For me, flying into Miami always means a chance to visit the nearby El Palacio de los Jugos. The Little Havana outpost is just minutes from the airport, and especially upon landing in the summer heat and humidity, nothing sounds better than "The Juice Palace."
I fight hard to resist the machete-wielding man chopping coconuts to make fresh coconut water, and instead head inside to the juice counter. At $2 per cup, it's tempting to try more than one. There are many familiar fruits (such as orange, mango, and pineapple), but I try a couple of the more exotic offerings: mamey and guanabana. Mamey looks like a melon, but the orangey-red fruit tastes like peach and pumpkin mixed with sweet potato. Guanabana, also known as soursop, is a spiny and heart-shaped fruit, ranging from about four to 12 inches in size. It has a more tropical flavor, like a sour, citrusy combination of pineapple and strawberry, and when juiced is seemingly colorless, with the creaminess of coconut.
Juices in hand, it's out to the sidewalk for the sandwich order. The Regular Cubano ($5) is a good choice, but the Pan con Lechon ($4), pictured, catches my eye. The menu says it comes with "pierna desmenuzada, mojo y cebolla"—what you're getting is roast pork (shredded leg meat, specifically), mojo sauce, and diced onions on Cuban sandwich bread. The bread is cut lengthwise, and the assembled sandwich is cooked in a press, yielding crispy top and bottom crusts.
Most people take theirs to go, but I tell the sandwich-maker (he speaks some English, while the cashier speaks very little) that I'll eat mine in the covered seating area out back. Here, Cuban immigrants banter with each other, occasionally glancing at the Univision program on the television. (A previous time I was there during Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court confirmation hearing; turns out CNN came by later, fascinated as I was by the diners' reactions.)
In retrospect, I should have asked someone about the availability of more mojo sauce, as the crunchy bread cushions lots of meat that is actually just a little dry and not so spicy. But the roasted flavor pulls through, with the onion offering a break in texture and some tangy bite. With everything warmed up from the grilling, the sandwich is quite comforting and more than enough for a morning meal. The red toothpick keeps the smaller half intact, which I hold for snacking in the car.
El Palacio de los Jugos
5721 Wrst Flagler Street, Miami, FL 33144 (map) 305-264-8662
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