The Latin American Cafeteria
If you ask Miamians for their favorite sandwich counter, they’ll often mention the Latin American Cafeteria on Coral Way. The fact that it’s been closed for almost a decade doesn’t seem to have diminished its popularity. While researching the Cuban sandwich, I had to deliver the sad news to friends that the original Latin American no longer existed. People were so surprised that I had to wonder how many of us had driven down Coral Way and projected the giant arches and wrap-around counter onto the generic Sergio’s franchise that had taken its place. Though there are still eponymous Latin American locations throughout the city, it’s just not the same. There are many contenders for second, but it’s only what someone will settle for when they can’t get what they really want.
The last time time I went to the Latin American, I was with a friend visiting from Connecticut. Unable to talk her into the traditional, pork heavy Cuban sandwich, she ordered a turkey on white. The distracted waiter looked up from his pad to ask who’d placed the order. Pointing to my friend, he gave a shrug that said “allá tú” and rang in what I believe may have been the first turkey on white ordered there. I think they even forgot it was on the menu. When our orders came, my friend timidly asked to try the Cuban. She loved it and I offered to trade. As a good hostess, I wanted her to try the best my Miami had to offer. Of course, if I knew it was going to be my last, I wouldn’t have been so polite.
Home for the holidays, an uncle who is passionate about his cubanos and medianoches invited me to join his Sunday morning golf crew for an early lunch at Latin Cafe. What I found was the Latin American sandwich reduced to the essential elements – sweet bread stuffed with a slightly more ham than lechon, a well stocked island counter where the sandwiches are pressed to order, and a lonchero who know what he’s doing and makes you want to come back to the same spot again and again.
Latin Cafe, 875 N.W. 42nd Avenue, Miami, Florida, 305-642-4700