…and let me tell you it ain’t easy.
For those of you who are not familiar with this classic Cuban sandwich, it is basically a sandwich comprised of pork and Cuban bread. Very simple, but oh, so delicious! The key to this sandwich is to make sure you have really good Cuban-style roasted pork and fresh Cuban bread. The pork, which is either taken from cooking a whole pig or often just cooking a pork shoulder, is first seasoned with mojo a marinade made of garlic, sour oranges and a few other ingredients and slowly roasted in the oven (I talk about Cuban lechón in a previous post). The pork is then shredded after cooking, and put between two pieces of Cuban bread, which is baguette-like and according to Wikipedia, simliar to French or Italian bread with a different ingredient list and cooking style (so doesn’t that mean it’s not like Italian or French bread?). Cuban bread is absolutely scrumptious. The outside is slightly crisp. The inside soft and warm. At my parents’ house we go through 1-2 loaves a day. Though traditionally made with lard (which is probably the reason why it tastes so good) you can also find “vegetarian” Cuban bread.
Now I don’t normally have pan con lechón, but do get an additional craving for it. So when I heard there were Cuban restaurants in L.A. I set out to try and find this sandwich. I went to 2 places recommended to me by people who said that these restaurants made really great lechón. Unfortunately, I was really disappointed. The main problem was that the pork at these places did not taste good at all…but I’ll stop there and you can read more below.
Versailles Cuban Restaurant
My first experience eating Cuban food in L.A. was at Versailles. The food there was highly recommended by a couple people I know so of course I went to eat there. I’ve eaten at Versailles 4 times and I cannot get myself to love the food there as much as the people who recommended it to me. I have to admit that I did not try their pan con lechón but just had their lechón asado entree.
My issue with the lechón I had is the marinade. Versailles is known for their garlic mojo, which people rave about. I don’t think it’s that great. The first time I had lechón there, the mojo actually tasted a little on the sour side, like if there was too much sour orange added (or whatever it is they use for the sour part of the mojo). The next time I had it, the garlic flavor was way too strong. In general, I found their mojo is too overpowering, so you end up tasting the marinade and not the pork. The way I’m used to eating lechón, there is a perfect balance between the garlic and sour orange taste. The marinade is added to the meat to add flavor, but also to bring out the flavor of the pork. If all you taste is the marinade when you eat the pork, then why bother having the meat there? Just have the marinade.
Porto’s Bakery & Cafe
Porto’s is another place that was highly recommended to me for Cuban style sandwiches and pastries (they have great pastelitos de guayaba there and their Cuban bread is pretty good too). So off I went to try their pan con lechón with their mojo.
When the plate was brought to my table it looked pretty good and it came with mariquitas (plantain chips). But the sandwich, unfortunately, looked better than it tasted. I found the lechón really fatty. There were pieces of fat attached to the shredded pork in the sandwich. Now I don’t know if it just happened to be the cuts of pork I got in my sandwich or whether this is how their sandwiches normally are, but to me, this was not appetizing. Also, I did not like their mojo. It is really oily and did not taste good. Every time I picked up the sandwich to eat it, all this oil dripped out the back. The mojo also made the inside of the bread really soggy. Not great mojo if you ask me. So all in all, not a great pan con lechón.
¡No Jodas! Cuban Kitchen
About a year ago, I was driving down Highland Avenue towards Hollywood and passed a food truck with the words ¡No Jodas! written on the side. I did an immediate double take, recognizing the expression, and then saw the words “Cuban Kitchen” written underneath. I had to eat at this food truck, especially after I saw they had lechón on their menu. After a year, I finally was to track it down and ordered their pan con lechón sandwich and an order of maduros. I received the sandwich, warm and freshly pressed, tightly wrapped in yellow paper. I immediately ran to my car and drove home to eat it.
When I got there, I quickly unwrapped the sandwich and inspected it closely.
It looked good. The pork appeared to be cooked well and was not fatty. I closed my eyes, took a bite and… it was delicious! The pork was cooked and seasoned just right. The grilled onions added the right amount of extra flavor. And the bread was toasted on the outside and perfectly soft on the inside.
Could I have found it? Could this be the best pan con lechón? Well, I don’t think I’m ready to make that statement just yet. For now the ¡No Jodas! pan con lechón is the best I’ve had in Los Angeles so far. I’m sure I’ve still got more research (and tasting) to do, but if my other sandwich eating experiences are any indicator, everyone has a long way to go to surpass the current top contender.
*An honorable mention in Cuban pork goes to the Cuban sandwich from Caña Cafe in Oakland. A Cuban sandwich starts off as a pan con lechón, but then has add ham, swiss cheese and pickles added to it. I have to say the Cuban bread and pork (which had a slightly different seasoning that what I’m used to), was delicious. So if you’re ever up that way, stop in and get one.