Sky Full of Bacon

#32: El Mariel, or What’s Cuban For OK?

El Mariel is a Cuban sandwich place that has opened up next to the popular Habana Libre on Chicago. If “Habana Libre” conjures up Hemingway and stiff tropical drinks, El Mariel refers, of course, to the Marielitos, the people who crowded onto boats to escape— or not— Fidel’s rule and land in America. Which makes the Cuban part seem a little more immediate and harsh than at the very picturesque, almost stereotypically so, Habana Libre.

The menu is short and basic, so I ordered the most obvious thing: a Cuban sandwich. I also ordered papas fritas, which is to say French fries, not realizing that homemade potato chips would be served alongside it. Oops.

Before I got any of this, though, the proprietor, a burly mustached man hard at work on some sort of baking project, offered me a cup of soup on the house. It was chicken soup, nothing great, but perfectly okay, fresh vegetables and real chicken, what’s not to like? That was pretty much how I felt about the Cubano, too— nothing that would change my life, but an entirely decent rendition, far from skimpy with the ham, and offered in an atmosphere of eager and hopeful hospitality. I found the attitude winning even when the food would have served its purpose today and been forgotten tomorrow. That will bring me back, to see if El Mariel develops into something more interesting in time.

El Mariel
1438 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60642
(312) 226-0455

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