Sabor Latino serves “Latin flavors with no pretense” in Old Louisville. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

As annoying as social media can be with all the political bickering that goes on, sometimes it can truly be a blessing.

Not only do I get to keep up with my family and see pictures of my friends’ kids, but I got wind of Sabor Latino, an Old Louisville eatery that boasts “Latin flavors with no pretense,” by way of some Facebook posts.

Nothing fancy about Sabor Latino, but the proof is in the flavors. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

People raved over the Cuban sandwich, hailing it as a revelation that takes them back to south Florida street vendor versions of the timeless classic. I’ve not been to Florida in years, but I’ll never turn down a Cuban.

I’m happy to report that the online reviews were spot on — and there were a couple of items that made my visit even better.

Sabor Latino is a true hole-in-the-wall, but it intrigues immediately with a sign hanging from the corner building that reads, “Latin Culinary Mix,” and outdoor tables with colorful umbrellas.

Inside, three booths line one wall across from a counter where you place your order; a couple of tables are situated up front. String lighting hangs overhead just inside the entrance, giving way to tile floors, splashes of red, blue, yellow and green and some Latin artwork, such as a colorful poster claiming Cuba as the “Holiday Isle of the Tropics.”

Latin music fills the air.

Owner Steve Kelly greeted me, and the first item I ordered — the menu is on a wall by the counter — was a beef empanada. He informed me that he was in the process of making the empanadas, and that they wouldn’t be ready for another hour and a half. So, I diverted, instead ordering a pork taco, a Cuban, sides of black beans with pork and, on his recommendation, papas bravas.

I grabbed a Mexican Coke and a seat in one of the booths and waited. I soon heard Kelly chopping, then I heard the sizzling of meat. And then the aromas wafted in my direction. Yes, it took a few minutes for my food to be ready, but I don’t mind waiting for a freshly prepared meal.

Pork taco | Photo by Kevin Gibson

When he brought it out, I realized my appetite was in for a challenge — the portions were not small. I started with the taco, which was served with a lime wedge and a thin Verde sauce. I used both liberally.

The taco wasn’t special, but the pork was tender and tasty, the freshly cooked corn tortillas would have made a nice snack on their own, and the Verde and lime added a balancing brightness to the flavor.

Next, I took a bite of the patatas bravas and immediately wanted to thank Kelly for the recommendation. Imagine a spicy, Latin version of potatoes au gratin, and you’re in the ballpark. The big chunks of fluffy potato were seasoned, cheesy and browned in spots.

The Cuban, with patatas bravas and pork-seasoned black beans | Photo by Kevin Gibson

I couldn’t quite place the spiciness; it didn’t strike me as being black pepper, so maybe a dash of arbol chiles? Absolutely delicious, regardless, and I would return just for those.

The black beans, meanwhile, were fresh-tasting and firm, bursting with natural bean flavor and packed with fall-apart pork that had turned almost black from simmering with the beans (there’s a vegan version, too). The two words I dropped into my notes were “earthy goodness.”

The Cuban came pressed on grilled bread, with slices of what tasted like the same pork from the tacos, plus thin-sliced ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles and yellow mustard — in other words, a classic Cuban.

The online raves were correct: The sum of the parts in that sandwich far exceeded the parts themselves. Kelly built the sandwich to blend those flavors just right, with the pork and ham alternating center stage, the tartness of pickle sneaking in, and occasional hints of mustard spice.

The crispy edges of the bread gave way to a soft center. Just a very well-done sandwich.

Kelly told me he opened Sabor Latino with his daughter a little less than a year and a half ago. He is originally from Florida, which explains the connection to the Cuban sandwiches — he even has the authentic bread shipped here. As for the Latin cooking flair, he said his mother was half Cuban.

The menu has plenty more to offer, from burritos and quesadillas to platters like slow-roasted chicken with sides, carne asada (marinated skirt steak), ropa vieja (Cuban beef stew), and pollo de vacaciones, which is chicken simmered in a brown sauce flavored with raisin, bacon and cognac.

I may have to scan the online reviews to see which one I should try next.

Sabor Latino, located at 1273 S. Brook St., is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday.

Kevin Gibson covers everything from food to music to beer to bourbon. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono (pissed her off a little, too). Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he co-hosts a local radio show and plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies. Check out his blog, 502Brews.com, or feel free to call him names on Twitter: @kgramone.


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