Photo: The Straits Times
After watching Jon Favreau’s movie Chef (2014), you are going to want to eat a Cubano sandwich. That was what happened to me.
You can get a halal version in the heart of Singapore, one that is made with pulled beef brisket instead of the usual roast pork and ham.
Head to El Cubanos at the old Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) building in Short Street.
The tiny restaurant is a Little Cuba in Singapore, complete with a large Cuban flag mural and vibrant, framed images of the island showing the bustling city centre, among other scenes.
My dining companions and I order the signature pulled beef brisket Cubano ($8.80), one with mushrooms added for an extra $1.50, and a ribeye cheesesteak Cubano ($9.90).
Ours is the first order of the day, so perhaps the sandwich press is not fired up yet, but the food takes more than 30 minutes to arrive.
The Cubanos look legitimate enough, with panini press char marks on the crusty bread and the sandwiches sliced diagonally.
But while I am expecting tender, juicy meat, the pulled beef in the signature Cubano, unfortunately, is dry and chewy. The version with fried mushrooms fares much better, with the fungi adding much-needed moisture to the mix. I am also missing the vinegary hit from the dill pickles and oozy Swiss cheese that typically come in Cubanos.
However, the Philly cheesesteak version of the sandwich, with its melted nacho cheese and chilli hit from jalapeno peppers, is a winner. The meat, cooked with onions and bell peppers, is moreish and delicious.
The side of Cajun fries that comes with all the sandwiches is a rather sparse serving. The fries are crisp but dry, like they were fried in an air-fryer instead of a deep-fryer.
But that does not stop the crowd of mostly students and staff from the nearby Nafa and Kaplan campuses from thronging the place at lunchtime. It is full by 12.30pm on a Monday.
The establishment has been around since October 2015, having relocated from Jalan Kayu in June this year.
Since moving, the menu has expanded to include new items such as pasta and pizza (both from $10.90). There is also a thoughtful vegetarian Cubano filled with mushrooms for $8.50.
But perhaps the restaurant should focus on perfecting its Cubanos instead of adding too many dishes. Either way, I would much rather have a Cubano than a burger from a fast-food joint any day.
This article was first published in The Straits Times