Tropical vibes at Cafe Cubano

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By Melissa Elsmo

Food Writer

Café Cubano (7426 W North Ave, Elmwood Park) has been an Elmwood Park mainstay for 19 years. The family-owned restaurant brings a tropical vibe and Caribbean feel to every meal. Melissa Fernandez, whose parents own Café Cubano, credits an open-minded and curious customer base for their long-term success.

"All things related to Cuba have become very trendy," says Fernandez, "and I am always happy to give our customers a glimpse into our Cuban culture."

In fact, Fernandez aspires to bring her "father's Cuba" to life on every plate served at Café Cubano. Prized for their rich and smoky flavor, proper Cuban dishes start with a flavor base called a sofrito. Made from red pepper, green pepper, and onion, the sofrito is a launch pad for a wide array of dishes. While most dishes are seasoned liberally with cumin, Fernandez considers garlic to be the key ingredient that brings Cuban fare to life.

Overall, the approach to cuisine in the island nation is thoughtful and straightforward. Café Cubano celebrates delicious simplicity with new menu items like their recently added Cuban Bowl. The entrée features white rice, black beans, and sweet plantains topped with either chicken, steak or pork. The generous meal is topped off with fresh avocado. Despite new menu items, classic Café Cubano offerings like the Cuban Sandwich and Jibarito are remain attractive to patrons.

The origin of the Cuban sandwich dates back to the 1800's and shops peddling the sandwich became popular in Florida during the 1940's; today they can be found nationwide and at Café Cubano on North Avenue.

Café Cubano's version of the simple entree sandwich features pork marinated in a punchy citrus-garlic marinade known as a mojo (pronounce mo-ho). The marinated meat is then slow roasted until tender and piled on Cuban bread with sliced ham, yellow mustard, Swiss cheese, and sliced dill pickles. A traditional griddle known as "plancha" toasts the outside of the bread to crispy perfection while heating the sandwich interior until the Swiss cheese melts. The resulting sandwich is prized for its texture as much as its flavor.

The jibarito (hee-bah-ree-to), of the other hand, is a decidedly Chicago connection featuring steak, chicken or pork sandwiched between two flattened fried green plantains in lieu of bread. The decadent sandwich is garnished with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and American Cheese.

No matter which menu item you select at Café Cubano everything pairs perfectly with a mojito. Thursdays throughout the summer months mean eager eaters can get their hands on $5 mojitos in traditional, raspberry, coconut and mango varieties.

"Add a mojito to any order and you'll feel like you are on the beach," says Fernandez with a smile.


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