Cubanos & Food Trucks: a match made in culinary heaven

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In December, the diplomatic miracle that opened U.S.-Cuban relations shocked the world. For states with small Cuban immigrant populations, this news was less significant. However, for those living in New York and Miami the historic decision made by President Obama was long-awaited, and raised hope in the hearts of many Cuban-Americans and non-Cubans alike.

Cuban food is one of the most succulent, rich, and multi-textured cuisines, as those who have tried it may know. Influenced by West African, Chinese and European cooking, Cuban food is a melting pot (quite literally) of the greasiest, saltiest and crispiest of palates. Fried plantains, roasted pork, rice and beans, and yuca comprise just a handful ingredients used in traditional Cuban dishes.

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Despite the rather significant Cuban population in Los Angeles (estimates are around 50,000) there are only a handful of Cuban restaurants scattered from Manhattan Beach to Pomona. The once-significant Cuban presence in Echo Park has dwindled greatly since the arrival in the 1960s, likely due to gentrification among other reasons. Unlike taco trucks, which can be found on every corner in Los Angeles, the search for Cuban food is much more difficult. This is a common problem in a “city” whose “metro area” encompasses 4,850 square miles. In most cases, unless one is willing to drive great distances for Cuban food, which I would imagine the average person is not, there is a gaping gastronomic hole in the palates of L.A. eaters.

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The Crispy Cuban, a authentic Cuban food truck that services the L.A. area and boasts the “Best Cuban Sandwich Ever” presents a solution to this problem. I first encountered The Crispy Cuban last weekend at the NELA Art Walk. Lines extended down York Boulevard and Avenue 50 so that customers could sample the Tampa Cuban: slow-roasted pork, house-cured ham, genoa salami, swiss cheese, dill pickle and Mojo sauce, hot-pressed on a Super Crispy Cuban baguette, as well as the Ropa Vieja yuca fries (slow-cooked shredded beef with tomatoes, peppers, onions, cilantro, olives, and capers) — pictured below.

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Though there is no mention of it anywhere, Jon Favreau’s $31 million-grossing film, Chef, was based off of The Crispy Cuban. I found this fact shocking, considering that the cast boasts Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara and Robert Downey Jr., among others. The film premiered last March at the SXSW film festival. I found this out from the petite, enthusiastic Cuban woman who took my order at The Crispy Cuban when it visited Highland Park. I remarked to her how I had been searching for good Cuban food since I moved to Los Angeles, and had yet to find it, relying on trips home to New York City to visit the local Cuban eateries.

“You know the movie Chef? It’s based off of us. That’s my son,” she said, pointing to a young man working inside the food truck, “…and I’m the ex-wife!” she told me with a proud grin on her face. “We started two years ago and we’ve been busy ever since.”

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