If the myriad cultural influences on cuisine in the Bay Area, I’ve always wondered about the seeming lack of one rich culinary tradition in particular – Cuban cuisine. After all, the Bay Area and Cuban-American culture seem to have much in common in terms of politics, a love of nightlife, music, and a willingness to embrace other cultures including the food, art, music and more that they bring to the community.
Therefore, I was thrilled to see the opening of Media Noche, a new Cuban lunch spot that opened in the Mission a few months ago. This place specializes in that great Cuban contribution to sandwiches, the Cubano, as well as other titular sandwiches borne out of late night snacking in Cuban night clubs for more than 100 years. In many ways, the Cubano is nothing new to San Francisco – you can find many places serving some version of the sandwich. But, like the Philly cheeseteak, the NOLA poboy, or almost any other beloved regional sandwich, just because you happen to call it a Cubano, doesn’t mean it’s close to the real deal. And, without mentioning any names, San Francisco is rife with imitators that don’t really do this sandwich justice.
Media Noche is the real deal. I haven’t had a Cubano like it since my last trip to the iconic Versailles restaurant in Miami a few years ago. There are few lengths to which I would not go in order to get my hands on a great Cuban sandwich. I’d step over a cousin – maybe even an Aunt or Uncle if it’s really good – in order to do so. Any time I see one on the menu, I’m compelled to give it a go, only to be predictably disappointed. Too often, it’s the wrong bread, bad ham, the wrong kind of pork, or some other bizarre permutation that’s been slapped together in order to fill out the menu. The Cubano at Media Noche is simply perfect; they deliver the right bread, pressed and heated the right way with fantastic pork, ham, swiss, pickles, and mustard.
Given that Media Noche was created from alums from places like Tacolicious and The Boxing Room, I’m glad to see this group finally hit the nail on the head from a cultural perspective. The colorful eatery is located on the corner of 19th and Lexington, in the space formerly occupied by Radish. They’ve done a great job re-painting the building in South Beach pastels, complete with flamingos on the side of the building. (the last time I visited, there seemed to be line of young women waiting to take selfies in front of these painted birds … weird). The inside is bright and airy with plants and tile everywhere. The space is first come, first serve, with a handful of tables out front on the sidewalk.
Aside from the excellent Cubano and Media Noche, the rest of the menu is made up of other equally compelling Cuban fare. The empanadas are excellent, especially covered with the restaurant’s ubiquitous salsa picante (you might want to try it on the sandwiches as well). The rest of my meal included their coconut slaw, a vinegar-based slaw with peppers and onions that was incredibly refreshing, as well as their delicious guava-Meyer lemon agua fresca.
Overall, there’s a lot to like about Media Noche. I’m going to have to go back for their sangria, ceviche, their fried chicken and veggie sammies, or one of their very paleo-sounding bowls. Although knowing me, I’ll probably just get another of their wonderful Cubanos.
3465 19th St, San Francisco, CA