As the grandson of Cuban immigrants, Cuban food will forever have a special place in my heart. From cozy home cooked meals after a tiring day to enormous family-wide Christmas feasts, Cuban food has filled every nook and cranny of my life. Therefore, I would like to celebrate this diversely delicious cuisine by running through some of my absolute favorite Cuban dishes. Here’s a brief overview of classic Cuban cooking: Cuban food reflects a cultural mixing between Spanish, African, and Caribbean cuisines. Unlike other Latin cuisines Cuban food isn’t focused on spiciness, but instead develops deep savory, garlicky, and meaty flavors through primarily slow cooking or frying techniques.

Just as a disclaimer these are the dishes that have been the most impactful in my life, and this list does not cover the endless list of tasty Cuban foods out there. You can use this article as some suggestions for Cuban dishes to try, or just use it to learn more about the rich Cuban culture. I just hope that I can inspire you to go out, try these dishes, and maybe find some comfort in my comfort food.

Croquetas de Jamón

Starting the list off strong, let’s take a moment to talk about my favorite Cuban appetizer. Croquetas de jamón (ham croquettes) may actually be the best thing since sliced bread. Originating in France, the croquette was a delicacy originally adapted by Cubans as a way to turn scraps into an edible dish. Now these glorified recycling bins of food have become a Cuban staple that everyone MUST try.

They are tiny cylinders of ground ham in a butter/flour/milk mixture coated in breadcrumbs and fried to crispy perfection. No Cuban function is complete without these finger-shaped finger foods, and my family always orders them by the hundreds for our holiday feasts. Croquetas come with many other fillings like cheese, pork, etc., but ham will always reign supreme in my books. Just know if there is one food I’m begging you to try from the list it's these. Seriously go out and have a croqueta, you will not be disappointed.

Media Noche

If I didn’t mention some sort of Cuban sandwich on my list, I’m pretty sure I’d have my Cuban card redacted forever. While Cuban Sandwiches come in many shapes and sizes, my favorite, hands down, has to be the classic Media Noche. Meaning “midnight” the Media Noche gets its name from its popularity at Havana night clubs during ungodly hours of the night. This flavor bomb of a sandwich shoves pork, ham, swiss cheese, and mustard in between two fluffy slices of sweet egg dough bread. That’s not it though, since this sandwich is hot pressed to give the bread a mouth tingling crunch, and the cheese a mouth watering gooey-ness. This gives the sandwich its distinctive flat look, but don’t be deceived by its small stature since it still knows how to pack a punch.

My cousins and I always make these sandwiches during our big family Christmas-gift exchange, and it always reminds me of time with those that I love. For its sentimental value and unbeatable flavor, the Media Noche goes down in history as my favorite sandwich ever.

Plátano Maduro Frito

Translating to fried ripe plantains, maduros (as I call them) add a hint of sweetness to the traditional garlic and meat heavy Cuban plate. Brought to Cuba by African slaves, this dish encapsulates the vibrant mixture of cultures Cuba embodies. Plantains are basically larger bananas that grow in the Caribbean, and develop a sweeter taste than bananas when ripened or cooked. Maduros are simple to make since it requires only slicing and frying plantains, yet don’t let this simplicity deceive you. The exquisite texture and flavor are the perfect complement to any savory dish, and go far beyond what any plain banana could dream of being.

From personal experience, I’ve noticed that people seem to be more hesitant to try this one since I guess the idea of a fried banana next to your beans doesn’t mesh well with the American palette. If you ever get the chance to try a maduro, I highly encourage you to, and the worst that could happen is that you don’t like it (which I highly doubt will happen anyways).

Picadillo a la Habanera

If any food on this list screams comfort food to me, it’s picadillo. My abuela would make picadillo basically every time I slept at her house, and my mom continues to make picadillo for us to this day. This dish is the main event of the meal, and it is usually served with the quintessential Cuban sides of rice and beans. My family prepares it with ground beef, sofrito (a mix of onions, garlic, and green bell peppers that is simmered and serves as the base for many Cuban delicacies), tomato sauce, olives, and a multitude of secret spices that I can’t disclose unless I want to be disowned.

What’s so wonderful about picadillo is that no two families make it the same, and some recipes involve a completely different cast of ingredients like capers, potatoes, and even raisins. Picadillo’s nature as a family heirloom of sorts makes it very special, and gives it both a sense of pride and comfort. On top of all that, it's pretty delicious too, and you should give it a go at your local Cuban spot (although I doubt it can reach the heights of my Buela’s recipe).


Yuca is a root derived from the cassava plant that originated in the southern border of the Amazon basin. Yuca is a common ingredient in many Latin American cultures, and Cubans prepare it in a variety of ways. Its taste and texture are like a potato, and it can be prepared through techniques similar to that of potatoes like frying and boiling.

My favorite form of yuca is yuca con mojo, a staple at all of my Christmas dinners. I don’t know how my tia Ana manages it because this dish involves boiling the yuca for eons and eons. Then it is slow-cooked and infused with the Cuban trifecta of flavors: onions, garlic, and lemon. This savory heaven is partly achieved by marinating the yuca in what I like to call: Cuba’s ketchup, mojo. Mojo is a sauce/marinade made from garlic, oregano, salt, and sour orange juice. Mojo adds a sour yet salty punch to everything it graces, and is commonly incorporated into Cuban dishes. It goes perfectly with yuca since yuca, like potatoes, is the perfect sponge, and soaks up every last drop of that sour goodness.

Another popular way to eat yuca is as fries along with your Cuban sandwich or whatever your entree may be. Imagine American fries but thicker, a little tougher, and replace the ketchup with that oh-so-tasty mojo. These are only a few uses of yuca in Cuban cuisine, and it really is a tropical swiss army knife seen throughout Cuban dishes.

Bistec de Palomilla

Cuban food is filled to the brim with steak heavy delicacies like Ropa Vieja, Vaca Frita, and Carne con Papa, but the one nearest and dearest to my heart is Bistec de Palomilla. This is my mom’s signature dish, and I have probably chowed down on it thousands of times. The dish is very simple in concept, a thinly sliced, pounded top sirloin steak marinated in and topped with onions, garlic, lime juice, and seasonings. In my opinion this entree is the piece-de-resistance of the savory onion, garlic, and lime flavors that make up Cuban cuisine. The tender steak is the obvious highlight of the dish, but sometimes I can’t resist scarfing down those caramelized onions by themselves.

I will always remember learning to make this dish with my mom, and pounding that poor slab of meat with all the anger a 9 year-old could muster. I know some might be shocked that I pushed the extremely influential dish of Ropa Vieja aside, but my personal connection with Bistec de Palomilla is like no other, and I can only hope that this humble dish enters the long list of “quintessential” Cuban dishes. 


Lastly, like all good meals, I’m ending this list with a not-so-little sweet treat. Flan was brought to Latin America by the Spaniards, and was popularized by nuns preparing these treats in convents. It’s basically a giant block of sweet egg custard made from sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk that is doused in a sweet caramel sauce. Its silky smooth consistency is always fun to eat, and despite its sweet-heavy ingredients, it's not too sickly.

I may sound like a broken record, but you’ll find this dessert at everyone of my family’s holiday gatherings. Although I always help my mom make it, there are still a few steps I always leave to her. This is because the recipe for flan is deceivingly difficult, and can go very wrong in many steps. If the caramel burns, the taste turns bitter. If it's not cooked evenly, you get a flabby flan. If you flip it out clumsily, all your work can crumble right before your very eyes. Although the recipe is pretty daunting, my mom has boiled it down to a science, and by performing this meticulous procedure we get a delicious golden block of Cuban sweetness.

There it is, the Cuban comfort food that made me. I could ramble on and on about Cuban food for decades, but I think I’ve already done plenty of rambling already. I barely even scratched the surface of the expansive lexicon of Cuban dishes, and are many more Cuban dishes really important to my life that I think everyone should try like Congri (a rice and beans dish), Pastelitos de Guayaba (guava pastries), Mango Batidos (mango milkshakes), and Lechon Asado (roast pork).

I hope this article inspires you to try something new, and dive into some delicious Cuban cuisine. I also hope it shined some light on my emotional connection to these foods, and how behind every plate is a deep cultural history and colorful story. I encourage you to not only look at my Cuban comfort foods, but all foods through another lens. The food you may see as a “once in a blue moon”, “exotic” treat is someone else's comfort food, and comes with a rich and joyous familial history. Go out there, try some new food, and remember to share the dishes that bring you comfort and joy.