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The Sandwich: The Pernil Especial
Where: Sophie’s Cuban Cuisine, 1134 19th St. NW
Bread: Cuban bread (similar to French bread)
Stuffings: Roast pork, sweet plantains, onions, and mayonnaise
Thickness: 2.5 inches—the sandwich press smushes it a bit
Pros: Like any legit Cuban sandwich, this one gets toasted post-assembly, melding its parts into a hot blend of sweet, salt, and crunch. Plantains in a sandwich? Isn’t that weird, you ask? Well, maybe Elvis was onto something when he combined bananas with peanut butter and bacon. Plantains counter the porky richness without tasting overly saccharine. And in a world in which mayo is slathered with a very heavy hand, Sophie’s gets extra credit for restraint.
Cons: On its own, the sandwich lacks acid, and the roasted pork feels a bit dry. This problem is remedied immediately with the addition of Sophie’s special green sauce, a slightly spicy and sour concoction. It’s so delicious and popular that the restaurant, which originated in and operates seven locations in Manhattan, now bottles and sells it to customers who need a fix.
Sloppiness level (1 to 5): 1.5. Most ingredients stay pressed inside the bread, but a few meat strands will probably fall out of the sandwich. No problema—just dip those bites in more green sauce and keep on eating.
Overall Score (1 to 5): 5. I’m no santera, but some sort of magic is at work in the Pernil Especial. When combined, the pork, plantains, and green sauce form a product far greater than its already stellar parts. This sandwich could bring you to your knees in gratitude.
Photo by Caroline Jones