The Best Cuban Restaurants In LA guide image


The Best Cuban Restaurants In LA

11 spots for Cuban sandwiches, pastelitos, and cafecito.

LA is certainly not Miami when it comes to Cuban food options, but it’s still home to one of the country’s largest and fastest-growing Cuban communities. Although the first sizable wave of Cuban immigrants didn’t come until the 1960s, Cuba’s music had already influenced the city’s social scene through mambo, Latin jazz, and people’s love for the chachachá. Many of these Cuban immigrants also opened successful restaurants, some of which are included in this very guide.

LA’s Cuban restaurants are undeniably great and range from 40-year-old family businesses to world-famous sandwich shops and the occasional salsa bar for a much-needed mojito, but these are the 11 best.

The Spots

El Cochinito

El Cochinito is a white-tiled lunch spot off Sunset with delicious Cuban food and some very well-deserved bragging rights. The family-owned restaurant is particularly known for its excellent Cuban sandwich that in 2018 got voted “Best In The World” by a panel of so-called Cubano experts. But whether you’re a self-described purist or not, the set standards for a true Cuban sandwich are still pretty strict, and El Cochinito perfectly executes each aspect. The star ingredient is the lechon asado (slow-roasted pork), which is very juicy from its citrusy mojo marinade. The sandwich’s sliced ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard each add their own sweet, salty, and spicy flavors while sharing prime real estate with thick slabs of lechon. The soft Cuban roll then gets buttered and firmly pressed to make a really good hot sandwich that possibly deserves its own merch (which, by the way, is Bobby Cannavale approved).

This classic Silverlake coffee shop has been open for decades and was acquired back in 2019 by the owners of El Cochinito. This has resulted in a mini Cuban food empire on the Eastside, with Café Tropical still serving up its famous Cuban coffees, medianoche sandwiches, and delicious pastelitos. If you wander in at 7am in need of caffeine and comfort in the form of pastries, order a strong cortadito (1:1 ratio of milk and espresso) and the café’s signature guava cheese turnover. It comes with a deep golden crust with tiny specks of guava paste bursting out from the flakey dough and tastes like the marriage between our favorite cheese danish and some of the best fruit jam we’ve ever had. It’s creamy, sweet, slightly tart, and our ideal way to start the day because life’s too short not to have pastelitos.

La Cubana

A meal at La Cubana is like listening to that Prince’s Greatest Hits album your dad always leaves in his car: solely the classics, you’ve experienced it all before, but you still hit replay because it just gets you every time. An obscure reference? Maybe. But like our love for Prince, people have been returning here time and time again for quality Cuban food since it first opened in 1973. This Glendale restaurant serves usual lunchtime staples like fluffy white rice, great black beans, fried cutlets, ham sandwiches, and one very delicious rabo encendido (slow-cooked oxtails cooked in tomato sauce). The meat comes out extremely tender after bubbling in a tomato-heavy sofrito and pretty much collapses the moment you poke it with your fork. For an excellent sweet/savory combo, pair the garlicky and tomato-y beef with some sweet fried plantains.

Open since 1969, El Colmao wins the award for longest-operating Cuban restaurant in LA, which essentially makes it a historical monument. However, age is but a number and we’re far more interested in the fact that the food here has stood the test of time. Their pork chops, for example, are some of the tastiest cutlets we’ve come across, arriving beautifully browned on both sides, perfectly cooked, and topped with grilled onions for a bit of added sweetness. El Colmao also provides a sour and spicy green salsa that goes great on, well, everything - including the thinly tenderized chops. Leave some room at the end because this spot has a rich guava compote that’s served with a dollop of thick cream. Our advice: order a few for the table because four spoons are three too many for this relatively small dessert.

To know Cuban food is to experience pork in all of its glory, whether it’s breaded, sliced in a sandwich, fried in chunks, or our personal favorite - slow-roasted to perfection. That’s where Mambo’s Cafe comes in, a Glendale restaurant (and occasional Latin jazz club) that specializes in roasted pork dishes with plenty of tart mojo. Rather than going on some spiel about the dozens of spices that make this massive hunk of pork something particularly special, we’re pleased (and kind of impressed) that the meat comes entirely unseasoned. Or at least at first. After hours of slow cooking in its own fat and juices, the tender meat is shredded, slapped on the griddle, and generously slathered in mojo sauce made from white wine, garlic, and tons of fresh citrus. The final product is a plate with rice, beans, sweet fried plantains, and chunks of shredded pork with crispy edges and plenty more sour mojo on top.

Located in Historic Filipinotown, Gigi’s Cafe Cubano is a great lunch spot and bakery where you can find everything from Cubanos to golden pastries and that last-minute cake you forgot to buy for your roommate’s birthday. The options here are truly limitless, but the delicious guava cheese pastelito is the one thing that frequently crawls into our subconscious. Savory options include a great medianoche sandwich, which is a close relative to the meaty Cubano but on a sweeter, fluffier roll, or their papa rellenas - fried potato balls stuffed with shredded beef. These soft yet crispy potato croquettes are enough of a reason to stop by Gigi’s, but you’ll most likely spend a few minutes mindlessly browsing through their pastry displays too.

El Floridita Cuban Restaurant

If you’re looking for a festive Cuban restaurant with great food, stop by El Floridita in Hollywood on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday night. But if you’re looking for a live music venue/Latin dance club that also happens to serve great food, then you’ll want to show up on a Monday, Friday, or Saturday evening instead (for a fixed menu running $50/person.) The vibrant scene at their salsa nights made El Floridita a cultural hub for the Cuban community, but the food here is quite good too. The arroz con pollo, a tomato-based rice dish with tender chicken, peas, and roasted bell peppers, is delicious, hearty, and perfectly moist from ladles of chicken stock. It also comes with black beans and fried plantains for the full Cuban spread, adding some extra moisture and sweetness to the heaping pile of rice. The only downside: it takes roughly 40 minutes to prepare, but don’t panic. You’re at El Floridita after all, so have a mojito, scream over the music to have a meaningful conversation, or just give in and dance.

Versailles Cuban Restaurant shares the same name as the world-famous restaurant on Miami’s Calle Ocho, where you’ll frequently find Cuban abuelos sipping on a cafecito and yelling about politics in 80% humidity. You won’t stumble upon political commentary or too many grandpas at this Palms spot, but you definitely will find some excellent food. The house specialty is the roasted garlic chicken that comes generously seasoned with lemon juice to the point that the acidity coats the bird’s golden skin. The entire half-chicken is super juicy and gets drenched in Versailles’ garlic sauce that is strictly reserved for garlic’s top 5% of fans. This sauce is intense, but delicious when paired with the chicken’s lemon juice and the sweetness of your fried plantains that come as a side.

Atwater Village is full of family-owned restaurants like Baracoa Cuban Cafe, a narrow, dimly lit spot that’s reminiscent of an old-school trattoria with its muraled walls and red jar candles. It’s also a perfect place for a quick lunch with a friend, or maybe a date with yourself for a Cubano, a glass of sangria, and a post-sandwich stroll around the block as you contemplate popping into one of the neighborhood’s many dive bars. The café serves Cuban classics like arroz con pollo, fried empanadas, and our favorite, ropa vieja - a salty shredded beef stew that somehow manages to make beef stew interesting for a change. Baracoa’s version comes as thick chunks of shredded meat in a dark tomato sauce packed with bell peppers, onion, garlic, and briny green olives.

Our idea of a good Cuban sandwich usually consists of some good bread, a firm press, high-quality ham, and spicy mustard that packs a kick. Luckily for us, Havana Sandwich Company in El Segundo constantly meets, if not surpasses, our standards, starting off with getting its bread from a local Cuban bakery. But the menu doesn’t stop at just Cubanos. With two dozen sandwiches to choose from, you’ll find all kinds of combinations, like classic reubens, vegetarian options, and various rifts on the usual Cuban sandwich. The Miami Cuban is our personal favorite and comes with the usual ingredients, plus mayo and salami. Adding some cured pork to the already pork-heavy sandwich might sound like overkill, but the extra saltiness from the salami really brings out the flavors in the other cuts. And if you’re not in the mood for pork but want to sample a Cubano anyway, opt for the roast beef version, which tastes great with melted swiss and mustard.

Something about El Rincon Criollo reminds us of a café you’d find in Key West, where everyone wears their favorite Tommy Bahamas and silently suffers through an excruciating sunburn as they sip on their third mojito of the day. Maybe it’s the dangling fishing nets on the ceiling or its vibrant tropical decor, but this spot really transports us somewhere that’s certainly not Culver City. The food here, by the way, also happens to be very tasty, especially their excellent lechon asado. This slow-roasted pork dish is juicy, crispy, and tangy from the garlic mojo sauce that coats the tender meat. Besides the usual rice, black beans, and plantains, it’s finished off with a hefty serving of grilled onions on top that soak up all the acidic juices from that mojo sauce we love so much.

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photo credit: Baracoa Restaurant

The Best Cuban Restaurants In LA guide image