Inside the Dulceria, it’s warm and quiet. The air, heavy with the scent of toasted cheese and griddled bread, seems to mute the sounds of the cafe like snowfall. Sure, there’s the airy splat sound of a mustard bottle occasionally, which is the yellow light that signals that you’re about to get your Cuban sandwich. Soon, the paper-wrapped basket — the presentation of some of the greatest foods in the world — shows up. Inside are their signature soft and crusty bread shards, the classic shape that's unlike any other sandwich. It's cut into windows to show the layers of roasted, shredded pork, ham, pickle and melted cheese all in plain view.
This little Carrollton shop, family-run since 1979, serves one of the best sandwiches in the metroplex. The bread is as accurate as Robin Hood's arrow. A crunchy shell, thin and delicate as an egg, forms on the griddle. Cheese fuses into the bread as though it’s part of the molecules. The heavy salt of the meats breaks against the mustard like water on a rock, and pickle discs are always good. It’s a truly perfect sandwich.
There are five excellent Cubanos in Dallas-Fort Worth, each slightly tweaking the definition of “authentic” enough to send homey, comforting sandwiches out of the kitchen. Here are the five best damn Cubanos around:
Cuban Dulceria International Bakery
1017 S Broadway St., Carrollton
They grew up around fresh bread. When Rita and Sara Vasquez took over their father’s bakery in 2009, they expanded the menu with sandwiches, pastries and coffee. The Cubano, the authentic original with ham, roasted pork, mustard and pickle, had always been on the menu. It’s full of warm spice and melted cheese.
“I believe it’s our bread,” co-owner Rita Vasquez says. “It’s the same recipe that dad had.”
It's hard to disagree — that bread has a buttery, crunchy shell, leading to piping-hot softness. Dig in and grab an espresso for the road.
701 Commerce St. (Downtown) and 5844 Abrams Road (East Dallas)
Fire leaps up from the pan at this deli off of Northwest Highway. Fresh-cut fries cage-dive in oil, burbling with urgency. Pull over: This is where you wait out the traffic. Aside from the kitchen’s cooking sounds, it’s serene inside East Dallas' Latin Deli. Their version of the iconic sandwich is neat and exact, layers of fresh pork and ham, richness offset by the sharpness of Provolone cheese. Look away, purists: Fernando Barrero swipes on mayonnaise and tomato to his soft bookends of bread. It’s delicious, simple and under 10 bucks.
1530 Main St. (Downtown)
“After living in Miami, I wanted to take a more refined approach to the classic,” says CBD's Executive Chef Nick Walker.
His team sears pork shoulder, then drops it in a savory bath of green chili, garlic, onion and orange juice. The resulting juices are pulsed with herbs — parsley and cilantro — and hits of vinegar and salt. They shred the pork and immerse it in the finished mojo verde sauce. CBD earns a pork award (Can we call the awards “The Nitrateys?”) for making their own prosciutto. The fancy ham meets Gruyere, which melts spectacularly, along with house-made bread and butter pickles. Beer-infused mustard is a beautiful flourish. How could it not be?
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5940 Royal Lane (North Dallas)
“I love Cuban sandwiches. I figured it’d be great with the grilled arepa,” says chef MaryAnn Allen.
At Arepa TX, the Bolivian chef’s North Dallas joint, the Cubana is not a traditional presentation of the classic sandwich. Allen's corn shells are thin and crusty on the outside, embossed by a panini press, with a light, fluffy interior. Pork, ham, pickle and mustard are flavors you know, but the shell, as bright and singularly corn-flavored as a bite of an Iowa field would be, is what makes this little gem. Also, Oaxaca cheese — the stretchy, melty good stuff — helps land this one on the list.
Zaguan Latin Cafe & Bakery
2604 Oak Lawn Ave. (Oak Lawn)
The griddle crackles with oil. Paisa, a breezy, clean white cheese that Zaguan slices, grates or fries to order, finds an arepa. There are enough powder sugar treats in the glass case to fill a Subaru's trunk, but that’s not what you’re here for right now: You’re here for the ham and cheese, Zaguan's decadent-with-roasted-pork Cuban. It’s layered paperback-thick with pork and good fried ham. The pickles and the Paisa cheese meld, and you’ll feel warmth from head to toe — or an escape from the asphalt heat of Dallas to the humid atmosphere of Miami. Dunk a corner in their bright, hot salsa and trust a good sandwich.