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Cafecito, Acclaimed Cuban Sandwich Shop, Lands New Location in Loop

By Ted Cox | March 15, 2013 1:07pm

LOOP — A popular South Loop Cuban sandwich shop has landed a new beachhead in the Loop proper.

Cafecito opened a new storefront location just within the Loop tracks at 7 N. Wells St. Friday, just as actor-owner Philip Ghantous was getting an unexpected acting job on a city movie shoot.

"It conflicted all of a sudden," Ghantous said from a wardrobe room where he was getting dressed for the part after checking in with the new restaurant first thing in the morning. "I figured I've got nice people who'll take care of everything."

The new Cafecito has been one of the most anticipated openings for Downtown foodies, mainly because the original location, at 26 E. Congress Parkway, was instantly hailed on its opening five years ago. TimeOut Chicago even proclaimed it "the best Cuban sandwich in Chicago," a bold statement given neighborhood competition such 90 Miles and the Alexei Ramirez-endorsed (but sadly since-closed) Cafeteria y Restaurante de Pancho in Logan Square.

None of those, however, compete in the Loop.

"I think it's important to bring a different flavor — flavors and sounds with the music incorporated into the flavor — into that neighborhood," Ghantous said. "I want to introduce that flavor to the Loop."

That's a different flavor, and a different state of mind, compared to the assembly-line offerings at many downtown lunch locations.

"It's fine, and a lot of people do it really great," Ghantous said. "The thing is, everybody's in such a hurry, myself included.

"Take a few minutes more, escape the office, have something a little more sensual or sexy in ambience while you're eating lunch, and be transported to something tropical, something Caribbean or Latin-driven," he added.

Like many Loop lunch spots, Cafecito also tries to attract a breakfast crowd, but does so authentically with its selection of Cuban coffees and breakfast sandwiches such as jamon con huevos and huevos chimichurri.

Cafecito serves full platters of trademark Cuban ropa vieja and tilapia criolla for the dinner crowd, but is not technically a BYOB. Neither is the original location, Ghantous said, because of its patronage by students at nearby DePaul and Roosevelt universities.

Even so, he thought the time was right to expand his operations.

"I figured, let me take my risks while I'm young," Ghantous said.