The story goes that in 18th century England, the 4th Earl of Sandwich was playing cards and didn’t want to leave the game table to eat. He asked for meat placed between two slices of bread – and went down in history as the inventor of the modern sandwich. Built for convenience, the simple handheld sandwich is everywhere now, available in countless forms and flavor combinations from cultures around the world. From the simple and classic iterations to the complex, multi-ingredient, labor-intensive variations, consumers are seeking out the next best thing on the sandwich horizon.
Sandwich popularity exploded in recent years. The recession changed how and where we ate, and sandwiches had broad appeal, with convenience and affordability on their side. And today, with food trucks and authentic street foods enjoying growing public interest, sandwiches – especially globally inspired sandwiches – are still on the rise. According to a recent look into sandwiches on the menu, Food Genius reports, “There has been a three percent increase in the number of sandwich items on the menu in the US market. This signifies that operators are expanding the sandwich section of their menu by adding new flavors and types of sandwiches.” They also report that, “Sandwiches can be found on close to two-thirds of menus and make up one quarter of an average restaurant’s menu. Latin American cuisine restaurants are the third most common cuisine where sandwiches are typically found on the menu.”
Many Latin American flavors are finding their way into the foods we see every day. Here’s a look at how Latin sandwiches and pork can help satisfy patron cravings for a great sandwich or introduce customers to new trends that’ll keep them coming back. From the familiar Cubano to the growing Torta and beyond, these sandwiches are paving the way for innovative operators to add fresh, interesting and regional sandwiches to menus.
Whether ahogada-style or cemita-style, these sandwiches are making an impact and becoming a menu staple from coast to coast.
The cemita, authentic to Puebla Mexico, is a torta on a sesame seed egg roll and filled with a variety of meats, including milanesa, pickled pig skin, shredded soft white cheese, onions, peppers, and avocado.
- At Cemitas Puebla in Chicago, IL, the Cemita Milanesa is the menu favorite – made with pork cutlet milenesa, avocado, adobo chipotle peppers, fresh Oaxacan cheese and papalo
- At Rosario’s Pizzeria & Restaurant in Philadelphia, PA, the Pastor Cemita Especiale is made with pork pastor – pork marinated with pineapple – and is served on a sesame egg roll with mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickled jalapeños, avocado, papalo and Oaxaca cheeses
- The Brooklyn Star in New York, NY menus a breakfast torta made with pork sausage, refried bacon, avocado and pickled onion over a hard egg
The torta ahogada, from Guadalajara in the Mexican state of Jalisco, is submerged in a sauce made of chile de árbol and the name means “drowned sandwich.”
- At Xoco, a quick-service café in Chicago, IL, Chef Rick Bayless who popularized the sandwich, serves golden pork carnitas with black beans, tomato and pickled onions with an arbol chile broth
- In Harbor City, CA, Maricela’s Bionicos y Antojitos uses pork leg to fill their torta ahogada. It comes with beans, cabbage, marinated onions, tomato sauce and spicy sauce on top of salted bread and a side of tortilla chips
Puerto Rican Street Specialties
The Torta Tripleta is Puerto Rico’s answer to the Cuban. The traditional street food is made with marinated and grilled cube steak, ham and pork (lechón) layered and stuffed inside a loaf of fresh, soft bread and topped with Swiss cheese, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup, mayonnaise, onions and potato sticks.
- The Puerto Rican food truck Tripletas & More sits on the New Haven, CT Long Wharf serving the classic Puerto Rican sandwich
- At La Casa Del Pollo in Belleview, FL, the Puerto Rican Tripleta is made with roast pork, deli ham, seasoned steak, Swiss cheese, pickles and mayonnaise
Pinchos or Pinxos, another Puerto Rican street food favorite, made its way onto the sandwich board and is now being showcased on appetizer and tapas menus. It’s prepared with marinated, skewered and grilled pork, topped with a generous amount of sauce and served with a slice of bread for a make your own sandwich dish.
- Barcelona 201 in Indianapolis, IN menus Chorizo Pinchos as an appetizer with cumin alioli
- In Philadelphia, PA, Chef Owen Kamihira serves Pixan con Panceta at Bar Ferdinand – pork belly with monkfish and rosemary served pinchos-style
- Toro 1704, a Barcelona-style tapas restaurant, in Boston, MA takes a whole-hog approach with smoked pork heart pinchos and romesco sauce
The Argentinian Choripán
The Choripán, a favorite Argentinian snack for any time of day, is exactly what it sounds like – chorizo and pan (bread). The chorizo is grilled and split down the middle, placed on a crusty white bread like a marraqueta and served with a chimichurri sauce.
- Chino Latino in Minneapolis, MN dresses up the simple sandwich with grilled spicy Catalan botifarra sausage, chimichurri, pebre salsa, manchego cheese and pickled red chiles served with yucca chips
- Cafecito in New York, NY keeps the Choripán con Queso Bocadillo simple, pairing grilled chorizo with sautéed onions and Swiss cheese
Peru’s Pan con Chicharrón
This Peruvian sandwich, a popular breakfast or snack across the country in sangucherías (sandwich shops), pairs fried pork with slices of fried sweet potato and sarza criolla (a type of onion salsa) on a crusty French roll.
- Instead of the usual puffed pork rinds, the La Sangucheria food cart from Portland, OR makes the sandwich with chicharrónes sliced from the tenderloin, poached, fried, and tossed with a spicy sarza criolla. The pork tops sweet potato fries in a torpedo-shaped baguette with a generous amount of honey and red onion salsa
- Pisco Sour in Denver, CO serves the Pan Con Chicharrón with deep fried pork belly, sweet potatoes and sarza criolla
Arepas are Venezuelan corn cakes, often split and filled with a wide variety of ingredients including shredded pork, cheese, egg, avocado and mayonnaise.
- Quiero Arepas, a food truck in Denver, CO, offers a Jamón y Queso Arepa; other pork varieties appear frequently on the rotating menu
- Caracas Arepa Bar, with two locations in New York, NY, dedicates its menu to the art and science of arepas. Maribel Araujo and Aristides Barrios offer a variety of pork arepas, including La de Pernil – roasted pork shoulder, tomato and spicy mango sauce – and Los Muchachos – grilled chorizo, spicy white cheese with jalopeños and sautéed peppers
Other Latin Favorites These less commonly known Latin sandwiches are full of flavor and ready to land on more menus.
The Bolivian Sanduíche de Chola is commonly served by street vendors or as stadium food. Also known as the “Chola,” the sandwich consists of roast pork leg slices, vegetables en escabeche like onions and locoto (rocoto) peppers, and chile sauce on a large, thick round bun. The sandwich is often garnished with a piece of crispy pork skin.
Pupusa Revuelta originates from Guatamala and is made with corn tortillas filled with cheese, beans and chicharrón. It’s typically served with curtido (lightly fermented cabbage slaw with red chilies and vinegar) and a watery tomato salsa.
Patacón Maracucho is native to Venezuela. Similar to the arepa, this sandwich replaces bread with green unripe plantains sliced lengthwise, fried, flattened, and fried again. The sandwich is filled with anything from shredded pork to chorizo and cheese. There are many similar sandwiches across Latin America and the Caribbean – close relatives include the Jibarito from Puerto Rico, filled with garlic mayonnaise, meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato.
From the Earl’s gaming craving to countless modern varieties, it’s clear that we can’t get enough of the sandwich. The popularity of the Cuban and the rise of the Torta show consumers are looking for more adventurous global flavors, and innovative operators will answer with delicious, regional Latin American sandwiches.