Old Havana Sandwich Shop is a Cuban restaurant downtown. It is situated in one of the “up and coming” areas of Durham, located near the Durham County Health Department, which supplies much of the lunch crowd.
The dining room is busy at lunchtime. They try to pack as many tables as possible to meet the demand and there are some chairs up on a ledge in the back. If seeing so many people gives you anxiety, much of the crowd works in healthcare so they can probably help you out.
We came shortly after noon and met this gaggle of diners, but there were plenty of tables to be had by 12:50, suggesting that the noon lunch break crowd is strong.
In full disclosure, I have never been to Cuba (thanks JFK), but I have to imagine that places in Havana actually match this spot. Viewing the artwork throughout the dining room or watching people smiling under the high ceiling fans, I feel transported to the Caribbean island nation.
Guests order at the counter from the extensive lunch menu.
While waiting in line, you are afforded a nice view of the kitchen churning out hundreds of Cuban sandwiches a day.
The Cafe cubano ($1.50) stands in the background behind the Cortadito ($1.65), its frothier cousin. This is the real deal. Super concentrated, dark coffee with tons of sugar served in a demitasse. This is not for the faint of heart, for both its strong espresso flavor and sweetness. Of course, you could order these unsweetened, but that would be a low Fidel-ity experience.
The Croquetas ($3.75) are fried fritters with pork. They’re a tasty handheld treat that are fried without being oily on your fingers. A crispy coating gives way to a soft, thick interior with bits of meat.
This is the El Caney ($8.75), a melange of pork, avocado, cheese, mustard, and mojo sauce. It’s really the best deal on the menu, seeing as their traditional Cuban goes for the same price without the avocado. I’ve been here several times and this is my go-t0. The avocado is spread generously over the top layer of grilled bread, creating a creamy interface that mitigates some of the bread’s dryness.
The Tampa ($8.95) is a grilled sandwich with roasted pork, ham, cheese, salami, mustard, pickles, and mojo sauce. The bread is crisp and dry and the mustard flavor permeates every bite. The slow-roasted pork is quite tender as well.
A bowl of Spanish Olives ($2.50) is a salty, pimento-filled accompaniment to the meal. The fruit has a plump texture and vibrant green color.
We enjoyed some sweet, tender Maduros (2 for 80¢). If you love plantains like I do, these will not disappoint. These were a mini-dessert for us. Now if only we can get some condensed milk poured on top- like they do at Chubby’s.
Come have an authentic Cuban sandwich at this restaurant downtown. It’s the closest we’ll get to the real thing until the embargo fully comes down. I’m looking at you, Obama.
Old Havana Sandwich Shop
310 E Main St, Durham, NC 27701