NICK: I am sure that the powers that be at Carteles, the recently opened sandwich and coffee shop in the East Village, plan on expanding the menu beyond the five sandwiches, two soups and various forms of Cuban coffee on the menu—but they should leave well enough alone. Like so many Cuban ball players, Carteles has hit it out of the park.
NICK: The Sloppy Joe ($8.50) isn't what you might expect. Although the menu claims that the sandwich is "a Cuban original," this hardly resembles the loose ground beef sandwich that supposedly got its name from Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West, Florida. (Wouldn't the Cuban original be called a sloppy Jose, anyway?) But no matter—tender strands of ropa vieja stewed with peppers, onions, and tomatoes and served on crisp disks of bread with melted cheese. It is far better than any sloppy Joe I have eaten.
KATHY: It makes for what I call "easy" meat. Effortless meat that does not require anything on your part to consume. Sandwich that with a slice of provolone between two well-oiled slices of bread, and press and heat till it all melts together.
NICK: The El Cubano ($8.50)—roast pork, sliced ham, Swiss and provolone cheeses, pickles and "garlicky" mustard. A classic architecture, perfectly executed; smokey ham and roast pork, complimented by the tangy cheese blend and tart pickles, leading to sandwich harmony. Some might quibble about the amount of pork, perhaps people used to overstuffed versions of the sandwich, but I found it to be in perfect proportion. I worried that the bread might be overdone as the menu describes it as "pressed well done," but I needn't have fretted—it was pleasingly crunchy.
NICK: If the popular Cuban sandwich media noche (roast pork, dill pickles, mustard on egg bread) is the cousin of Cubano sandwich, then there is something downright incestuous about the Cubano Christo ($8.50)—a Cubano dipped in sweet egg and then fried.
KATHY: The soups ($5) could easily be a light meal on their own. You have two options, Black Bean or the Sancocho, a chicken soup with root vegetables. Though generous with the shredded chicken and vegetables, the soup was served lukewarm and on the over-salted side. Piping hot rice and perfectly ripe avocado saved the day.
NICK: Empty the plate into the soup for a hearty, rewarding experience.
NICK: The plantains are good, but the potato chips are great; both are made in house and are irresistible. They should add chips as a side item, I can see going to Carteles for them alone.
KATHY: But I wasn't disappointed by the plantain chips.
Before you head back out in the cold, warm up with a Cafe con Leche (pictured above, $3.25), or the Chino Latino ($2), a cafe Cubano with a bit of salt.
NICK: The East Village has a lot of very good sandwich shops—Porchetta and Luke's Lobster are only a block away, and there is a Vietnamese sandwich shop right next door. But Carteles is nevertheless a welcome addition to the neighborhood—their sandwiches and soups are seriously delicious and reasonably priced.
Carteles Cuban Sandwiches and Coffee
443 Sixth Street, New York NY 10009 (map)
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