The Cubano sandwich and the Mexican torta have more than a few things in common: both hail from Spanish-speaking cultures, both share characteristics with toasty subs, and both sandwiches make perfect after-midnight sustenance.
The Cubano actually earned the nickname medianoche, or midnight, for its role as a post-dancing snack. But as I recently proved after tearing up the dance floor at a wedding in Chicago, followed by a little honky tonk at Carol's Pub until 3 a.m., the torta makes an equally suitable meal after medianoche.
I can't remember what this place was called — does it really matter? — but I do know that I scarfed down a chicken torta there, and it hit the spot.
I recently spent a wonderful but torturous two days in Chicago — torturous because I can only eat so many meals in two days, yet I have many Chicago restaurants I want to sample. (I did eat some great food, just not a sandwich.) High on my list is Gaztro-Wagon, a food cart pioneer specializing in naan-wiches.
I consider naan a criminally underutilized bread. I've made my own tandoori chicken naan-wiches and wrapped Rosamunde sausages in naan. Gaztro-Wagon seems willing to fold just about any cuisine into the Indian flatbread: Italian sausage, lamb and tzatziki, chicken and brie, smoked salmon and creme fraiche, and wild boar belly and fennel.
For now, Gaztro-Wagon is operating out of a storefront until Chicago's food-truck ordinance passes (any day now), and the chef and creator, Matt Maroni, helped craft the legislation. Maybe when Gaztro-Wagon's wheel are legit, he can drive out to San Francisco.
Polish has never been my first pick among sausages, but after one bite of a famed Maxwell Street Polish sausage sandwich, I finally understood. The 24-hour Express Grill
specializes in this classic Chicago street food: a grilled Polish on a hot dog bun, topped with silky grilled onions and yellow mustard. You take one bite of the sandwich then follow it with a taste of the pickly peppers on the side.
I ended up here right before eating my first Italian beef sandwich
. I was talking sandwiches with Michael Stadnicki, an exec at Al's Beef's parent company, and the Polish sounded so intriguing, he insisted on driving me to Express Grill stat. The sandwich has a fascinating history.
For my first Italian beef experience, I headed to Al's Beef, in Chicago's Little italy. Al's claims to have invented the Italian beef sandwich, and no one really argues. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that the original sandwich stand acted as a front for bookies — until the Italian beef business became even more lucrative than the gambling.
This classic Chicago sandwich sounds simple: thin sliced, seasoned beef, cooked in its own juices, then topped with hot giardiniera or sweet peppers. But the flavors are unbelievably complex. Al's cooks its meat in a blend of 19 seasonings that hints at everything from garlic to nutmeg to oregano. Take a virtual trip with the photos below.