Bia’s Café Marinao, Cuban Style

Bia's Cafe Marinao

Every once in a while I like to deviate from the usual proper sit-down restaurant and delve into something that requires me to pick up food with my hands. Having had a craving for a really good sandwich, I knew that I could not go wrong with a Cuban sandwich. And rather than going to the usual Cuban sandwich shops that I have logged in my smart phone, I looked for a place where I had not been. Bia’s Café Marinao at the new location of 4323 W. Addison Street in Chicago’s Old Irving neighborhood seemed like it was a good spot on reading the menu. It was an outstanding café on going for the first visit.

Chicken Empanadas

Chicken Empanadas

Not large and rather popular, given the constant flow of patrons coming for pick-up and dining in, I had a seat at the counter against the wall and indulged a chicken empanada that came with a guava barbecue sauce and a cubano. The empanada was fresh, quite evident from the flaky crust. And I liked that the chicken was seasoned nicely, which really lent itself to going well with the guava barbecue sauce. Ropa viejas have always been my go-to Cuban sandwich and switching it up a bit this time was an excellent idea. Thinly sliced ham, roasted pork, topped with a mustard jam and pickles, I quickly decided that I will retire my love affair with ropa viejas.

Cubano

Cubano

During my second visit, I wanted to sample another sandwich. This time I ordered a medianoche. This sandwich is very much like a cubano, except the bread has a bit of a sweetness to it and without the mustard jam. Hearty, flavorful, and with a bloom of flavor from each bite, I was conflicted because I had sworn the cubano to be my now-favorite Cuban sandwich during my first visit. While finishing the medianoche and downing a cup of café con leche, I knew that this meant I had to return at a later date to see if I could conflict my interest more.

Medianoche

Medianoche

During the third time, I had one beef and one chicken empanada, this time with a spicy sauce for dipping. Again, trying a different sandwich, I ordered a steak and cheese that came with thinly sliced tomatoes and Swiss cheese, drizzled with a mild citrus oil. While not overloaded, there was enough flavor packed into the sandwich to make me punt a Philly cheesesteak if it were put in front of me. Not only that, I simply had to accept the fact that there isn’t one sandwich at Bia’s Café Marinao that I can’t honestly call my favorite because all of them are.

Steak and Cheese

Steak and Cheese

As mentioned earlier, there is a steady stream of customers that come in to order for take-away and for dining in. Noticing the service the three different times that I have gone, they are consistently friendly and attentive. The café is not in an area with lots of foot traffic, so the fact that they get a lot of constant business speaks to how fantastic the sandwiches are and how welcoming the service is. I have never been one to say that I am a fan of sandwiches, but Bia’s Café Marinao changed that for me. This is my favorite sandwich shop in Chicago.

Cafeteria Marianao Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Cubanito, For the Love of the “Sammich”

El Cubanito

Logan Square had a small walk-up on the far west end of the neighbourhood for years. El Cubanito at 2555 N. Pulaski Road was a favourite that served Cuban sandwiches and was a magnet for locals as well as those from other neighbourhoods. And as many times as I had walked by it, I never got in any of the long lines to try out their sandwiches. And then there was a change to the walk-up. It closed and expanded into a nice sized restaurant. I then made it a point to go for a visit.

Cafe con Leche

Cafe con Leche

I had gone several months ago and had a ropa vieja since I wanted something fast. I was completely blown away with how much I loved the way they piled the sandwich with shredded beef in a rather savoury tomato-based gravy. Added to that the plantains on the sandwich and I understood the long lines when the restaurant was a walk-up. Recently, I returned and had a steak sandwich. Chopped steak, swiss cheese, lettuce, shoestring potatoes, and house sauce fell from between the bread. There was nothing neat about the sandwich and that was fine, especially once each bite captivates you. Besides, you get a fork so that you can finish anything that falls back into the carton that the sandwich comes in. And the cafe con leche I ordered resulted in me returning a day later for another one. Like other Cuban restaurants I’ve gone to, the cafe con leche is addictive.

Cubano Steak

Cubano Steak

There are a few other sandwiches on the menu, a house soup, arroz con leche, flan, and beverages ranging from coffee to sodas. There isn’t an extensive menu and this may serve El Cubanito well because they’re excelling in a few sandwiches rather than being all over the place with a booklet of items to prepare. If there is one thing I have learned about these small cafes and walk-ups is that the lines are not long because those places are novelties. The lines are long because the food makes you forget whatever promises you’ve made to someone else and show up so that you can get fed.

El Cubanito Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato