Some of the best sandwiches in the world come from South America — especially Argentina, where the unique blend of European and New World influences creates a perfect storm of grilled meats spiked with vibrant sauces on fabulous crusty bread.
Sara Damian adds yet another dimension to the mix at Caminito, a stylish new Port Washington cafe that specializes in Argentinian sandwiches and empanadas. The classically trained chef grew up in Buenos Aires, where her parents immigrated to from South Korea in the 1970s. Her Korean-Argentinian background is reflected in a menu that not only carries popular sandwiches like choripán (grilled chorizo) but also empanadas stuffed with bulgogi beef and paired with kimchi mayo.
Damian spent 12 years cooking for United Nations dignitaries at the Greentree Foundation in Manhasset. She put her career aside for six years while raising her two children, and now that her youngest is in school, she opened her own casual cafe like those found in Argentina.
Caminito, which opened in November, is named after a small street of colorful tenement buildings in Buenos Aires that's a major tourist attraction. The area was formerly occupied by Italian immigrants, but became an artists' haven after it was painted bold colors in the 1950s. Because of its large number of immigrants, Italian recipes worked their way into the soul of Argentina's cuisine.
You can see it in the chicken and beef milanesa sandwiches that Caminito displays on its chalkboard menu. The milanesa de pollo ($16) features an assertively breaded and fried chicken cutlet alongside fresh tomato slices and a creamy semi-firm cow's milk cheese called Quartirolo, which was invented in the Lombardy area of Italy but is now one of Argentina's most popular cheeses.
Damian imports half of her cheeses from Argentina and uses them in empanadas like the Fugazetta ($4.50), which is actually a riff on the famous Argentinian stuffed pizza/focaccia bread creation. (Yes, Argentinian pizza is a thing, and while you can't find it here, the curious can go to Mamma Gina's Pizza in Mineola.) Inside this fried empanada version, melty Cremoso cheese becomes even richer with the addition of grilled onions.
Damian serves both fried and more traditional baked empanadas. The spicy beef ($6) is the standout, with salty olives spilling out. Dip the empanadas in bright condiments like chimichurri sauce, a Peruvian jalapeño cream made from peppers and cilantro or a salsa criolla of red onions in vinegar.
But back to the sandwiches, which is what you're really coming here for. Caminito is one of the few places on Long Island to get a choripán, the beloved grilled chorizo sandwich of Argentina. (Chori is short for chorizo, and “pan” means bread, get it?) Hers is a double-stacked affair with the herbaceous chimichurri sauce playing off the fatty Argentinian pork sausage and a short loaf of crusty bread from North Shore Farms — simple but satisfying. But the best sandwich here features another delight of the Argentinian asado, grilled steak. In the Lomito ($18), the fat slices are paired with deli ham and more of that deliciously melty Quartirolo cheese, a symbol of Argentina's bounty.
Caminito, 87 Main St., Port Washington, 631-604-7800, instagram.com/caminitokitchen. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.