Monday, January 24, 2011

Food Review: The Cuban Pressed Sandwich at Maracas International Food

Tucked into a small gas station in Canutillo, Ramon Ortiz works in a tiny kitchen serving up delectable Puerto Rican dishes. Ortiz claims his Philly is the best thing on the menu, I’m going to have a hard time ordering anything other than the Cuban pressed sandwich.


In a town where you can’t spit without hitting yet another “amazing” Mexican joint, restaurants serving International Foods are rare and good ones worth a repeat visit even rarer still. Blame it on a population that believes “the older the woman the better the beans” where traditional Mexican food can dominate the cuisine for decades in a home, the lack of diversity in food is a real issue/crisis in El Paso for diners craving dishes other than Machaca, Huevos Rancheros, Caldo, etc. That is why I recently spent an afternoon driving around Canutillo, past dirt cemeteries with wooden crosses, stray dogs and rows of trailer homes, in search of the genesis of a Facebook post that boasted that a “pressed Cuban sandwich made in a gas station down the street from the Outlet Malls was worth the drive.” (I frequently rely on Facebook for recipes, food recommendations and the chance to flaunt my dining experiences.)

Still lost in Canutillo, I turned the car around at the outlet mall and noticed a small sign in the dirt along the curb that read “pressed sandwiches” with an arrow pointing toward a gas station. Following the arrow, I quickly pulled into the parking lot of a gas station, where a plastic sign hung on one of the exterior walls with “Maracas International Foods” printed on it. I went inside and past the cashier was a former Subway Sandwich stand with Ramon Ortiz standing behind it. Friendly and very patient with my 13,000 questions, he broke down the menu, explaining I had to buy my drinks from the cashier (to include beer) and he would serve me at the section of tables when my sandwich was done. I ordered the 6” Cuban sandwich ($5.50) served with Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, pulled pork and ham and garlic hash browns on the side.

I waited about five minutes for the sandwich and about halfway through Ortiz sat down at my table and wanted to know who I was, asking him so many questions. We introduced ourselves and found our similar East Coast personalities refreshing, striking up a quick conversation surrounding my love for his Cuban sandwich and his customers desire for more Mexican food on his menu. “I had to add burritos to the menu because so many people asked for it, despite what was on my menu. Finally I started giving away samples of the Cuban sandwich and customers were hooked. Now I can’t get them to order anything else,” says Ortiz.

Ortiz and his wife moved to El Paso from Florida six years ago and being a self proclaimed workaholic, Ortiz now works seven days a week running the kitchen at Maracas and catering to several businesses during lunch. He’s busy but loves the work and if the pressed sandwich is a window into the pure bliss that lies in the flavors of the other items on the menu, I have a lot of time to spend at his table.

The Cuban pressed sandwich includes all the typical ingredients but adds several extra ounces of delicious pulled pork, something Ortiz is not stingy with at all. The bread is coated with just the right amount of garlic butter and puts a crisp texture on the edges. The juxtaposition of textures, warm crunchy bread with melted butter on meat in the middle with a salty burst of pickle, makes every bite divine.

Serving garlic hash browns as a lunch side might seem odd but it’s a perfect compliment to the salty and garlicky sandwich. After the meal, you’ll open a small plastic container of Boston baked bean candies that cut through the garlic, an unexpectedly refreshing treat. Or if you choose not to eat the candies you can just shake the beans in their container that makes the same sound as Maracas. Get it?

The Friday menu consists of Puerto Rican food only, serving up rice and beans and other delectable dishes that run you less than $10. If you’re like me, it will take several visits to venture away from the Cuban but Ortiz swears that “the ladies like the Sandwich de Bistec” - we’ll see if he can convince me to try it by summer.

Have you been to this restaurant? If yes, please add your comments on YELP! Visit my review here,, and add to it.

Starting Jan. 27, visit Half Off store for 50% off gift certificates to Maracas International Foods. Click here to buy your gift certificate now.

Info: Maracas International Foods

911 Tolbert Ave.
Canutillo, TX 79835
(915) 877-7307
Mon. – Fri 7 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Sat. 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sun. noon – 4 p.m.
$5 - $10 per meal

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