Havana Bites | Restaurant Reviews | Salt Lake City Weekly

Havana Bites 

Get your Cuban flavor fix at South Salt Lake's Batista Food and Grill.

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ALEX SPRINGER
  • Alex Springer

I tried my first Cubano sandwich at Utah's annual Living Traditions Festival probably around a decade ago. This was a formative experience for me, as it revealed that there is indeed a Fibonaccian "golden ratio" present in the sum of a sandwich's parts. The roast pork shoulder, sliced ham, melted cheese, mustard and pickle pressed between two slices of grilled (or otherwise toasted) bread presents a small glimpse into the divine.

Since then, I haven't been able to resist ordering a Cubano whenever I happen to see one. With that bit of backstory in mind, you can imagine my excitement when Batista Food and Grill (493 E. 2700 South, 385-484-3757), a Cuban and Nicaraguan restaurant with a team straight from Miami, opened its doors in South Salt Lake.

Of course, I couldn't wait to dig into their Cubanos ($10.50)—they have the original, along with a Cuban steak and chicken sandwich—but I was excited to take a deeper dive into Cuban cuisine, which is pretty new to me as a whole. Based on my experience at Batista, I noticed a lot of the same culinary DNA featured in Puerto Rican and Venezuelan dishes—no complaints here. I've done plenty of gushing about my love of fried plantains, and you can't really go wrong with stewed black beans and fluffy white rice as a side to a hefty helping of grilled meats.

Fans of grilled, braised, roasted and skewered proteins will most definitely find a favorite here rather quickly. The vaca frita ($15) is a nice opener for Cuban food newbies, as it's quite accessible while offering a gateway into the nuances of this island cuisine. It's a tender skirt steak, grilled up with sliced onions and then shredded into a savory meat pile with a dome of white rice. Simplicity is the key here—from the tender, deftly spiced skirt steak to the savory grilled onions, each ingredient gets a chance to speak for itself before adding its flavorful contribution to the whole plate. For more of an ensemble dish, the bisteck encebollado ($13.50) gets a similar treatment with the addition of fried plantains.

Those in the mood for something more on the grilled and skewered side will dig the pork or chicken shish kabob ($10.50). Plentiful chunks of protein are grilled to perfection and served up with some crinkle cut fries—which were unexpectedly great in their own right. They go well with the ham and cheese croissants ($8), which are tasty either as grab-and-go sandwiches, or as a versatile side dish to any one of these grilled all-stars.

Even though I had ordered a sizable main dish in the vaca frita, I couldn't help but add one of Batista's Cubanos to the docket. Unlike the daintier ham and cheese croissants, the Cubano is a sandwich monster. From the juicy roast pork to the acidic mustard-and-pickle combo, it's a sandwich that has it all. I also appreciate Batista's efforts to liberally smash this sandwich on the panini grill to get it as flat as possible—something mystical happens in this process that makes all those rich flavors fuse together to and create the Cubano's signature superpower.

Those who share my adoration for Cubanos will feel right at home with the sandwiches Batista is serving up. While I've had many fancier variations on this classic sandwich, this one is an excellent litmus test for what a Cubano should be. The roast pork and sliced ham deliver up their yin-yang of porcine flavors exactly as planned, and the melted cheese acts as a nice, mild buffer between the more intense notes of vinegar and acid imparted by the yellow mustard and thick dill pickles. Again, there is something borderline magical going on within a Cubano, and it's something Batista has captured for their own iteration. I could see this being the Cubano fan's workhorse sandwich shop during weekday lunch runs.

In addition to a solid Cubano, Batista's supporting cast of sandwiches doesn't disappoint. The pan con lechon ($10.50) is all about that sweet, sweet roast pork, and it comes with a scoop of fries for good measure. The pan con bisteck ($10.50) and the sandwiches de pollo ($8) are additional variations on the grilled sandwich theme for anyone looking to push the structural integrity of their sandwich construction. I'm also a fan of any regional joint that offers a small bakery window that features tasty desserts to complement your meal, and I can recommend the guava and cream cheese turnovers ($4) hanging out in the counter display case.

All in all, Batista is a great entry point for Cuban food for us locals north of Havana. They've got their grilled meat game primed for all comers and having a spot where I can get a nice Cubano as a lunchtime indulgence has me feeling all kinds of grateful this holiday season.

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