Home Food + Drink La Pola: The Best Cuban Sandwich in West New York

La Pola: The Best Cuban Sandwich in West New York

by Yiwei Gu
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Cuban sandwiches are, arguably, some of the tastiest sandwiches out there and here in Hudson County, we’re lucky to have them in abundance. So last winter, when Food Network star Carl Ruiz {who tragically recently passed away} after having tasted more than 500 Cuban sandwiches across the country, declared that “the absolute best” Cuban sandwich comes from a small family diner called La Pola in West New York {at 5400 Palisade Avenue, Wet New York}, people were intrigued.

A minor social media debate followed. People from Tampa and Miami, two cities with long-standing Cuban communities, chimed in to express disbelief. After all, the humble Cuban sandwich made of pork, ham, and Swiss cheese, seasoned with pickles, mustard, and mayonnaise, is not a New Jersey specialty. We visited La Pola and sampled a few of its special sandwiches to find out just what this hype was all about. Keep reading to learn more about La Pola — serving the best Cuban sandwich in West New York.

la pola west new york

About Cuban Sandwiches

The ingredients of a Cuban sandwich — the mix of pork, ham, and cheese— tell the story of a cultural blend among immigrants in Industrial America. In the 19th century, a sandwich — especially the pork and ham kind,  thanks to the Spanish influence on Cuban Islands — was a common food among Cubans who traveled frequently between Cuba and Florida. When the tobacco industry emerged and thrived in Key West, these meaty but affordable sandwiches provided the heavy caloric need of the manual work and long hours in the cigar factories, and quickly became the go-to lunch option for local workers.

In the 1890s, when Martinez-Ybor, the country’s then major tobacco manufacturer, moved his tobacco business north to Tampa due to labor unrest and land shortage around Key West, thousands of workers of Cuban, Spanish, and Italian descent followed and settled down into the newly-built factory town. There, the sandwich became the embodiment of the vibrant ethnic mixture of the community — the massy roast pork and sweet ham was a nod to the pork-heavy Spanish-Cuban culinary tradition, and Genoa salami, a new addition to the sandwich after it came to Tampa, was an Italian twist to the old recipe

Read More: Cubano X-Press: Serving the Best Cuban Sandwiches at Pier 13

What Goes Into a Cuban Sandwich at La Pola

la pola cuban sandwich

First, the bread: La Pola gets its excellent Cuban bread from a neighborhood bakery, which tastes airy and light even when firmly pressed {because Cuban sandwiches are known for being firmly pressed sandwiches, almost panini-like}. Diners will bite through the perfect crunchiness of the crust into the hearty warmth and fluffiness of the starch. The mild, tangy Swiss cheese melts lightly into the bread, adding a subtly gooey bite to the texture. A thin layer of mayonnaise, evenly spread on the bottom slice, seeps into the bread’s dense pores, giving it a richer and fuller body without making the bread soggy.

la pola cubano

On the inside, the pork is marinated and roasted, a process so well done that it locks in the seriously savory flavor of the pork tenderloin. The roasted pork is then hand-cut into neat, thin slices, and this is the secret that sets La Pola apart from a regular Cuban sandwich shop — many other restaurants use pulled pork, which tends to be either dry or mushy, and is a total waste of the succulence of pork tenderloin. Here, the pork slices have an earthy taste and moist texture, which creates just the right level of bite to add to the sandwich. The flavor is enhanced by the smoothly-flavored sweet ham added to the sandwich. And boom — there you have it, the secret to the tastiest Cuban sandwich in the area. And if you order the Especial de la Casa, prosciutto, salami, and chorizo are also added to the meat mixture, giving it a hearty, flavorful kick. 

About La Pola

la pola west ny

The food at La Pola also symbolizes the dynamic cultural and social mixture of the neighborhood, kind of like that earlier cultural mix the original Cuban sandwiches brought to Florida. Other than sandwiches, La Pola also serves common meat dishes from Central America, such as carne asada {grilled steak} or fricase de pollo {braised chicken}, on different days of the week. The restaurant is at the heart of a vibrant Hispanic community, and these substantial, satisfying dishes are much loved by the local residents. For snacks, get a bag of chicharron, the highly addictive Latin American treat made of fried pork skin. Those with a sweet tooth can also get their freshly squeezed sugarcane juice, a fixture in the Cuban and Floridian food scene. Or try the arroz con leche {rice with milk}, a traditional Spanish dessert. 

See More: La Isla {Uptown}: An Intimate Cuban Dining Experience

In fact, everything in the restaurant, including the retro espresso machine, the colorful ceramic Catholic icons, the no-frills vibe, as well as the ease and familiarity with which the owner and customers chat with each other, is reminiscent of a typical neighborhood eatery in small-town Spain, where the family originally came from. Rico, the always-smiling owner, has been running the business since 1978 and is still in charge of every step of the cooking. His old-school, no-nonsense {no lettuce, no tomato, no veggie substitute}, but extremely conscientious approach has made the eatery a neighborhood favorite for forty years.

In this way, the sandwiches are well worth the hype. But don’t go there just because of the hype. Simple, good food makes us happy, as long as the ingredients are thoughtfully managed, the flavors are well-balanced, and the cooking attentively executed. At La Pola, it all comes down to an honest, well-made Cuban sandwich. And you NEED to try it.

Have you tried a sandwich at La Pola yet? Let us know in the comments! 


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