June 2004 Cuban Corner

Food is plentiful, homey, and cheap.

By: Cynthia Hacinli

The wall at this strip-mall storefront is a who's who of Cuban luminaries, from household names like Gloria Estefan to lesser knowns like Nils Diaz, head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Where there aren't photos and placards, vivid murals of beach scenes and palm trees cover the walls.

Food is plentiful, homey, and cheap. Start with an empanada of cheese and green olives, ham croquettes, or yucca fritters. Stars of the menu are fork-tender cubes of pork sautéed with thinly sliced red onion, green olives, and pimentos; ropa vieja in dark meaty gravy; a cumin-scented sauté of red snapper filets; and the Cubano sandwich. Rice and garlic-scented black beans are worthy accompaniments, and fried plantains add a jolt of sweetness. For dessert, go exotic with guava and cream cheese; for comfort with sweet rice pudding; or lush with a thick mango milkshake. And remember, Cuban cigars may be banned in the United States, but Hatuey beer--now distributed in Baltimore--is a Cuban treasure worth trying.