Cheap Eats 2008: Cuba de Ayer

Why go: It’s not Cuba—it’s not even Miami. But the cooking at this colorful hole in the wall is authentic, pulsing with the garlicky, slow-cooked flavors of Havana.

What to get: Ham croquettes, the outsides crunchy, the insides rich and creamy; vaca frita, a mound of beef made lacy, almost light, by double frying (give it a spritz of lemon); a comforting picadillo, beef hash garnished with bits of potato, olive, and onion; the best black beans and rice around; sticky-sweet plantains; a version of tres leches that, in spite of its almost custardlike consistency, still eats like a piece of cake.

Best for: Celebrating on the cheap, courtesy of the family-style plating and the short roster of cocktails and beers.

Insider tip: Forgo the moros y cristianos—black beans mixed with rice, a common side dish; they’re better ordered individually so you can appreciate the savor of the inky beans and the fluffiness of the oiled rice.

Open daily except Monday for lunch and dinner.

See all Cheap Eats 2008 restaurants

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.