Torta Cubana – A Mexican Sandwich

(Click here to go to printable recipe: Torta Cubana, pictured above.)

In one of my earliest posts, I mentioned that when I was in middle school in Mexico City, a friend introduced me to “Tortas Don Polo”, a restaurant specializing in Mexican sandwiches (tortas) and smoothies (licuados). Established in 1958 by Leopoldo (Polo) Sánchez Preciado, it became very popular, especially for its delicious “tortas cubanas” (Cuban tortas.) In yet another of my early posts, I wrote about the three urban legends regarding the naming of this sandwich:  “We know tortas are Mexican sandwiches, and it is generally accepted that the cubanas in particular, were invented in Mexico City sometime in the 1950s (note: the Cuban sandwich is a different preparation, popular in Miami); how they were named is a different matter.  The three most popular stories are: 1) That the creator had a small torta stand on “República de Cuba” Street, in Downtown Mexico City, so the sandwich was named after the location. 2) That Mexican men described Cuban ladies as “having everything”: elegance, beauty and intelligence; the curious analogy is – remember, this is the 1950s – that tortas cubanas are filled with lots of ingredients: meats, cheese, veggies, or “everything on.” 3) The last story, closer to a fairy tale, is that Fidel Castro himself invented this Mexican sandwich  in a restaurant in Downtown Mexico City during his brief exile in the country (1955-1956), and it was named cubana after his homeland.”  There is no consensus to this date on which story (if any) is right.

I recently had a chance to go back to the original “Don Polo” (which now has branches, but the original is on 86-A Félix Cuevas/Eje 7, Del Valle). I felt transported through a time gap, it looked just as I remembered it was in the last Millennium (hehe).  The nice servers were still wearing uniforms with white aprons and, as soon as you seat at one of their square tables, they promptly arrange a paper placemat on the melamine top, as well as a laminated menu with photographs of some of their specialties:

Don Polo mat and menu

Of course the chairs and stools had those old-fashioned vinyl seats, I mean, just look at the precious coffee machine on the counter:

002 Don Polo coffee machine

That sight, and the sound and smell of fresh coffee brewing in the background (not sure if from the same machine, but still) felt like a balm to my senses … I looked at the menu just for the memories, but I knew I was going to order a torta cubana. I also ordered a licuado (smoothie), and they came along with a saucer filled with their homemade escabeche-style pickled jalapeño peppers and carrots:

003 Don Polo torta cubana and mamey smoothie

It was just as I remembered it; buttered crusty bun, grilled and filled with layers of refried beans, avocado, ham, American style yellow cheese and a pile of their house pork roast. I added a generous amount of spicy vegetables to my torta cubana:

004 Don Polo torta cubana and pickled jalapenos and carrots

Needless to say, I thought that, once back home, I had to recreate the experience.

Torta Cubana

Printable recipe: Torta Cubana

Ingredients (for one sandwich)

1 large crusty bun (teleras are the original, but Portuguese buns, Kaisers or Calabrese buns are good options)
Butter, at room temperature
½ to ¾ cup cooked pork roast; sliced (for example, leftover roast from this recipe)
1 slice ham
1 slice American style yellow cheese (or a thin slice of Cheddar)
¼ cup refried beans
½ avocado, sliced
Side: Escabeche-style pickled jalapeños and carrots, sliced (click here for my recipe, or canned)

Slice bun in half, lengthwise; spread butter on the cut side of both halves; place on a skillet, pre-heated over medium heat, butter side down, along with the pork and ham photo below, left); stir pork and flip ham after a couple of minutes, then place cheese on top of the ham and lightly butter the outer sides of the bun (photo below, right):

When the cheese starts to melt, flip along with the ham on top of the roast, flip buns to crisp the outer sides, and spread beans on bottom half of the bun (phot below, left).  After one more minute, place meats and cheese on the top half of the bun; transfer bottom half to a plate, bean side up, and top with avocado slices, then place the other half on top (photo below, right):

Serve with the jalapeño peppers and carrots en escabeche on the side, to add to the sandwich to taste:

005 torta cubana

I even made a licuado (click here for my recipe).  Overall, the meal was very close to the one at “Don Polo”, except for the bun; I used a Kaiser bun because the authentic teleras are not available around here; the closest, I think, is the Portuguese style crusty bun, so with a little perseverance, maybe I will find it next time, and get even closer to the one and only Don Polo’s torta cubana.


I am bringing my recipe to Melt in Your Mouth Monday Recipe Blog Hop #414 with Lisa @ Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms


I am joining Tummy Tuesday with Mary @ Cactus Catz


Thank you so much to Bev @ Eclectic Barn and Marilyn @ Marilyn’s Treats for featuring my Blushed Pipián on their Thursday Favourite Things #393, co-hosted with Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Nina @ Vintage Mama’s Cottage, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home, Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance, Pam @ An Artful Mom and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode.


I am also sharing this post at Full Pate Thursday # 436 with Miz Helen @ Miz Helen’s Country Cottage.


I am joining Fiesta Friday # 280 with Angie @ Fiesta Friday this week co-hosting with Ai @ Ai Made It For You.

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25 thoughts on “Torta Cubana – A Mexican Sandwich

  1. That’s what I call a sandwich. I’m pork-free but I think chicken would also taste good on this. Never thought of putting refried beans and avocado together on a sandwich, but sounds YUM. I have question about licuado. Have you done any posts on horchata??? I had some from a machine when I visited my cousin in AZ and I bought dried stuff in a pouch from a store here, but I’d love to know how to make it from scratch.

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    1. Any filling goes with tortas; chicken would be great, and breaded cutlets is a popular one, too (check https://mysliceofmexico.ca/2018/03/09/a-golden-brown-crispy-and-oil-free-baked-breaded-cutlet/, which may be made with thin chicken cutlets) and I add onion and tomato, as well (left them out here to recreate the “Don Polo” torta). I do have a nice post about horchata, with a short-cut to make it at home in a jiffy (https://mysliceofmexico.ca/2018/08/31/horchata-one-last-sip-of-summer/)

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  2. Interesting how words can obtain a different meaning, like torta meaning sandwich. In Costa Rica a soda is not a drink, but a simple restaurant. And an entrée (appetizer in French) is a main course in the US…

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    1. I know, right? When I was a grad student my Hispanic friends and I decided to use the English word “cake” because it seemed it was different in each Spanish speaking country: “panqueque”, “dolce” and yes, “torta” in Spain and some countries in South America. The “entrée” in the US is the same in Canada; in Spanish ” emtrada” (same meaning as French). I remember lining at the wrong counter at the cafeteria the first time, hehe.

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  3. I have actually had a sandwich like this and it is fantastic, I can almost taste it! Hope you are having a great day and thanks so much for sharing your post with us at Full Plate Thursday!
    Miz Helen

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