A Sandwich a Day: Sandwich de Bistec at Cafeteria Marcela

A Sandwich a Day

Reviews of Chicago sandwiches.


[Photograph: Sarah Song]

Cafeteria Marcela in Logan Square is putting out great sandwiches in a friendly, no-frills environment (picture a linoleum counter with stools, three tiny booths, and a take-out counter). The sandwich de bistec ($4.50) is an example of a relatively simple sandwich done extremely well, without pretension, and with plenty of soul. Thinly sliced pieces of steak are thrown onto a sizzling griddle in front of you, and manhandled a bit with a spatula. Caramelized griddled onions are added, and then cheese is melted on top. The choice of cheese is simple, either "white or yellow." Your pick is then melted on top of the steak. The bread is a wide, flat, golden pallet of a roll, which fits remarkably well in your hands.


This sandwich is in exquisite balance. First off, the sandwich itself is enormous in size, but every bite is manageable. The bread is exactly the right handle for the steak, not too thick, not too doughy, just crunchy and soft. The steak is hot from the flat-top, and so well-seasoned that it's tasty just by itself. Plus, it's so tender that there's no danger of dragging out all the meat in a single bite. The mozzarella is gooey and stretchy with each bite. The shredded iceberg lettuce and the sliced tomato add slight crunch and juice, without distracting from the main event (the steak). The scraping of mayonnaise is barely noticeable, adding just a hint of creaminess in the background.

The condiment of choice at Cafeteria Marcela is the outstanding house jalapeño hot sauce. Cool green in color, piquant, and with a gentle burn that builds to fiery heat, this sauce is absolutely the hot sauce of your (and my) dreams. Drizzled on top of the steak, it brings out the meaty flavor in the steak, soaks into the crusty bread, and desperately makes me wish I had taken up the offer of ice water. Plus, it comes in a giant squeeze bottle that I seriously would have stolen, if I hadn't stopped doing things like that twenty years ago.