Cafeteria Marianao is easy to pass by, just another small building needing a coat of paint on Milwaukee Ave, but, like many things in life, if one takes the time to slow down and smell the roses, or in this case cafe con leche, the rewards are rich.
I first stopped in on a Sunday morning around 10am, what caught my eye was the number of people milling about and then I noticed the small walk up window, which reminded me of Cuban restaurants along Calle Ocho in Miami. This place was packed, sardines in a can packed, wall to wall people of every type, size and age, every one of them in a feeding frenzy, I knew I had struck paydirt.
I slowly inched my way to the ordering counter, all the while checking out what others were eating, and man O man were they eating! People were powering down ham and egg or steak and egg with onions on Cuban bread like it was their last day on earth. There was also a mix of media noche, cubano, double cuban, steak, toasted bread to go with cafe con leche, bread and cheese, ham and cheese, all the usual suspects.
I opted for a large cafe con leche and Cuban sandwich, both were excellent. Best I have had in Chicago since Supermercado Panamericano changed hands about 2 years ago. The Cuban sandwich was made with very good Cuban bread in a sandwich press and was well toasted, top side had ridges, bottom was smooth, interesting effect.
The were also frying meat in two blackened kettles on stove for steak sandwiches, very cool, and they had a pot of sliced onions going, but I could not tell if they were cooking them in water or oil. They transferred them to a holding bowl on the stove when done, looked good.
The pre sweetened Cafe con leche was excellent, even developed the slight skin of foam that I like and latte's don't have due to the lower milk temp.
Most everyone was speaking Spanish and when I ordered in English a few looked up from their sandwiches, though only out of curiosity, no negative vibe whatsoever. In fact everyone was quite friendly, both customers and behind the counter. I got into a conversation with a biker in full leathers and a female Chicago police officer in uniform.
No inside seating, just a chest high counter running along one wall and a counter for eating and ordering.
Cafeteria Marianao gets a solid A both for food and atmosphere.
I should mention that while Cafeteria Marianao serves a very good Cuban sandwich, it was not quite in the same category as my benchmark Cuban sandwich at The Latin American Cafeteria on Coral Way in Miami, Fl, which is more of a religious experiance than a sandwich.
By the way, if you want to read a completely over the top, obsessive compulsive Chowhound thread at it's best read the Cuban sandwich mustard thread in Chowhound's The Best Board. Zim put a pointer to it in the last Chicago Chowhound Cuban sandwich thread in February and I will put a pointer to it at the end of this post. (I have been reading through the Chicago Chowhound archives.)
2246 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647
The Latin American Cafeteria
2940 Coral Way
(There are a number of branches, Coral Way is the original and, by far, the best)
5647 N Clark Street.
Chicago, IL. 60660
(Seems to be closed)