, albeit simple when compared to Buchi. I wrote about the Buenos Aires Cuban a few months ago, and have since been enlightened as to how the sandwich made it on to their menu: before moving to Denver the Buenos Aires family lived in--wait, you guessed it--Florida! Of course. But there's more. The wife of the owner's family is Cuban. According to her, after their time in Miami, "Being a true sandwich lover", her Argentine husband, "immediately appreciated the greatness of the Cuban." So it only makes sense that a Cuban sandwich made by a man who not only lived in Florida, but fell in love with a woman of Cuban descent, would make a truly inspired Cuban sandwich.
Since then I have also had the Cuban at Samba Room, and while I won't say much about it, just know that it too, is at least as good as Buchi's. I should probably go back to Buchi's again to try another appetizer, as the one we had the first night was pretty crappy-- but no one is paying me to do this, so I probably won't. I am talking about the empanadas. They were OK, I guess, but the dipping sauce tasted like putrid curry and I think it was supposed to be a chimichurri-type thing. And this came by recommendation of the server, as "the best thing on the menu." The saving grace was that the coffee was excellent-- the café con leche to be exact. I would like to like this place, so we will probably go back and check out the brunch at some point. And if I'm in the neighborhood and not looking for tacos, I'll try that Cuban again.
You should go and see for yourself, I don't not recommend it, but I can't stand inconsistency. That being said, the coffee was great-- and the second time around, so was the sandwich.