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Rumberos, Columbia Heights - Closed

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While thumbing through the latest issue of Washingtonian, I noticed (on p 134) an ad for a restaurant I'd never heard of but whose wall art, pictured in the ad, seemed strangely familiar. Although the url noted in the ad (www.rumberos-dc.com) led nowhere, a google search seemed to confirm that Rumba Cafe of Adams Morgan does in fact have a Columbia Heights sibling.

I enjoy Rumba for what it is - a fun atmosphere in which to have a meal while getting blasted on caipirinhas. Has anyone been to Rumberos?

DCGentrification.com (!!) has what look like pre-opening photos.

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Columbia Heights, while not known for it's culinary excellence, is known for it's cultural diversity. A wide range of people from differing social, economic, cultural, and racial backgrounds, live side by side engaged in the daily struggle of life. So far our dinning options have been limited. Some good take out, a couple pzza and burger joints but, no place that you would look forward to spending an evening dinning with friends, sharing good food and quality time.

And then I discovered Rumberos. Right on 14th, in the mist of all the construction, is an oasis. Driving by, my curiosity had been aroused by the sleek looking bar and mood lighting coming from within. Stopping in for drinks with a friend, we were exploring the possibility of a nieghborhood drinking hole. This place ended up being so much more. With a menu that offers mostly central and south american regional small plates, it is so easy to share, explore, and let the food become the focus of social interactions. A wood fired grill lends wonderful flavors to grilled calimari. The caps are intact and quite large, this bold presentation and bold flavors might not be everyone's cup of tea but, I loved it. Smashed fried plantains come with a "mojo" sauce that is ok but, the key to these plantains is to use them to try all the sauces that come with all the dishes. Duck taquitos were well made with shredded meat, and, the cerviche (tuna, red snapper and more) had the perfect texture with a balanced approach. A dessert made with pears marinated in maderia and served a la mode finishes things very nicely.

The wine list is exclusively south american with good values but, I think it could use some more diversity. Then again, $18 for a bottle of nice 'table red' that is perfectly drinkable is not bad at all.

Finally the atmosphere is great. With live, latin american music playing at just the right volume, the understated lighting encourages you to explore the nooks and crannies for maskes, art, and pictures tastefully scattered about.This place is not the the tacky poser, it is the authentic, sexy, real deal.

From ownership to the busboys, the entire staff was genuine and gracious. Batenders whipping up very tasty mojito are happy to be there, foodrunners dropping the plates with a smile even if there is a language barrier. True enthusiasim and professionalism.

If you define terrior as the ability to convey the soul of a place then, Rumberos has brought the terrior of central and south america to Columbia Heights for us all to explore.

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I really wanted to like this place. It will be nice to have a place in the neighborhood to go with friends that's a step above Wonderland and all of the tiny Salvadoran places. Rumberos is not yet that place, although I think it has potential. And it's definitely not hurting for customers, it's been packed all of the three times I've gone.

The space is interesting, although it tends to get loud and echo-ey on crowded weekend nights. The mixture of art on the walls is a nice touch. The service is very friendly, and the drinks are strong.

The food just doesn't do it for me though. I've probably tried 3/4 of the tapas dishes and a couple of the salads at this point and nothing stands out as delicious. Everything I've ordered that involves beef has been so incredibly tough that I fear that it will fly off my plate as I try to cut it. The stuffed avocado sounds appetizing, but the shrimp salad inside has too much mayonnaise and not enough flavor. Duck tacos are ok but still bland, and for $9 I'd like more than one small taco. Various preparations of plantains and yucca are nothing special. I could bake half of a plantain with cheese on top at home, and I wouldn't charge someone $8 dollars for the pleasure of eating it.

I guess my problem is the food isn't good enough to justify the prices. The tapas are small, and don't really taste that good. Weirdly, the last two times I've gone the waiters insisted on bringing one tapas to each of us at a time, and refrained from bringing anything else from the kitchen until each person had cleared their plate. I guess that's ok, but when ordering tapas I'd prefer to graze on a number of items at once, not be limited to whichever I ordered first.

Maybe I've just ordered the wrong things, and there are some really good choices on the menu. Maybe the entrees are good, but for now I'll just go for a drink. I just can't stomach paying $30/person for a dinner and leaving hungry. Especially when I can get authentic Salvadoran, Mexican, Guatemalan, and Caribbean food within a few blocks and leave paying less money for a higher quality (and quantity) of food. I do wish Rumberos well though, and hopefully someday I will find something that I like on the menu.

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I haven't eaten at Rumba Cafe, so I can't say whether Rumberos is comparable.

I second the take on Rumberos food. I went there this weekend with my brother and our girlfriends and it was a nice place to have a drink but that was about it. The atmosphere was fantastic but did tend to get a BIT loud for good conversation as it got later. I feel like the band was rocking out like a headliner as opposed to going for that atmosphere music feel. Drinks were nice, mojitos a bit sweeter than I make my own but I think they probably would be perfect to most. Nice pisco sour and the usual line up of latin beers.

When it came to the food I was completely unimpressed by the tapas. The menu actually had a lot of similarities to the appetizer menu at Cubanos in Silver Spring which I have been hitting more often lately and I can sasy from what we tasted Cubanos execution blows them out of the water. The flank steak was leather, and not getting a steak knife and being unable to track down the waiter, my hunger took over and I ended up having to pick the whole thing up on my fork and bite pieces off with my teeth. The butter knife didn't even make a dent.

Most of the dishes were just missing something. When I think of good latin food I think of a lot of flavor really popping in your mouth. Red onions, jalapeno, citric acid, cilantro and all these dishes were missing that element and just felt really flat. We had some pork that was over cooked and tough also. I guess in all fairness it was a loin or some other lean cut but still expected more especially for the price. The plates were all basically the same prices as much better tapas around town. All that said I would definitely go back to hang out with some drinks.

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I recently went to Rhumberos at the suggestion of someone who claimed to have had a good experience there. Now, I don't know what this person considers to be "good" food (Jumbo Slice, maybe?), because the meal that I had was TERRIBLE.

My "spinach" cakes (made with swiss chard, as we were in the middle of the E-Coli scare) were gritty because they obviously hadn't been washed properly. My mofongo - which had been hyped by the waitress as being spicy - was bland and tasted like it was made with storebought marinara sauce out of a jar and frozen shrimp from a bag.

And the mojitos were nothing special. I've had better at Cafe Citron (which ain't sayin' much)!

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OK, OK - perhaps they were still getting their legs. Have you been there lately? I've been to Rumberos probably 6 or 7 times now since January (I live 3 blocks away - so sue me it's convenient) and I must say, it's been consistently good in food, service, and atmosphere. If not, I wouldn't go back, no matter how close it is (i.e. stay tuned for my review of Polly's Cafe).

The 1st time I went (mid January) I took 30 people and they ALL had nothing but good things to say about the food, the drinks, the service, and the place, and these were not shy people (trust me). Now, what are the odds of no one complaining about something? ;)

I have found the flavors to be authentic (except I agree that the "mojo" could be better and yes, one time my Mojito was a bit too sweet, but not always). Being a Latina, a good cook, and growing up in Miami gives me (I think) a good frame of reference as to what good Latin American food should really taste like. :P Since then, I've taken many other folks (both latin & not) and they have all liked it and been back or plan on being back.

My favorite Tapas are:

Patacon Maduro con pernil - Smashed sweet yellow plantain, stuffed with sauteed pork loin and mojo sauce. (I've had this at least 5 times and it has always been good - the pork is moist & tasty & it's a good size portion)


Patacon Rumba (Rumba specialty)

Smashed fried green plantains (aka Tostones), filled with grilled flank steak, cilantro mayonnaise, bell & jalapenos peppers, onion and tomatoes. (I've had this twice - and the steak was moist & tasty & also was a good size portion)

The tapas range between $8 - $11, they are generally a good size and 1 -2 of the above tapas can fill me up for dinner. MONDAY nights are great when ALL tapas are 1/2 price.

I must admit I haven't tried the entrees, except for the:

Parrilla Criolla (for 2 - but enough for 4) - Grilled Argentinian meat platter with flank steak, short ribs, pork sausage, blood sausage, sweetbreads and chimichurri sauce. (All very good). The Argentinian & Chilean wines are drinkable & a good value.

For dessert:

Their Pears in Madeira Wine with toasted walnuts, cinnamon, and vanilla ice cream have also become a favorite.

THE BEST DEAL are the $20 Wine Tasting & Food Pairings on WEDNESDAY nights (8pm - 10pm). We tasted & continously drank 6 wines and had more than expected (or needed) amounts of food including: grilled steak & chorizo w/ chimichurri sauce, black beans & rice, fried green plantains, yucca fries w/mojo, salami, cheese, olives, pimento, and bread. Plus LIVE tango music, all for $20.

They have 1/2 price drinks, tapas, or something every night of the week. Check out their Events at www.rumberos-dc.com

And no, I have no financial or other interest in Rumberos. In fact, I just met the chef/owner the other night for the 1st time. :)

Give Them A Try (or a 2nd Chance) & let me know how it was. :blink:

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Had a late dinner at Rumberos last night. This was our third visit (it's pretty close to the house) and, once again, I really enjoyed it.

Started out with

Arepa con queso y ropa vieja (Colombian) 8

Flour corn cake mixed with hard Mexican cheese,

served with shredded beef stew.


Calamares al tequila 8

Grilled squid with a drop of tequila,

Spanish paprika, olive oil and sherry vinegar.

The arepas are really good. Nice, crisp little grilled pancake with perfectly seasoned filling. I think that we have had the whole list of them now and these are our favorites. The ropa vieja is really delicious (I've had it as a main, as well).

The calamari is FRESH and well grilled with a very thin, light, slightly oily, piquant sauce and come with a couple of chunks of baked potato which are always perfectly turned out (this is harder than it sounds with potatoes). I could eat this as a main if I just ordered 3 orders.

For mains we had

Mero entomatado **


Filet of red snapper cooked with garlic, bell pepper, red onion, fresh tomato,

splash of white wine. Covered wih Choped fresh cilantro.

Asado de tira


Grilled short ribs and pork sausage.

This is one of the best fish dishes that I have had in a long time (and that's saying something as I live in New Orleans and while we may not have much right now, we have lots and lots and lots of good fish dishes). The veg portion of this dish compliments the fish perfectly (it's a big piece of fish) each veg stands on it's own and can be tasted along with the fish and a very light white wine sauce redolent with lots and lots of butter and garlic. It's a bang up dish and worth a trip just for it alone.

The Asado is interesting. It was the first time that we had ordered it and were just a bit taken aback when they asked how we wanted the ribs cooked (hey, we're chefs, but, you know, we're from the South. You cook ribs one way-a long time). It turns out that they are cut on the bias so you basically have a cross-section of rib meat with little rib chunks on the top of the piece of meat(I have no clue what this cut is called, but apparently you can get it from any meat company when you order and it does have a name-but don't axe me). The sausage is house made and really, really good. This dish comes with a lightly dressed green salad and there's a reason for that-you need to eat the salad with the meat (literally with it-the same fork, same bite) as it brightens the whole thing up and really makes a perfect bite (acid and pork is a really good thing).

Anyway, after reading the comments above, I think that some of the people here have given up on Rumberos a bit prematurely. It's a really good restaurant foodwise and in terms of ambiance, I like it even more. Last night the sound system played a series of Arturo Sandoval selections (just saw him at the Jazz Festival in NO) and a really nice selection of other kinds of Latin jazz over the really well designed sound system. Service is good to really good, though if you are one of those who is in a giant rush to get the check, you might need to ask for it. They use the Latin service theory-they are not worried at all if you linger over your coffee and will generally only bring the check when you ask for it. Also, there is a very interesting list of wines by the glass-all of them from Argentina, Uraguay, Chile, and a couple from Spain. There are some really good choices there for under $10 bucks.

Rumberos is a good spot in a neighborhood that's getting ready to be busy as hell as soon as they open up that behemoth Target across the street-so go now while you still have a shot at finding somewhere to stop (it's also pretty convenient to the Columbia Heights metro stop-about a block away).

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yeah. I continue to get good food and great service at Rumberos. Maybe you caught them at a bad time or whatever. Maybe they where reserving the better cuts for more worthy customers?
Dude the steak was just plain overcooked, to an extreme. But I might give this place another shot sometime soon and I want to make sure I am Worthy before I head over. I was thinking I would just send the chef a polaroid of me wearing an "I heart Rumberos" t-shirt while taking a bite out of a live cow and holding up a government id in one hand and an AMEX blackcard in the other. If the chef deems me worthy I will report back to you guys on the double-secret steak stock and withdraw my previous post.
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Commonwealth and Pete's seem to act as blockades for me in terms of getting to Rumbero's, but I went last night for the first time in a couple of years, and I'm glad I did. I've always loved the bar here, and now that the patio is open, Rumbero's is one of the most pleasant and versatile dining options in Columbia Heights.

My personal tastes run toward flavorful, medium-bodied lagers (easier said than actually found), and a couple bottles of Estrella ($5), brewed in Barcelona, were exactly what the doctor ordered.

I sat and nursed the beers, because there are certain dishes at Rumbero's that (thankfully) take a full 30-40 minutes to prepare, one of them being the Paella de Mariscos ($27). Finding a good paella in this city is next to impossible, as it's one of the most difficult things to fake a la minute; I've seen multiple people spend an entire day working on a single paella, and when properly done, it's a dish of incredible depth and beauty. There's no way that Rumbero's, or anyone else, can do a great version in only 40 minutes, but considering the ordinary ingredients involved, they sure did a pretty good imitation of one - shrimp, mussels, clam meat, squid, crawfish, scallops, achiote yellow rice, carrot, green peas, and red pepper, all baked and served in a metal dish. This was a huge plate of food that stuffed me to the gills, and it matched perfectly with a glass of 2005 Bonarda from El Fogon (Argentina). If you get this dish, make sure to get this wine.

I'm a firm believer that you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear - it's impossible to make great wine from ordinary grapes, and it's impossible to make great paella with ordinary seafood. For this reason alone, I probably wouldn't order this dish again, but if anyone ever asks me where they can find a decent paella in this town, I'm going to mention Rumbero's.



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Mrs. B and I went in Friday night for a snack and found the food stunningly mediocre. The arepa con queso y ropa viejo (flour corn cakes with cheese and beef stew) was the only dish of four that would have me come back. The calamares con tequila were fresh but unexceptional, the torrejita de espinaca (sauteed fresh spinach patties with shallots, parsley and cheese) were over-cooked on the outside and still cold on the inside, tasting of days spent waiting in the walk-in. The shrimp were almost inedibly salty. Service was nice and the passing show on 14th street is always amusing; I might stop in for a glass of Tempranillo and what sounded like some good Latin jazz on a Friday night.

But not for the food.

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I'm a firm believer that you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear - it's impossible to make great wine from ordinary grapes, and it's impossible to make great paella with ordinary seafood. For this reason alone, I probably wouldn't order this dish again, but if anyone ever asks me where they can find a decent paella in this town, I'm going to mention Rumbero's.

... but I'm not going to mention them anymore. I just got a note informing me that Rumberos is gone, and has been replaced by (sigh) an Alero.

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