Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Chicago Dining World Tour: Enjoying a 'Taste of Cuba'

Taste of Cuba Cafe
3918 W. Touhy Ave., Lincolnwood

After inaugurating my newfound initiative to eat around the world in Chicago by visiting the Argentinean restaurant Tango Sur, the next stop on my local world tour wound up being Taste of Cuba in Lincolnwood.

This was my first visit to Taste of Cuba, a friendly storefront cafe with 6 or 7 tables, but not my first taste of Cuban food.

I have enjoyed the 90 Miles Cafe at both their Chicago locations, used to go to a now defunct Cuban restaurant at Kimball & Peterson and when in Milwaukee in September, liked a place there called Cubanitas. I've also enjoyed the food service counter in the back of La Unica, a Cuban bodega on Devon.

So I was somewhat familiar with Cuban cuisine, primarily in the realm of Lechon (roasted pork) and Cubano (ham, pork, Swiss cheese) sandwiches as well as some appetizers. And I was therefore aware that Cuban food is considerably less spicy--pretty much devoid--than I would have suspected.

On Friday night, I went to Taste of Cuba for dinner with my mom and we were both very pleased with our experience in all regards: food, service and price.

I ordered Ropa Vieja, which the menu cites as a House Specialty and describes as "Roasted steak braised in a slow simmered creole sauce with sweet peppers, onions and garlic!"

Though what I got, accompanied by sweet plantains (my choice of side) and rice, was tasty, it wasn't quite as exciting as I inferred from the menu. As shown at right, the Ropa Vieja is basically a pile of seasoned shredded beef, with some peppers and onions mixed in. It seemed to me that some accompanying tortillas--or the Cuban equivalent--would've been appropriate, or that Ropa Vieja might work well on a sandwich (I don't see one listed).

Nonetheless, it fit the bill as something I've never eaten before and found both interesting and enjoyable.

Even better was a Steak Jibarito my mom ordered and let me share. I'm familiar with the Jibarito as a Puerto Rican specialty I had loved at Taste of Chicago, and subsequently from Borinquen restaurant, but it's not surprising it also fits within Cuban cuisine.

A Jibarito is a sandwich that uses fried plantains in lieu of bread, with your choice of filling. The steak we had was terrific.

I think my mom would agree, that especially given the relatively low price, this was one of the best dinners out we've had in awhile. It was made even better by service that wasn't just fast, but positively cheerful.

Taste of Cuba is just steps away from what may be my favorite Mexican restaurant in the area, Wholly Frijoles, and I think I first noticed the former on a trip to the latter. But Taste of Cuba may well merit a return visit even before I circumnavigate the world of Chicago dining cultures, and I certainly would recommend it to anyone looking forward to Havana great meal at a good price.

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