Frita Cubana: The Cuban Burger Piled High With Crunchy Potatoes

Few hot sandwiches have the malleability of a delicious burger. Whether it's in the ingredients, techniques, toppings, or a combination of all three, each burger maker can craft their unique spin. It is no surprise the dish has spread globally, with renditions ranging from Mexican street-food hamburguesas to Korean-inflected bulgogi burgers.

In Cuba, there's a historic riff on the dish, too — frita Cubana. Made with heavily seasoned pork and beef patties, loaded with thin, crispy fries, and served with a special sauce, it's an interpretation packed with flavor. Nearing a century in existence, the dish takes on a wide range of variations, with the recipe open to limitless toppings.

Although it faced near extinction in its origin nation, the sandwich has become a symbolic food in Miami, which has perpetuated its popularity. So seek out a version to taste its vibrant flavors — it's a slice of flavorful Cuban cooking, all in sandwich form.

Frita Cubana's rich history

This distinctly Cuban take on a burger started as a street food, mainly sold in Havana from the 1930s onwards. The meat-based creation came together on small, propane-fueled carts, which were operated by friteros — or fryers in Spanish — lending the dish its name. Although it's unknown if the concept was brought from the U.S., an influence is likely, especially due to the interconnection of the nations at the time.

The Cuban dish employs ingredients and techniques popular on the island. Its mixture of beef, pork, and chorizo in the patty is reminiscent of picadillo. Such a delicious combination of flavors — all packaged as a sandwich — made the dish a hit in Cuba for decades. It was an accessible food for festivities, dates, and nights on the town. However, the advent of communism in the Caribbean nation led to the food's near disappearance. Due to the closure of private businesses, accompanied by food shortage, the frita started to decrease in popularity. It only came back to life due to Cuban cooks crafting them in Miami. From the 1960s onwards, the frita Cubana emerged as a beloved Cuban-American creation, continuing the island's legacy.

What's in a frita Cubana?

This burger creation utilizes a medley of spices and textures. The bread is usually the same as other burgers: classic soft hamburger buns. However, past such a base, the rest is more uniquely Cuban.

The well-seasoned patty is composed of a ground beef base, often mixed with pork chorizo. Depending on the version, a vibrant spice mix is stirred in, for example, both sweet and Spanish paprika, cumin, and garlic, as well as onion powder and hot sauce. Some even add ketchup for added sweetness and moisture. The patties are seared on a griddle at high heat, creating a delicious crust similar to a smash burger.

And then there's also the essential crispy potato element, made by frying thin slivers of potatoes shoestring-fry style. These crispy delights add a delicious textural element, and the burger avoids dryness by smearing a tangy Cuban-inflected sauce, usually crafted with vinegar, a tomato product, and spices. From there, chefs imbue their unique spin with optional toppings like cheese, bacon, and raw onions. The result is a wondrously flavor-dense sandwich, each bite amplified by a new blend of spices and textures.