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Who is The Saboscrivner?

I love food.  Love eating, love cooking, love discovering, talking about, recommending, and reviewing food.  Food is everything: culture, history, art, science, politics.  In these uncertain times, I think sharing a good meal is something everyone can find common ground over, even if they’re diametrically-opposed foes on every other topic.  So here’s one more food blog that can possibly even contribute to the shared human experience in this tumultuous world.

I live in the Orlando, Florida area.  Orlando has been unfairly dismissed for far too long as being “chain restaurant hell,” a destination for theme park tourists and not much else.  But I’ve lived here since 2004, and I love our rich, diverse, multicultural city, which has a TREMENDOUS culinary scene.  We have amazing restaurants far from the gates of the parks (and a few that are closer), so the main point of this blog will reviewing my local food experiences.  I don’t make it out of town very often, but when I do, you bet I’ll review whatever I eat in more exotic locales.

I might also share recipes I create or find, or even review groceries that everyone needs to know about.  And occasionally I’ll just want to recommend or review something else: a good movie, TV show, band, comedian, book, or comic book.  I’m a librarian by trade and a lifelong nerd, so I tend to get enthusiastic about the stuff I like, and I want to share information and tell stories.

I’m a mediocre photographer with an even more mediocre phone camera, so I’ll try to share my culinary adventures with you as best I can, primarily using my words.  Hopefully you’ll read and follow this blog and feel inspired to try something new for yourself.  There’s so much good food out there, and you need to eat anyway, so why not treat yourself to something awesome?  Sometimes a good meal, or even a snack, can be the highlight of the day — either something to help you celebrate or cheer you up.  You might not always agree with me, but I look forward to hopefully building a following and a community, with all the constructive feedback that goes along with those.

Just a few warnings:
1. I don’t like hashtags.  This will be one food blog where you can always expect complete thoughts in complete sentences.
2. I don’t drink and I’m allergic to mushrooms, so don’t expect booze-and-shrooms content.
3. Nobody is paying me to do this, so everything I write is my own opinion, which I stand by with a clear conscience.

So what’s the deal with the title?  What the heck is a saboscrivner?  Well, I’m also a lifelong comic book reader (“This guy?  The hell, you say!”), and one of my favorite comics of the last decade was Chew, written by John Layman, drawn by Rob Guillory, and published by Image Comics.  The whole series is complete, and you can buy the volumes from your local comic book store or on Amazon, or check them out from your public library or on the Hoopla service.  It’s an action-adventure-crime-horror-sci-fi-comedy, set in a food-obsessed world where most of the main characters have food-related super powers.  Everyone’s powers receive a polysyllabic name and a description, and one of my favorites, a restaurant critic who is a main character in the Chew saga, served as a bit of a personal inspiration.

From her character introduction in Chew #3:  “Amelia Mintz is a saboscrivner.  That means she can write about food so accurately, so vividly and with such precision – people get the actual sensation of taste when reading about the meals she writes about.”

That saboscrivner ended up playing a key role in saving the world, but I’m just a regular guy trying to impart information as a food blogger, hoping to share the same sensory experience with my readers.  I hope you’ll decide to follow The Saboscrivner and turn to it for restaurant reviews and recommendations in Orlando and beyond.

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Wako Taco

Wako Taco (http://www.wakotaco.com/web/) is a casual Tex-Mex restaurant on Ronald Reagan Boulevard in Longwood, located directly next door to Hourglass Brewing, a huge brewery and 240-seat taproom that always has 40+ beers on tap, in very cool, nerd-chic surroundings.  There are a few tables at Wako Taco, but the two establishments are connected by a doorway, allowing people to bring Wako Taco’s delicious food into the huge brewery to enjoy there.

I think I first discovered Wako Taco in 2016, and I’m ashamed I haven’t gotten around to reviewing it yet, since I have always been a fan.  For one thing, I love the lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) mask motif, in its logo and decorations.  I hadn’t been in for quite some time, and they have since displayed all kinds of colorful masks worn by different luchadores… and they are all for sale!  (Yes, I was tempted.  No, I didn’t buy one.  This time.)  I couldn’t help but think of the very cool El Santo Taqueria I visited on Miami’s Calle Ocho, in the heart of Little Havana, back in 2019.   That place was so rad, especially with how hard they went with the lucha libre theming, but I greatly prefer the food at Wako Taco.
Note that the Wako Taco folks also displayed a Masters of the Universe Castle Greyskull on the top left shelf, along with He-Man and Skeletor Funko Pops.  That was never my thing, not as a kid nor as a nerdy adult collector, but I appreciate anyone’s cool collections.

You can read the menu online, but I took shots of the menu on large screens above the counter where you order, in part to show off the continuing lucha libre mask theming.  You can get larger images of the menu if you right-click these photos and open them in new tabs.

Here’s the other side:

On my first visit to Wako Taco (as well as all my subsequent visits, come to think of it), I ordered the finest chimichanga ($13.75) of my life.  Look at this work of art.  Even taken years ago on an older, much crappier phone camera, it’s still beautiful and beguiling.  For the uninitiated, a chimichanga is a deep-fried burrito.  I just love the golden crispiness of the deep-fried flour tortilla that becomes a shell, encasing the meat, beans, cheese, and rice inside.  It is topped with diced tomatoes, queso, and drizzles of guacamole and sour cream.  You can get your choice of meats, and this photo above contained my usual, spicy pulled puerco pibil.

Below you can see my most recent chimichanga.  Better camera, worse photo.  It was totally my mistake for trying ground beef instead of the superb pibil pork this time, and the green bell peppers chopped up on top would have been so much better sautéed, fajita-style, as they have been on all my past visits.  This was an anomaly, I can assure you.  It was still good, don’t get me wrong, but you never forget your first time.

This sandwich below is called the Dirty Concha ($9), and it contains Wako Taco’s outstanding puerco pibil and crunchy, pink pickled red onions on a sweet roll called a concha, kind of a neat alternative to a typical Mexican torta sandwich on a bolillo roll.  Believe it or not, that pink stuff you’re seeing on top of the bun is sweet, sticky sugar stripes.  It was a sandwich full of contrasts, between the piquant pibil, the tangy and slightly sweet pickled onions, the “habanero drizzle” I didn’t realize was there (but it would explain how surprisingly spicy the sandwich was, in a good way), and the sweet bun.   It also came with a side of blue corn chips that could have used a little more salt, but were fine.  I added a few to the sandwich to add a crunch factor to all those other amazing ingenious ingredients.

Below is another favorite I usually add onto my order, the namesake Wako Taco ($3.30), a breaded, fried, cheese-stuffed jalapeño topped with queso, refried beans, pico de gallo salsa, and sliced jalapeño, served in a soft flour tortilla.  I can’t leave without one of these things!

And this is a new discovery, a hibiscus tinga ($4.80).  Forgive the bad lighting, but this is a snack of actual hibiscus flowers, sautéed with onions and tomatoes and served in a soft flour tortilla.  The menu said it would be topped with grilled cactus (nopales, which sound about as weird as eating hibiscus, although both are tasty), but I didn’t notice no nopales.   It is a tasty dish for vegetarians and carnivores alike, though.

Wako Taco also has aguas frescas, those refreshing, non-carbonated, non-alcoholic drinks I love to see at any Mexican restaurant (and judge the ones that don’t have them).  On my most recent visit, they had horchata (creamy rice milk flavored with cinnamon and vanilla, so great for cutting the heat after a spicy bite) and jamaica (pronounced “ha-MY-kuh,” usually a dark red or purplish color, flavored with hibiscus flowers and lots of sugar).  I ordered an horchata, but I was sad they didn’t have piña (pineapple), a favorite flavor from past visits.  Sometimes I would even swing by and grab a piña agua fresca while running errands on hot days when I wasn’t ordering any food.

But those times were few and far between, because I find it hard to be in the neighborhood of Wako Taco (sometimes visiting Acme Superstore, Longwood’s museum-like comic book and collectible toy store) and not stopping by for a snack or a whole damn meal.  Orlando has no shortage of awesome and authentic Mexican restaurants, but if you like Tex-Mex, and especially chimichangas, or if you like hanging out at breweries while you eat, this is definitely the place for you.

Arbetter’s Hot Dogs (Miami)

Of all the restaurants I’ve written reviews for, I’ve been going to Arbetter’s Hot Dogs (https://www.arbetterhotdogs.com/index.html) the longest, ever since I was a little kid in the ’80s.  It’s an institution in Miami’s Westchester neighborhood, not far from where I grew up in Kendall, where my parents and brother still live.  The bright yellow building on Bird Road (SW 40th Street), just west of Galloway Road (SW 87th Avenue), has been serving up Miami’s most iconic hot dogs since 1972, after first opening in 1960 in a different location.  It has survived everything, from recessions to fickle foodie trends, keeping its prices low and its aesthetics simple and old-school.  It reminds me of Orlando’s beloved Beefy King that way, another culinary time capsule from a bygone era that continues to survive and thrive because it never changed what people love about it.

Even though my dad wouldn’t ever consider himself a foodie, he introduced me to all of his favorite Chinese restaurants and Jewish delis in Miami in the ’80s and ’90s, starting me on my lifelong quest to discover all the best food and tell people about it, whether they asked or not.  He would also take me to Arbetter’s, usually after trips to A&M Comics and Books, another Bird Road landmark that still survives today, the second-oldest comic book store in the country.  These jaunts fueled my lifelong loves of comic books and reading in general (and also hot dogs).

It had been far too long since I returned to this legendary hot dog spot for a taste of my youth, so it was fitting I made it back to finally write a review in 2022, its 50th anniversary in the Bird Road location.  That’s an incredible feat for any restaurant, especially in expensive, clout-chasing Miami.

Prices have gone up since the mid-’90s, the last time I was a permanent resident of Miami, but not as much as you would think:

I ordered two hot dogs, even though I could have easily eaten several more.  As Lake Street Dive sang (but surely not referring to hot dogs), they go down smooth.  On the left, behold Arbetter’s West Virginia dog ($3.99, a bargain at twice the price), topped with yellow mustard, onions, creamy cole slaw, and their delicious house-made chili (with no beans ever).  What a combination, between the crunch of the cabbage and onions versus the softness of the dog and the bun, the acidity of the chili and the pungence of the mustard versus the creamy coolness of the slaw.  On the right you see a traditional dog with mustard and sauerkraut ($2.99), the “control” in this little experiment.  The dogs are simple, and so are the plain buns. 
Since my last visit, back in 2015, Arbetter’s started selling grilled, all-beef, natural casing Sabrett hot dogs for slightly more money, which are high-quality dogs that I love and recommend.  But visiting the place I grew up and this particularly nostalgic restaurant, I had to go with the old-school boiled dogs, which are softer and smokier than the Sabretts, but not as salty or garlicky.  They tasted just as good as I remembered, and they went down soooo smooth.

Arbetter’s has always had awesome fries (currently $3.69), made even better by getting them topped with chili and molten melted cheese ($4.99).  Instead of getting fries on my July 2022 visit, I opted for the onion rings instead ($3.69), because as my constant readers know, I will ALWAYS opt for onion rings and review them on this blog in a little feature I like to call RING THE ALARM!  These were great onion rings — breaded rather than battered, not too thick or too thin, not too greasy, not ripping out of the breading.  I definitely rank them as “the good kind” of onion rings.  I dipped them in a ridiculous mound of ketchup, but in retrospect, I failed my readers and also myself by not getting them topped with chili and cheese (which would have also been $4.99, just like the fries).

Finally writing this review a few months after my meal at Arbetter’s, I’m feeling that nostalgia again and wishing I could get some right now.  I’ll almost certainly pick up a pack of hot dogs when I finally leave the house today, and I already have buns, a jar of Silver Floss kraut, and a multifarious multitude of mustards, plus some ground chuck defrosting in the fridge and a block of habanero cheddar begging to be shredded — everything I need for some chili cheese dogs and classic hot dogs of my own.  But it won’t be the same, not without that old yellow building with the same old faded posters and signs, the sense of community, and the memories of my youth.

I always felt like a stranger at home, growing up in Miami.  I have a good family and wonderful friends I’m still in touch with, but now I enjoy my rare visits to the city a lot more than I ever liked living there.  The food is a major aspect of why I appreciate Miami so much more now, and why I feel pride for my hometown that I never felt back in the day.  Even though Arbetter’s Hot Dogs isn’t fancy or glamorous, it’s an icon, an institution, and a survivor.  It still brings people together, over 50 years later, and makes them feel good, feel special, feel home.  And if that isn’t a microcosm for Miami, I don’t know what is.

Friends Indian Cuisine

Friends Indian Cuisine (https://friendsindiancuisine.com/) is a new halal Indian restaurant on South Semoran Boulevard, just north of Curry Ford Road in South Orlando, south of State Road 408.  It opened earlier this year (2022) and is building a loyal following due to excellent word of mouth.  The location has hosted a handful of restaurants before, but hopefully Friends is here to stay.  I have dined in twice and brought home takeout another time, so I couldn’t wait on this review any longer.  The short version: Friends is fantastic.  It’s another great recommendation to Orlando’s Indian restaurant scene, which I am slowly but surely working my way through.

From my first takeout trip, I brought home the two dishes I know my wife likes: butter chicken (left; $13.99) and palak paneer (right; $12.99) — both mild, for her sake.  The butter chicken is a delicious dish that was her gateway to appreciating Indian food: shredded dark meat chicken (all leg meat) stewed in a creamy tomato sauce.  It is very similar to chicken tikka masala (also on the menu for $14.99), but I’ve brought both to my wife before, and she prefers the butter chicken.  I love it too.  The palak paneer is cubes of cottage cheese (the paneer part) cooked with spinach in a creamy sauce.  It is another great gateway dish for people unfamiliar with Indian cuisine, especially vegetarians.  I’ve ordered an extremely similar dish called saag paneer at other Indian restaurants, but I just researched the difference: palak paneer is always made with spinach, while saag paneer can be made with spinach and/or any other leafy greens, particularly mustard greens.  Mystery solved!

I ordered lamb karahi ($14.99) for myself: boneless lamb strips cooked with tomatoes, onions, and green bell peppers in a curry sauce, served over basmati rice that came on the side.  Normally I order hot lamb vindaloo at Indian restaurants, but I switched it up to try the karahi for the first time.  I still got it hot, but it was a lot less vinegary and pungent than the vindaloo.   

I brought home an appetizer portion of vegetable pakoras ($4.99), a serving of six mixed vegetable patties dipped in chickpea batter and fried until golden-brown and crispy.  I thought my wife would like them too, but I ended up enjoying them more than she did, especially with tamarind sauce for dipping.

This was an order of tandoori paratha (top; $3.49), which is whole wheat bread layered with butter, and regular butter naan (bottom; $2.49, or you can get it with your entree as an alternative to plain basmati rice).  I wanted my wife to be able to compare and contrast them, but they were very similar.  Both breads were soft and warm from having been baked in a clay oven called a tandoor, and we really enjoyed both.  I am more used to buttery, flaky Malaysian-style parathas than the Indian variety, so this tandoori paratha was much more naan-like.  But trust me — I could eat these naan-stop.

If you don’t feel like ordering off the menu, or if you’re a newer convert to the wonderfulness of Indian food, Friends Indian Cuisine offers a daily all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for $12.99 on weekdays and $14.99 on weekends, from 11:30 AM until 3:30 PM.  I’ve had the lunch buffet twice now, and it is terrific.  The dishes on the buffet are all mildly spiced for a wide range of palates.

Here are all the options from my most recent visit:

You grab your plate near the naan bread, aloo pakora (crispy battered and fried potatoes that were replenished right after I took this photo, of course), a lentil soup, that I did not try, and sweet gulab jamon, a dessert dish of cake-like balls in a sugary syrup.

Here you have plain white basmati rice, palak paneer (which we have already established is awesome), mixed vegetable curry, and aloo cholay, a dish with cubed potatoes and chickpeas cooked in a spicy curry sauce.

Moving down the line, they offer vegetable rice pilaf, chicken biryani (terrific), chicken curry, chicken korma in a creamy cashew sauce, butter chicken (I love this so much), and moist and tender tandoori chicken thighs and legs.

And finally, you can get cool, creamy raita (a yogurt sauce that is perfect for neutralizing spicy dishes), green chutney, tangy-sweet tamarind sauce, intimidating-looking green chili peppers, chopped red onion, lemon and orange wedges, a green salad, and rice pudding, another sweet dish.

This was my first plate, where I sampled a little bit of everything.  The butter chicken, tandoori chicken, palak paneer, and chicken biryani were my favorites from the lunch buffet.

On my most recent trip to the buffet with two work colleagues, I got an order of vegetable samosas ($4.99) for us to share.  These were perfect potato pyramids, with seasoned potatoes and peas in lightly fried, crispy crusts.  They split one and liked it, and I was too full to try mine until the next morning at home, but it was still great then.

Since Friends Indian Cuisine is so convenient to my job, I look forward to becoming more of a regular over the months and years, even as I branch out and continue to try other Indian restaurants throughout Orlando.  My family NEVER ate Indian food when I was growing up in Miami, and I never ate it that often until the last few years, in my quest to discover the best food anywhere and everywhere and share my thoughts on it.  Now I’m making up for lost time, and I’m thrilled to recommend one more great local Indian restaurant to expand my palate and my experience.

And hey, if you were expecting a Friends reference since I always make pop culture references in my restaurant reviews, sorry to disappoint you, but I always hated that show.

John and John’s – A Pizza Shop

My favorite new pizzeria in Orlando is John and John’s – A Pizza Shop (https://www.johnandjohnspizza.com/) in the SoDo area, south of downtown Orlando and mere moments from the incredible Sister Honey’s Bakery.  I’ve been twice since it opened in mid-August, but if it wasn’t across town from me, I would be a regular for sure.  I believe the titular Johns hail from Philadelphia, but their pizza is pure New York style — thin, crispy, large, foldable slices with the crispy crunch I crave and high-quality ingredients and toppings.  The owners are also involved with Cavo’s Bar & Kitchen, a great restaurant in Thornton Park near downtown Orlando, which boasts the best Philly cheesesteak in Orlando.  (It made my list of Top Twelve Tastes of 2021 in Orlando Weekly.)  More on that a little later!

Like all the best New York-style pizzerias, John and John’s has several pizzas available to order by the slice at all times, stacked behind glass like a museum:

And here are their slice prices, since those aren’t listed on the website with the rest of the menu:

These are the three gorgeous slices I ordered on my first visit to John and John’s.  On the left is an “upside-down slice” ($4.99), with red sauce, chopped garlic, crushed peppers, freshly chopped basil, and pecorino romano cheese.  There’s nothing like fresh basil on pizza!  I am a convert, and I just wish every pizzeria did this, or at least the good ones.   
I’ll tell you more about the other two slices below, but they were all masterful.  I wolfed them down on site while sitting on a barstool, since pizza is always better at the pizzeria.  As it steams in the box on your way home, it always loses some of that crispiness and just isn’t the same.

Here’s a close-up of the classic cheese slice ($3.99) I got customized with crumbled meatballs and caramelized onions (99 cents each).  That was an absolutely perfect combination of toppings more people should try. 

And here’s a close-up of the Mediterranean Blue slice ($4.99), a tribute to the Greek restaurant that was the former tenant in John and John’s space on Michigan Avenue.  The pizza is topped with slices of gyro meat, feta cheese, fresh tomatoes, red onion, and creamy, tangy tzatziki sauce, on top of the regular mozzarella cheese base.  It’s a breathtaking combination of flavors that really works.

On my second visit, I ordered a Spicy Swine slice ($6.99) with red sauce, mozzarella, sharp provolone, spicy Italian sausage, long hot peppers, and Calabrian chili oil, pictured next to a plain cheese slice ($3.99) to use as a “control.”  Both were outstanding, as always.   Note how thin the crusts are.  A lot of places skimp on the sauce and cheese, pumping out pathetic, puny pizzas where half the slice is plain crust, and they know who they are.  At John and John’s, the sauce and cheese extend pretty far to the edge of their slices, leaving very tasty, thin, crispy crusts you won’t be tempted to leave uneaten for any reason. 
I really loved the long hot peppers on the Spicy Swine slice, but only John and John’s and another favorite, Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, use them.  I’ve never even seen long hots for sale in a jar, and I love buying different jars of roasted, marinated, and pickled peppers to throw into sandwiches, salads, and pasta dishes.

After completely missing the pasta salad ($5.99) on the menu on my first visit (because I’m usually not going to pay attention to salads at a new pizzeria), I saw pictures online, felt the FOMO, and had to try it on my second trip.  It was outstanding — ditalini pasta (an underrated pasta shape, if ever there was one) in an Italian vinaigrette dressing with fresh tomatoes, onions, basil, black olives, and parmesan cheese.  It was served chilled, of course, and it was very refreshing.   
I’ll try anyone’s versions of pasta salad, macaroni salad, and potato salad, and this pasta salad did not disappoint.

This was the fried cheese plank ($6.99), a crispy, knish-sized square of melty mozzarella cheese, expertly breaded.  I couldn’t resist!  They had me at “cheese plank.” The cup of marinara sauce was boiling lava-hot, even hotter than the cheese.  But as it cooled, I dipped my pizza crusts in it, and there wasn’t a single drop left by the time I was done.

Check out that cheese pull!  This would have looked great on video, but trust me, nobody wants to watch me eat.

I had to bring home a 14″ pepperoni pizza ($) to share with my wife.  As in sync as we usually are, pizza is one thing we rarely agree on, but she really liked this.  How could you not?  It was still warm by the time I got it home since I drive around with an insulated “heat bag” in my trunk to keep takeout food as hot as possible, and it is a perfect example of New York pizza here in Florida.

This is the Chicken Leo sandwich ($14.99), with a breaded chicken cutlet, vodka sauce, fresh and melty mozzarella, roasted red peppers, and fresh basil on a crusty seeded roll.
I ate half of this sandwich for dinner, straight out of the fridge, and it was unbelievably delicious even cold.  I’m going to warm the other half in the toaster oven later this weekend for the full effect, but it is probably my favorite chicken sandwich in Orlando that isn’t of the Nashville hot variety.

And I couldn’t resist bringing home the classic Cavo’s cheesesteak ($13.99) to heat and eat later, since it is such a shining example of Philadelphia’s third-best sandwich (after DiNic’s roast pork and the standard Italian hoagie) and one of Orlando’s best as well.  I always refer to Orlando’s Thornton Park neighborhood as “Thornton No-Park” due to the distinct lack of parking spaces, so I don’t make it to Cavo’s as often as I would like.  Luckily, John and John’s offers the exact same sandwich, and it’s a lot easier to get in and out of, despite being even further from home and work.   The cheesesteak is packed with thinly sliced ribeye steak, sauteed onions, and melty white American cheese.  Surprisingly, it isn’t dripping with grease like some lesser versions I tried in Philly, but it is packed with flavor, even eating half of it cold, straight out of the fridge.  Like the Chicken Leo, I’ll definitely warm up the other half tomorrow.  Just like I did at Cavo’s last year, I forgot to request some kind of hot peppers on it, like those long hots from my Spicy Swine slice.  I knew I was forgetting something, but there’s always a next time.

I admit there are some restaurants I’ve never made it back to after writing my reviews, but John and John’s – A Pizza Shop won’t be one of them.  I see so many other local food lovers discovering this place and singing its praises online.  Sure, I could have written this review over a month ago, after my first visit, but I waited to join the chorus until I could go back a second time and try more things.  Across town or not, it’s far too good to stay away for long, and that’s really the mark of a restaurant that does everything right, if you’re willing to schlep to it and schedule your day around getting there and back.  If you think Orlando doesn’t have good pizza, first of all, you’re wrong, and you’re probably an elitist too.  John and John’s is one of our newest pizzerias, and already one of our best and brightest.  Just don’t forget that their sandwiches are top-notch too, and don’t sleep on the pasta salad either, even though it’s “hidden” in the salad section of the menu!

Lam’s Garden

Lam’s Garden (https://www.lams-garden.com/) is a respected and venerated Chinese restaurant in Orlando, on the border of two of the city’s best foodie neighborhoods, Mills 50 and the Milk District.  It is in the shopping plaza with iFresh Market (a really good Asian grocery store, not to be confused with Fresh Market) and my beloved Chicken Fire, on the northeast corner of East Colonial Drive and Bumby Avenue.

But me being a lifelong late bloomer, I only recently visited Lam’s Garden for the first time.  (I told an older man that after my meal, and he said “How?  We’ve been here since 1975!”)  Well, better late than never, because it was really good.

I thought it was very old-school to get a bowl of crunchy fried noodles to snack on while we waited for our orders to come out.  This took me right back to all the Chinese restaurants my dad took me to in Miami, growing up in the ’80s, where he knew all the owners and they all knew him because he taught their children and grandchildren. 

At first, they just presented us with a laminated menu of lunch specials, but I asked for a longer menu if they had one.  They brought us two additional menus, with standard Americanized Chinese food favorites and another with Chinese “home cooking,” as the server described it.  Whenever you go, make sure they give you all the different menus to maximize your choices!

My vegetarian colleague ordered Buddha’s delight off the lunch specials menu ($9.95), and got a huge plate of broccoli, crisp snow peas, bok choy, baby corn, onions, mushrooms, water chestnuts, and bamboo shoots, in a brown sauce.  Her white rice was served on the side.

The lunch specials came with plenty of other stuff she couldn’t eat, so like a good friend, I volunteered to eat everything, like this small bowl of wonton soup:

A crispy eggroll:

And a little dish of fried rice:

I had a really hard time making a decision, since this was our first time here, so I went with a dish that never disappoints, and definitely didn’t disappoint at Lam’s Garden: Singapore curry rice noodles ($15.95), served with chicken, pork, and shrimp.  It was kind of medium-spicy and so flavorful, with the thin, tender noodles.

I would be tempted to order this again and again, but after finally visiting Lam’s Garden, I definitely want to start working my way through the large menu on future trips.  Lam’s might very well be the oldest Chinese restaurant in Orlando, and since it has been proven to have staying power, I look forward to trying other dishes, making up for lost time.

Heartsong Cookies

I try to write my massive missives about restaurants to share the love that I feel as a diner — the love that emanates from those kitchens, from the people working really hard jobs to keep us fed and happy and returning, from the savory and sweet dishes themselves.  If I encounter brusque and impersonal service, I don’t mind writing a food-focused review and accentuating the positive.  Some restaurant staff members and owners are almost comically curt and curmudgeonly as a matter of course, but if the food is good enough, I’ll keep coming back for more.  I can take it.

But I really try to shine a spotlight on the nicest, friendliest, warmest, most welcoming places and the people behind them, like Trina Gregory-Propst of Se7en Bites, Kwame Boakye of Chicken Fire, Brennan Heretick of High Tide Harry’s, George Markward of The Pastrami Project, Patrice and Terence Phillips of Something Fishy, Rafaela Cabede of Mrs. Potato, Andy and Evette Rahman of Sister Honey’s Bakery, and the famously friendly Walid Ali at Mediterranean Deli.  Every time I return to these establishments, I always feel like a special, valued regular, even when I don’t make it back to them as often as I would like, to earn my regular status.  But at these restaurants and a handful of others around town, the warmth and friendliness of the owner-operators and their staff make the whole experience even more special.

Another one of these is Heartsong Cookies (https://heartsongcookies.com/), a true mom-and-pop operation that sells Orlando’s absolute best cookies at farmer’s markets and cafes around the city.  The mom in question is a wonderful woman who I would go so far as to call Wonder Woman: Kathy Paiva.  Kathy has the kind of story I enjoy reading and sharing: a proud mother and grandmother, she has a degree in advertising (a fellow Florida Gator!) and a business background, but she got into baking because she loves it, and more importantly, because she loves to make people happy.  Her husband and business partner Mike makes most of the regular cookie dough, Kathy creates the recipes and bakes the cookies, and they have a wonderful partnership going.

Since I changed careers many years ago to find my calling, then left it earlier this year to try a new challenge, I thrill to the courage of people who gravitate toward passion projects, who are truly gifted at something and share their infectious enthusiasm and enviable talents with the world.  She is one of those people, and her creativity, care, and compassion come through in every perfect bite of a Heartsong cookie.  Note that the cookies are $3 each, or three for $8.  A regular person can easily take a couple down by him- or herself, but I always recommend buying a variety and cutting them into halves or quarters to share, so you get to try an assortment of fun flavors.

Here are some of her classics: the traditional chocolate chip, dulce de leche sea salt, M&M chocolate chip, coconut caramel chocolate chip, cookies & cream, and chocolate lava crunch, made with Nestle Toll House chocolate lava cake-flavored baking truffles.  All of her cookies are moist and pillowy-soft, but not so soft that they feel under-baked or raw in the middle.  The texture is the ideal cookie texture, as far as I’m concerned, but I’d rather eat raw cookie dough than dry cookies that shatter into a cloud of crumbs when you take your first of several disappointing bites.  Heartsong Cookies are that masterful midpoint between the two extremes, elevating cookies to a rare and glorious pinnacle.  Baked to perfection?  You bet they are.

I’m not big on nuts in my baked goods, but that toasted walnut fig cookie is really something special, let me tell you.  It helps that I love figs, and she uses chewy dried figs for a really interesting combination of textures in that one.

Come on!  Caramel apple pecan?  White chocolate cranberry pistachio?  Who else would come up with flavor combinations like these?

I’m always a little saddened when people denigrate the humble oatmeal raisin cookie.  It isn’t human, but it needs to be loved, just like anybody else does.  But if you’ve dismissed oatmeal raisin cookies before as a “consolation prize” or a marauding trickster when you’re hoping for a mouthful of chocolate chip, I implore you to give Heartsong’s version a chance.  

She always has at least two gluten free vegan flavors available, and trust me, even if you don’t eat gluten free or vegan (I surely don’t), the texture and flavor is just as good as all her other cookies.  In fact, since I love lemony desserts, her gluten free vegan lemon blueberry cookie (with chewy dried blueberries) is one of my favorites of all her creations. 

This photo is from a previous visit from April, when I ran slightly amok.  Clockwise from top, I brought home an M&M chocolate chip, a strawberry hazelnut chocolate chip with dried strawberries, an orange Creamsicle cookie with dried orange bits and white chocolate chips (one of my favorites), a coconut cream pie cookie (we both loved this one), an oatmeal raisin (like I said, forget every preconceived notion you’ve ever had about oatmeal raisin cookies), one of those gluten free vegan lemon blueberry cookies (if you’re skeptical, I assure you it was amazing), and in the center, a brown sugar sprinkles cookie.

Earlier this week, I contacted Kathy over Facebook Messenger and asked if she took requests for special orders, specifically sugar cookies.  She delivered in a major way at the Maitland Farmer’s Market earlier today, with a beautiful selection of both “drop”-style sugar cookies sprinkled with red sugar crystals and lovely glazed cut-out sugar cookies shaped like trees and leaves to symbolize fall (even though it sure still feels a lot like summer).  In the top left, you should also see an “ultimate snickerdoodle,” her classic cinnamon sugar cookie made with Nestle Toll House frosted cinnamon roll baking truffles inside.  That’s going to be a life-changing cookie, I just know it. 

Here are some more I brought home today.  Some will be for us, but I’m bringing a bunch of them to work to share with my stressed-out co-workers: a caramel apple pecan cookie made with chewy dried apples, a festive funfetti cookie, a cookies & cream cookie (very meta, but I do love Oreos and cookies and cream anything), a gluten free vegan dark chocolate espresso cookie (my wife already called dibs on that one), a gluten free vegan pumpkin spice latte cookie (reserved for a pumpkin-loving co-worker who tries to eat vegan), and a coconut caramel chocolate chip cookie. 
How can you go wrong with any of these?  You can’t.  I am looking forward to sharing the wonders of Heartsong Cookies and Kathy’s generosity, love, and artistry with the good folks at work.  These people could all use a hug, but since I wouldn’t dare make it weird, Kathy’s cookies are like hugs you can eat, and that’s much more workplace-appropriate.

She even put together a beautiful Happy Birthday bag for some of the cookies for someone I work with!  This is what she does — makes people happy.  You can tell she takes that seriously.  That’s an honorable calling and one to be proud of, now more than ever.

Kathy and Mike often set up at the Winter Park Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and the Maitland Farmer’s Market on Sunday mornings, which is where I usually catch her.  I try to visit her table early before she starts selling out of everything.  (Trust me, these cookies will go fast!)  Follow Heartsong Cookies on Facebook for their whereabouts on any given weekend, and what flavors Kathy will have available at any time and place.  Anywhere she pops up next, rest assured she will be ready to share the most delicious cookies, hugs, and some much-needed joy wherever she is. 

Au Cheval (Chicago)

My new job sent me to Chicago twice this summer for training opportunities, and I did everything I could to explore and eat my way around the beautiful Windy City as much as I could.  I already regaled my stalwart Saboscrivnerinos with my epic excursion to Eataly, and the next really terrific meal I enjoyed in Chicago was at Au Cheval (http://auchevaldiner.com/chicago/).  It sounds like a fancy French restaurant, which is really not my thing, but instead it is a really nice, “elevated” diner.  Well, that’s how Au Cheval describes itself, anyway. 

It was a tight, crowded space with a handful of booths along the windows, and a bustling open kitchen with several barstools open for diners to sit facing the bar.  The dining room is relatively dark and full of dark leather and dark wood for a “macho,” masculine feel.  I got there in time for an early lunch, and I still waited about 20 minutes for a solo seat to open up at the farthest left corner of the busy kitchen/bar area.  I don’t drink, but I was watching expert bartenders slinging some really nice-looking cocktails the whole time I was there.

I fully admit Au Cheval wasn’t on my original dining agenda, but the first two restaurants I attempted to go to in Chicago’s West Loop (an incredible dining destination I strongly recommend to all) were closed for various reasons, so I’m really glad I wandered in there.  They don’t accept reservations for lunch or dinner, so I got lucky, all things considered.

The menu isn’t huge, but it consists of pure comfort food, of the delicious, heavy, hearty, and unhealthy variety.  They do have two salads and several egg dishes, but I was torn between two different dishes, and since I had no idea when I would be back in Chicago, I ordered both.

First up was seared, chilled, and chopped chicken liver ($14.95), one of the classic foods of my people.  It was served with rich, salted butter (almost overkill, given the fatty, savory richness of the liver) and the absolute finest toast I’ve ever had.  The bread was thick Texas toast, the kind you can get at my beloved Waffle House and so many other diners, ideal for patty melts and barbecue sandwiches.  Rather than being “toasted” in the traditional sense, it was cooked on the flattop griddle and beautifully buttered.  

As for the chopped liver, as my students used to say, IYKYK (if you know, you know).  It might look like cat food, but it is so rich and savory and tasty, I love it so much as a very rare treat.  Most of the chopped liver I’ve had from Jewish delicatessens and appetizing stores is a smooth, creamy, uniform consistency, but Au Cheval’s version was more roughly chopped for a more interesting texture.  It still spread so smoothly on the best toast ever, the butter was really kind of unnecessary… but ultimately too good to ignore.

After that, I was watching burger after beguiling burger come out of that open kitchen while I waited for my seat at the bar, so I couldn’t leave without one.  I ended up springing for the double cheeseburger ($16.95), since it was only two dollars more than the single, and this string of good decisions continued.  Constant readers, I have to tell you that this was the #1 absolute all-time best burger I’ve ever eaten in my damn life, here at Au Cheval in Chicago.  I’ve eaten burgers all around the state of Florida and elsewhere along the highways and byways of America, and this left them all in the dust.  Perfect in every way, ten out of ten, nothing comes close.It was like an ideal, iconic version of a “smash-style” diner burger, like a burger out of a Tom Waits song, but so much better than that fictional burger would have been in his sad world of late-night, lonely meals wolfed down in Edward Hopper environs.  While the menu said “double cheeseburger,” it sure looked like it had three patties to me.  What do you think, folks?

Traditionally, I have preferred thick, juicy burgers, but between Au Cheval and two restaurants here in Orlando that I haven’t had a chance to review yet, that smash style is definitely winning me over.  It had so much flavor and wasn’t overdone or dry at all — quite the opposite, in fact.  It was dressed simply, with a creamy sauce, a few scant pickle slices, and wonderfully melty American cheese between the patties, and I did put some ketchup on it.  The bun was grilled like the toast that came with my chopped liver, which is the best/only way to serve a hamburger bun.

Now I made two mistakes here: I did not order bacon on the burger, because that would have been an extra $6.95, and I felt like I was being decadent enough, with these two heavy, greasy dishes.  But Au Cheval serves really thick-cut bacon like some steakhouses do, and I bet it would have been totally worth it.  Sometimes bacon on burgers is undercooked, so you can’t get a good bite without pulling out the whole strip, and sometimes it is burnt to a crisp and doesn’t end up adding much to the experience.  I’m sure this would have made the best burger of my life even better, but then again, how can you possibly improve on perfection?

Also, I did not order fries or hash browns ($8.95 each), simply because I got plenty of carbs from the perfect toast and the bun from the perfect burger, and that would be a bit insane, even for me.  But I bet they would have been spectacular from a restaurant like this.  If they had onion rings, I would have been all about those, but they didn’t, so it was a moot point.  Regardless, I give my strongest possible recommendation to Au Cheval, and if you ever find yourself in Chicago, I would encourage you to ease up on the pizza casserole and overloaded Vienna Beef hot dogs to indulge here instead.

The Escobar Kitchen

The Escobar Kitchen (https://theescobarkitchen.com/) is one of my favorite kinds of restaurants for two reasons:

  1. It offers a really cool, creative fusion of two wildly different cuisines that you’d never think of combining, but I’m glad somebody did.
  2. It’s hidden inside a place that you wouldn’t expect, so not a free-standing restaurant where anyone can just come along and find it.  As a self-proclaimed food writer, I live for writing about restaurants like this, and I take great joy and pride in introducing people who might never find or even learn about them on their own.

In this case, The Escobar Kitchen is a food stall inside the Bravo Supermarket in Lake Nona.  Bravo is a supermarket chain that specializes in groceries from different Latin American countries, aimed at a Hispanic clientele (but anyone can, and should, shop there).  It has 71 locations throughout the United States, including several in the Orlando area.  I work near one Bravo and live near another, and I always find great stuff whenever I go, from frozen passion fruit puree to agua fresca powder mixes to fantastic tinned sardines nobody else carries to pizza empanadas a friend recommended.

But Lake Nona, a burgeoning new community all the way across town from me, has the biggest, nicest Bravo I’ve ever seen.  It took over a space that used to be an upscale Earth Fare supermarket after the location closed in 2020, at 13024 Narcoossee Road in Orlando.  Just to give you some context, all the Bravo locations I’ve ever been to have a cafeteria area where you can line up and get hot, fresh food to go — usually a mix of Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Dominican dishes, in huge portions.  You take your styrofoam box of food (kindly wrapped in plastic wrap to avoid leaks on the way home, because they fill it to capacity and beyond) and go eat it somewhere else.

But the Bravo in Lake Nona has a whole seating area, like a mall food court, and also features this business alongside their own cafeteria county.  Locally owned and operated by Chef Lewis Escobar and his brothers,  The Escobar Kitchen specializes in Latin Asian fusion — most notably sushi with a Puerto Rican twist.  That’s right, you heard it here first, true believers!

You can see from The Escobar Kitchen’s online menu that they serve dishes as diverse as “tereyaki wingz” [sic], General Tso ribs, arroz enchurrascado (a delicious-looking dish of yellow rice with skirt steak, sweet plantains, pigeon peas, and chimichurri sauce, served paella-style), and beautiful tempura-fried stuffed avocados.  They even offer familiar California rolls, spicy tuna rolls, and chicken rolls, for diners with a dearth of daring.

But the stars of the menu are the signature sushi rolls, inspired mashups of Latin and Asian flavors, presented in a way that I can only describe as sexy.  I ordered two of these rollicking rolls on my first-ever trip to Lake Nona, where I visited a cool couple at their gorgeous house to possibly buy an elliptical machine from them.  As desperately as I need to lose weight and get into better shape, of course my cross-town schlep had a culinary ulterior motive!

So here’s the hotness:
The presentation is beautiful, right?  I guaran-damn-tee that some hipster chef in Miami is going to come out with a similar menu at a hard-to-find restaurant with expensive valet parking and probably charge three times as much, if not more, and it probably won’t be as good.

This is the Tropical Sexy Salmon Roll ($14), with salmon, avocado, pineapple, cucumber, fried onions, and scallions, topped with marinated salmon and Escobar sauce.  You see?  It’s not just me that thinks these are sexy!  It’s even in the name.  Holy guacamole, this was a treat.  I could seriously eat this every day.   But ultimately, you could probably get a roll like that at any number of good sushi restaurants.  I wanted something with salmon or tuna to contrast with the next one, which is a better example of The Escobar Kitchen’s Latin-Asian fusion.  And the Tropical Sexy Salmon Roll tasted as good as it looks, so no regrets here, no shame in my game.

But get a load of the Paisa Roll ($15), a magnificent mélange of yellow rice, thin-sliced grilled churrasco steak, chorizo sausage, avocado and cream cheese, wrapped in sweet plantains and topped with chimichurri, honey wasabi, and a crunchy, crackly pork rind on the top.  This isn’t light, like so many sushi rolls are.  This is heavy in every possible way, but also awesome in every possible way.  Again, the presentation is killer-diller!

Here is a close-up of the two ravishing rolls I ordered, so you can really see the detail, all the ingredients, and the artful way everything was combined:

I hate that The Escobar Kitchen is literally across town from me, because this is the kind of restaurant I would try to drag local and visiting friends and work colleagues to, first to tempt them with the novelty and then to hook them on artful, creative fusion cuisine that satisfies, that isn’t just some Instagram-worthy hype.  It doesn’t get much more out of the way for me than Lake Nona, but this is definitely a reason to return, and for all my constant readers, the stalwart Saboscrivnerinos, to plan a Lake Nona mission of their own.  Tell me you’re not tempted!  Convince me you’re not considering it.  Maybe next time you need some groceries, skip your basic neighborhood Publix and bring your Bravo Team down to the Lake Nona Bravo, where shopping and dining can be a true pleasure.

(P.S. I made it back to Lake Nona over a month later with a rented U-Haul and bought the very cool couple’s elliptical machine, but didn’t have time to stop at The Escobar Kitchen again.  I’ll just have to return another time!)

Ziggie’s Pizza

Today I tried Ziggie’s Pizza (https://www.ziggiespizza.com/) for the first time.  It is in the Ivanhoe Village district of Orlando, at 603 Virginia Avenue, not far from the Mills 50 neighborhood with some of our best restaurants in the city.  Ziggie’s is named for its owner-operators, brothers Christian and Floyd Ziegler, who opened it in 2021.  Their pizzeria shares space with a very hip bar, The Thirsty Topher, that specializes in really good beer and wine.  You can hang out on either the bar side or the pizzeria side and bring your food and drinks back and forth.

I expected to have a hard time parking, as I do at most of the hyped, hipster establishments in Orlando, but it was very quiet on the Sunday afternoon I visited, with plenty of parking and no wait inside.  I expect that would be very different most evenings, so plan accordingly.

The menu on the website doesn’t make this clear, but all the pizzas at Ziggie’s are 12″ personal size, and they are all wonderful thin crust style.  You order at the front counter, and they have plenty of laminated menus to browse through.  Pizzas with a variety of creative and high-quality toppings range from $10 to $16, and you have the option to build your own, starting at $10.  There are also salads, if you don’t feel like a pizza, or if you want a salad with your pizza.

I can tell a lot about a restaurant by the kind of music they play, and these were the songs I heard while I waited for my order:

  • Jurassic 5 – “What’s Golden”
  • The Notorious B.I.G. – “Juicy”
  • Mark Morrison – “Return of the Mack”
  • A Tribe Called Quest – “Award Tour”
  • Skee-Lo – “I Wish”
  • Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – “The Message”

All classics, all straight fire.  Not booming loud, which is never necessary, just impeccable taste.  (I might suffer from impostor syndrome and depression, but I know I have good taste, hence this blog!)  At least someone at Ziggie’s is probably around my age, with impeccable taste too.  It definitely made me realize I was choosing wisely.

They even decorate the walls with some sweet vinyl, including the aforementioned Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Madvillain, Czarface, and the legendary debut album of the Wu-Tang Clan:
NOTE: After publishing my review, Christian Ziegler himself sent me the link to the Ziggie’s Pizza Spotify playlist, which is nothing but bangers.

It didn’t take long for my pizza to be ready.  Believe it or not, I don’t want my pizza to be loaded with toppings, especially when I’m first trying a new pizzeria.  I’d rather let the crust, the sauce, and the cheese speak for themselves, so I can best assess the strengths of the pizza.  As a result, I ordered The O.G. ($10), with red sauce, low-moisture mozzarella, buffalo mozzarella, AND aged pecorino romano cheeses.  I loved that they garnished the pizza with fresh basil leaves.  That’s a really nice touch, as it is one of my favorite pizza toppings in general, and one that never overwhelms the overall balance of the pie.
Stalwart Saboscrivnerinos, this was SUPOIB.  A perfect pizza in every way.  If you don’t like thin crust, you may be disinclined to agree, but I sure do.  It wasn’t as crisp as a New York-style slice, but not as soft and floppy as a Neapolitan-style pizza.  I’d describe it as a perfect middle ground between those two beloved pizza styles.  As you can see, it was cut into six large slices rather than eight smaller ones (which I prefer, for no real reason), and I wolfed it down in no time flat.  (It was my first meal of the day, you see, after spending hours cleaning the garage in the sweltering heat.)

Since I don’t drink, I didn’t bother exploring The Thirsty Topher in the adjoining space, but I hear it is an awesome place for beer lovers.  Ziggie’s has a small refrigerator full of nice bottled sodas, but they are also kind enough to have a jug of chilled water available for free, so that’s all I had with my pizza at the time.

That said, The O.G. was so good that I had to bring some pizza home to share with my wife.  As much as we are soulmates who are completely in sync throughout life, one thing we rarely agree on is pizza.  She does like thin crust, though, so I figured she would appreciate Ziggie’s.  I ordered two pies to go:

This is half of the Gabagool ($16), since I put two slices on a plate for her and devoured a third before remembering to photograph it.  That’s a rookie mistake that I rarely make these days, but it was still warm by the time I got home, and I didn’t want to linger any longer.  The Gabagool is topped with red sauce, a three-cheese blend, pepperoni, crumbled Italian sausage, smoked slab bacon (probably the highest quality bacon I’ve ever had on a pizza), and pickled red onions, which I requested on the side, because my wife hates onions as much as I love them.
It was awesome, and I was thrilled she agreed.  She even suggested her parents would like this pizza, and they (in)famously don’t like trying any new things.  I will have to introduce them to Ziggie’s and the Gabagool some time soon.

And this was the other pizza I brought home: the Killa Beez hot honey pizza ($16).  I would have been tempted to try it for the Wu-Tang Clan reference alone, even if I didn’t love all the toppings on it: low-moisture mozzarella, pepperoni, prosciutto, crumbled goat cheese, fig jam, and house-made hot honey (which I requested mild for my wife, even though I’m among the some who like it hot).
We both like sweet and savory combos, and this was another hit.  I would totally order this again, even though ultimately, the O.G. might have been my favorite of the three.  In the future, I might just build my own pizza and get the smoked slab bacon, pickled red onions, and Calabrese peppers on it.

But I absolutely loved Ziggie’s Pizza, and the chill, laid-back vibe, and the sweet-ass hip hop they played, and I will definitely return.  If you haven’t been there yet, I encourage you to go.  That stretch of Virginia Drive between Mills and Orange Avenues has several hipstery bars and breweries on it, which many of my readers are probably already familiar with.  Make sure you add Ziggie’s and The Thirsty Topher to your Sunday Funday drinking and dining agenda ASAP, and enjoy what might be the best thin crust pizza in Orlando.

Sanguich De Miami (Miami)

My oldest, closest friend is a fellow food-lover and blogger, and since he still lives in Miami, the city of my birth and first 18 years on this big blue ball o’dirt, I defer to him on all things worth eating in South Florida.  He is an authority on croquetas and writes a semi-regular Croqueta Diaries column on his blog.  On the rare chances we get to visit each other, we try to introduce each other to our cities’ local favorite restaurants — not just our personal favorites, but the ones we are proudest of, that we think the other will appreciate the most.

It had been over two years since my last trip down to Miami to visit this guy (and also my family), thanks to the pandemic making social calls more fraught and long trips seem like less of a priority.  But I missed everyone, so back in July, I schlepped down south from Orlando and tried to make the most of it.  For my buddy and I, that usually meant hitting a few different restaurants to try to sample the best stuff in a limited amount of time.

Our ridiculous foodie day got off to the best possible start at one of Miami’s finest establishments, Sanguich De Miami (https://sanguich.com/).  It has become famous in a relatively short time for featuring some of the finest Cuban sandwiches in the city that specializes in them — no, not Tampa, the other one!  But my friend isn’t the only person who vouches for Sanguich — it earned a prestigious Michelin Bib Gourmand Award earlier this year, which is a huge honor for any restaurant.  Several of my Orlando favorites won Bib Gourmands in 2022 as well, and the Michelin website explains it best: “What Bib restaurants do have in common is their simpler style of cooking, which is recognisable, easy-to-eat and often something you feel you could attempt to replicate at home. A Bib restaurant will also leave you with a sense of satisfaction, at having eaten so well at such a reasonable price.”  My regular readers know I’m not the biggest fan of “fine dining,” so these Bib Gourmand-rated restaurants appeal to me a lot more.

Anyway, this is the beautiful, fragrant, flawless pan con bistec sandwich ($13.59) that we split in the car.  It contains thinly sliced sous vide steak, mojo rojo sauce, fried string potatoes, and Swiss cheese on pressed Cuban bread.  I’ve had several similar sandwiches at Cuban restaurants in Miami over the decades, but I can tell you that I’ve never had its equal.  Look at that cheese pull!  I just wish you stalwart Saboscrivnerinos could smell it.

We also ordered the pan con lechon ($10.99) to eat later.  This elevated take on another classic Miami sandwich contains shredded pork, pickled mojo onions, and garlic cilantro aioli on Cuban bread.  I hate to even put this in print, but sometimes the pork in these pork sandwiches is on the dry side, and sometimes it is sliced so thick that you take one bite and pull huge chunks out of the sandwich, destroying the structural integrity.  Well, that was not the case with this pan con lechon!  Look at it! 

Here’s the half I heated up back home, and it was glorious.  The pork was so flavorful, and all the elements sang together in perfect harmony.  Shredding the meat made it such a pleasant textural experience to eat, and everything held together, as it should.  Of course the bread was pressed to perfection, even surviving a four-hour drive and a trip through the toaster oven. 

Of course we didn’t leave well enough alone!  We ordered a third sandwich too, but my friend is such a mensch, he sent me packing with the whole thing, since he could return to Sanguich de Miami a heck of a lot sooner than I could.  We opted for a slight variation on the classic Cubano, for only 30 cents more: the croqueta preparada ($12.79).   

It contains all the same ingredients as the Cubano: city ham, lechon (the same pork that’s on the pan con lechon), Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on pressed Cuban bread, BUT there is one more ingredient that is probably obvious by now: two croquetas de jamon!  Yes, that’s right.  For a double dose of delectable decadence, Sanguich added two of those crispy, cracker crumb-coated croquettes stuffed with finely chopped ham and creamy bechamel sauce, deep fried and then pressed onto the sandwich so they turn warm and melty and gooey, almost like a super-savory Cubano condiment.  This wasn’t the biggest Cuban sandwich I’ve ever eaten (that was from the former owner-operators of Orlando’s College Park Cafe), but it was easily one of the best.  Top Five, for sure.  Top two or three, absolutely.  Of course, the croquetas added a whole new dimension of deliciousness to the classic Cubano, just like how Tampa Cuban sandwiches (like the ones at Alessi Bakery and La Segunda Bakery) add genoa salami.  But I’ve never had anything like the croqueta preparada sandwich from Sanguich.

So this place is worth every bit of praise and hype, trust me (or hey, trust a tire company that also rates restaurants, which makes about as much sense).  Calle Ocho in Miami’s Little Havana is full of wonderful, iconic restaurants, and I’m sure it is pretty hard to get a bad meal there.  I’ve written about a couple of those establishments before, and I have one more Little Havana review from my most recent trip that I’m working on.  But next time you’re in Miami, you’ll avoid a lot of damage and anguish if you practice your Spanish and manage to order a sandwich from Sanguich (or two, or three).