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DanielK

Mi Cuba Cafe - Authentic Cuban at 14th Street and Park Road in Columbia Heights

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I was born in Philly, but I grew up in South Florida. I may have been weaned on cheesesteaks and hoagies, but when I learned about food, it was cubanos, lechon asado, and tostones.

So, like all other ex-pats, I am always in search of a cubano, with that perfect blend of crusty grilled bread, ham, roast pork, swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard. Cuban Corner in Rockville does fine in a pinch, as does Cubano's in Silver Spring and Cuba de Ayer in Burtonsville.

Amateurs, all of them.

Mi Cuba has been open since January, and I'm sorry that I took this long to stop in.

The space is painted bright and cheery, which matches the staff - at least three of whom greeted us within our first minute in the door. And though I was ready to use my "menu Spanish", all of the staff were fully bi-lingual. Definitely seems like a family operation - though I didn't clarify, looks like "Dad" cooking in the back from "Mom's" recipes and "Grandma" helping out.

The menu has all of the Cuban standards - it's a small place, so it's not as extensive as the others mentioned above. With only two of us dining, we decided to stick with the classics to give the place a run.

Empanadas de Carne ($2.50) were a spectacular start. The turnovers were crispy in every bite but slightly chewy in the center, just the right ratio of a tangy shredded beef stuffing in the center, and unbelievably two of them on the plate for that price.

Papa Rellena con Pollo ($2.95) also had two of the larger-than-golf-ball appetizers on the plate. Crusty on the outside hiding pillow-soft mashed potatoes surrounding a flavorful center of shredded chicken and vegetables.

Lechon Asado ($9.95) was glorious - a heaping pile of roasted pork, onions and spices, served with a pile of tostones (deep fried plantains), a mound of white rice, and a side bowl of black beans.

And yes, there was a Cubano ($7.95). And it was gorgeous. And it was huge. And it was the best cubano I have had in many, many years. Most cubano sandwiches fall down in two places - they use a baguette or some crappy bread, and they use plain sliced roast pork. This bread was perfect - exactly as I remember from my years in Miami. And I think the roast pork was the same pork from the Lechon Asado.

Do the math - for $23 + tax/tip, two of us had an authentic Cuban lunch in the middle of the skyrocketing rent area of Columbia Heights - and we had enough leftovers for lunch for one the next day. They could have served only one empanada and papa rellena for that price, a third less food on the lechon plate, and a much smaller cubano, and at those prices, I still would have considered it a deal.

Run, don't walk, to Mi Cuba Cafe, sez I.

Two side notes:

  1. When I told the chef on our way out where I was from and what I thought of the food, she came very close to crying while thanking me.
  2. In the middle of our meal, someone came in for a takeout order by bike. Stupidly, he left it sitting against the parking meter in front of the store, not chained up. The chef saw someone grab it while the bike's owner was in the restroom, went tearing out of the restaurant to grab the bike back from the thief, and brought it around through the back door of the restaurant. But given this imgur post, that seems like par for the course for them.
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Thanks for the heads up on Mi Cuba. Mr. MV and I are always on the look out for a good Cubano sandwich, and miss Kuba Kuba in Richmond, VA.

Do you know if they serve off the main menu all day, or just the breakfast menu before noon on Sat (I'm thinking lunch after the 14th & U market once it opens this year)?

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Had lunch here today after reading DanielK's post -- had to. The food was great and wonderfully straightforward -- nothing frouf'd, fluffed up or shellacked. It felt like a meal from the heart.

Was with my teen girl, so kept things pretty straightforward -- empanadas de carne (now that's a real empanada), papa relleno con pollo (crispy, light outside, tender and tasty inside), picadillo with congrí and tostones, a Cuban sandwich and a mango shake. Wow, was that was a lot of food. We happily brought a sizable taste of Mi Cuba Cafe home with us to enjoy later.

Thanks, DanielK, for your post and reco's...

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Great find. We enjoyed our take-out dinner from Mi Cuba Cafe tonight. The empanadas were great, as was the lechon asado. Everything was very well seasoned (when Cuban food is bad, it's just usually so bland...) though the ropa vieja was pretty salty for me.

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Sounds fantastic - when we're in the neighborhood, we'll have to go.

If you're in Arlington on Wednesdays, Bayou Bakery has a Cubano and guava pastelitos (Guas's father is from Cuba and they went back together recently). I haven't had the Cubano, but the pastelitos are delicious.

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Sounds fantastic - when we're in the neighborhood, we'll have to go.

If you're in Arlington on Wednesdays, Bayou Bakery has a Cubano and guava pastelitos (Guas's father is from Cuba and they went back together recently). I haven't had the Cubano, but the pastelitos are delicious.

I'll let Mr. MV know about the pastelitos. They remind him of growing up in Puerto Rico. The Cubano will be on the short list too.

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You might check with Bayou first and see if they're lunch-only specials or if they have them all day. I think I've seen the pastelitos (which have a little creamy cheese inside too, and a good strong guava flavor, and lovely crisp pastry) at other times, but they're not there every day.

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After today's Nats game, Nena and I discussed where we should go for some real food. It was too early for the bar at Corduroy and she didn't feel we were properly dressed for even the bar anyway. So, I mentioned this place to her and we decided to go there (we were on the Green line, after all). We split a Cubano sandwich and two types of empanadas--the chicken and the ones with guava and cheese. So, so good. A perfect neighborhood joint with really well-made, authentic food. The bill, before tip, came to $14 and change. This, I might add, was less than the cost of the two sausages we got at the Park in the early part of the game--I've just about had it with the food there. And, we didn't need to order another thing. It prompted a discussion of the Cuban restaurants which were once all over Adams Morgan and then disappeared entirely. Since there will most likely be more baseball attendance this year, this place is on the docket for hitting before or after said games. There's much left to explore in the menu.

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Worked our way through more of the menu tonight - Vegetable Croquettes, Vaca Frita, Shrimp Stew, and washed it down with a "lemon pie" (which was more like a lemon parfait) and a couple of cortados.

There's not a miss on this menu. And again, $40 after tax and tip for two dinners and enough leftover for a third. Service remains cheery and quick, though they did not pressure us at all to get the check even though the doors had been locked for some time.

Easily the best Cuban in the metro area, among the best of all Latin joints in the metro area, and IMO the best restaurant in Columbia Heights right now.

Note: no liquor license. I did not ask if they were trying to get one.

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How to beat a rainy Friday?  Stop in for lunch at Mi Cuba Cafe.  I grabbed a seat at the small bar area order a cubano, fried sweet plantains, mango juice and finished off with a cafe bombo (espresso with condensed milk).  Enjoyed the cubano, but thought it was slightly dry (at least not suculent) and it could have used an extra kick from the mustard.  The fried plantains were excellent - fried once, smashed flat in a tostones press and then refired until crispy, with little nubbins of sweet crunchiness.  The mango juice was pleasant but since it didn't come from the juicer sitting on the counter, I'm assuming it was bottled.  The espresso, made fresh in front of you, was the perfect rocket fuel needed to face the rains again.

Lovely little place.  The owners/staff clearly love it to.  Looking forward to a return trip for dinner.

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Just a quick note that the "Garbanzos fritos" was a perfect lunch today.  Chickpeas cooked in a tomato sauce with peppers and onions, and bits and pieces of various pork products (ham, bacon, chorizo).  It wasn't "light," per se, but seemed just a bit more virtuous than a giant plate of beef or pork (which I've had here and are both excellent).  Definitely consider trying this dish out rather than the standards next time you stop in.

Since everyone else has commented on the value of the place, this dish is $11.95 and will easily last 2 lunches for me.

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I was blown away by the quality of the food and the pricing for such good quality! We started with ham and cheese empanadas-the crust was nice and flaky, the ham was plentiful, and the cheese was so flavorful. Two come per order. They also give you bread on the house to start which is nice. The Lechon Asada was delicious! The pork was so tender and juicy! I loved the pile of carmelized onions on top. The fried plantains here are to die for! My dining partner raved about his meal too! There is usually a line but if you have only two people, it moves quickly. I will def. be back to try their cubano!

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And let's not forget, Jon Favreau made a movie about the Cubano....well, yes, it was about more than the Cubano, but the sandwich was at least a co-star.

I had a Cubano (we also ordered the beef in tomato, and the roast pork) at the Mi Cuba Cafe last week. The bread was really good, and the cheese was nice and funky. The ham and pork were different than others have described, they were basically deli meats, sliced thinly. Definitely not the same roasted pork served in the entree. A nice sandwich for $8. 

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This place is a gem. I've spent a lot of time in Key West and the roast pork is as good as any I've had down there. The vaca frita (fried shredded beef) is good as well, with crispy bits and sour orange to drizzle over the top. The surprise star, though, is the sweet plantains. Whatever you do, get them as a side. They are deeply caramelized and creamy without being oily. Plantains often seem to be an afterthought. These are crave-worthy. PS - if you're looking for a Cuban sandwich, Mi Cuba's version is solid.

For more Cheap Eats, please check out my latest blog post: https://rickeatsdc.com/dc-cheap-eats-vol-1-fall-2016/

(And thanks, Don, for allowing the shameless plug...)    

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