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Thursday, July 28,2011

Boulder lands Cuban sandwich outpost

By Clay Fong
I´m the first to admit that my familiarity with Cuban fare is somewhat limited, and I certainly claim no particular expertise regarding the sandwiches of this  island nation. Sure, I’ve enjoyed a Cuban meal or two in Miami, but I came away with the feeling that I was eating gussied-up South Beach versions of the real McCoy. Closer to home, I dined a while back at Denver’s well-regarded Cuba Cuba, and enjoyed my meal, but I haven’t had a chance to make a return visit.

Fortunately, Cuba Cuba has a new Boulder outpost, the affordably priced Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria. One suspects this quick-serve venture has franchising ambitions, as the first impression of the general setup is that it’s like Chipotle with a better color scheme. But this eatery also distinguishes itself with a lively Cuban soundtrack and surprisingly pleasant shaded outside tables.

The menu spotlights $7 sandwiches, as well as $6.50 rice bowls topped with a choice of vegetables, beef, pork or fish. For $5.75, you can have a Caesar or watercress salad, or a kids’ plate consisting of either a scaled-down bowl with juice or grilled ham and cheese. Cuban-style soft drinks are available for $1.75. These aren’t bottled in Cuba, so they don’t run afoul of the trade embargo. You’ll need quite the sweet tooth to fully appreciate these beverages, such as the pineapple Jupina, although they possess more complex flavors than typical sodas.

Friend Jon diverged from the sandwich route with a scrumptious Picadillo bowl, consisting of stewed ground sirloin, white rice and beans. Raisins andolives contributed depth to the beef, while the beans were wonderfully garlicky. While I can’t gauge this dish’s authenticity, it certainly possessed the heft and robust flavors of the best peasant food, and that’s a compliment. 

“Ridiculously good,” is how colleague Carin described the Boulder Cuban sandwich. While a typical Cuban is a meaty affair, this healthier interpretation highlights grilled vegetables prepared in the escabeche style with a whiff of vinegar. Other fillings included jalapeno, arugula and Haystack chevre. This meatless creation is just as satisfying as its meat-laden analogues, and it can be rendered vegan-friendly by deleting the cheese.

For a side, we enjoyed $2.50 orders of sweet plantain. These were soft and warm, with bits of caramelization around the edges. A condiment of aromatic mojo garlic sauce cut the sweetness, and Carin continued her tradition of layering a slice or two of this banana cousin on her sandwich. This addition certainly enhanced her Boulder Cuban by adding a touch of richness and intriguing texture.

The Minuta de Pescado sandwich, anchored by a mahi tempura filet, was nearly perfect. Fans of Baja-style fish tacos will likely gravitate to this choice, which features a perky garlic habanero aioli that adds distinct but not overwhelming heat. Cilantro and cabbage make for a welcome slaw-like garnish, adding a crisp complement to the moist and flaky fish. If the batter was crunchier, this pescado would achieve perfection.

We ended with a $3 Tres Leches cake.

This dessert packed enough creamy flavor and impossibly moist texture for the three of us, or as Jon put it, “four normal folks.”

Satisfying at twice the price, this milky dessert epitomizes the quality, unique flavors and value that position the Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria as a worthy counterpart to its Denver namesake.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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