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La Ideal’s Cuban Sandwich

Updated February 23, 2016
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This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Located in what was once an old grocery store, La Ideal is a favorite neighborhood hangout for members of Tampa’s Cuban-American community. The scene is animated and relaxed. Regulars chat from table to table, but the feeling is inclusive, with visitors made to feel like members of the family. A dynamic force behind the atmosphere at La Ideal is Majito, Mario Aguila Jr. Majito’s dad, Mario Sr., moved his family to the United States from Cuba in 1966. After ten years in New York, the family settled in Tampa and opened La Ideal. In 2005 Mario Sr. sold La Ideal to Luis and Juanita Tejada. The ownership has changed, but Majito has stayed on at the front of the house, and with Juanita in charge in the kitchen, the food is still great. Cuban sandwiches, toasted in a large sandwich press, are a specialty of the house. Pork is the most popular meat in Cuba, and if they have the room, many Cuban families keep a pig or two. Pigs are easy to care for, and if there is a special occasion like a daughter’s fifteenth birthday or a wedding, the pig may either be slaughtered for the feast or sold to pay for the celebration.

4 large sandwiches; serves 4 to 8

CostInexpensive

Moderate

Total Timeunder 30 minutes

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

One Pot MealYes

OccasionFamily Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course

Equipmentpanini press

Five Ingredients or LessYes

Meallunch

Taste and Texturecheesy, meaty

Type of Dishgrilled sandwich

Ingredients

  • 2 loaves Pan Cubano (Cuban Bread) or French bread
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons yellow mustard
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 or 3 dill pickles, cut into long, thin slices
  • 1/3 to ½ pound thinly sliced Swiss cheese
  • 1/3 to ½ pound thinly sliced ham
  • 1/3 to ½ pound shredded or thinly sliced Puerco Asado (Roast Pork Loin)
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons melted butter

Instructions

Trim the ends off the bread loaves, then cut the loaves into 8-inch sections. Split the sections in half lengthwise. Spread mustard on the cut side of each bottom half and mayonnaise on each top half. Layer pickle slices on top of the mustard, then add layers of cheese, ham, and Puerco Asado. Place the other half of the bread on top, mayonnaise side down. Preheat a sandwich or panini press, or, if you don’t have one, preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the tops of the sandwiches with butter. Put the sandwiches in the press (or arrange them on a nonstick baking sheet and place another baking sheet on top; weight down the baking sheet with a heavy iron skillet or a brick wrapped in aluminum foil). Press or bake the sandwiches until they are crisp and golden brown and the cheese has melted, 6 to 8 minutes. Cut the sandwiches in half on the bias and serve.

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