A Sandwich a Day: Pan con Ropa Vieja from El Rinconcito Cubano
Editor's Note: In this great city of ours, one could eat a different sandwich every day of the year--so that's what we'll do. Here's A Sandwich a Day, our daily look at sandwiches around the Windy City. Got a sandwich we should check out? Let us know. --The Mgmt.
Just west of Kedzie Boulevard on a busy stretch of Fullerton Avenue is El Rinconcito Cubano, a tiny little Cuban restaurant that has been a Logan Square staple for over 20 years. When I stopped into the sunlit spot last week, I found myself surrounded by old men reading newspapers, a family having an early lunch, and businessmen quietly but passionately hammering out deals amongst themselves. I was the only non-Spanish speaker in the place. In my ethnic dining experience, this is a good sign.
Having always wanted to give ropa vieja (Spanish for "old clothes") a try, I asked the waitress what went into it. "Shredded beef in a tomato sauce seasoned with onions, green peppers, and whatever else she puts in it," she said, thumbing back to a stooped-over older woman in a frilly apron who was slowly but purposefully commandeering the tiny kitchen by herself. Another good sign.
The Pan con Ropa Vieja ($5.95) is a generous portion of the ropa vieja, piled on toasted Cuban bread, garnished with shredded iceberg lettuce and tomato slices. The sandwich eats like a Sloppy Joe, in that the tangy and slightly sweet mess of beef requires a bit of strategy if you don't want it to end up on your lap. The sandwich was comforting and somehow familiar. When I returned from washing my hands after eating, my table had already been taken over by two more patrons eager to get a swing at lunch. The good signs just keep piling up.