While the North Shore has a huge amount of ethnic dining options, Cuban food had been historically missing before Taste of Cuba opened in May. The restaurant offers more than novelty, with low prices and excellent food making the casual spot a success.
Located in a strip mall at 3918 W. Touhy Ave., the biggest problem with Taste of Cuba may be finding parking. The shared lot is tiny and hard to navigate and was entirely full when we arrived around 7 p.m. Friday, forcing us to park on a residential street a few blocks away.
A server quickly seated my fiancé and me when we arrived at table for two near the door. The space is small, and while we ate every table at the restaurant filled up with young families, couples and small groups, with more people standing around waiting for carryout orders.
The restaurant is very casual, with unadorned tables, a flat screen TV in the corner and a kitchen in the center of the space that makes it more reminiscent of a counter service spot than a sit down restaurant. Walls are lined with pictures and photos of Cuba, with plenty of images of Cuban cigars.
Taste of Cuba is BYOB and they’ll provide mojito or sangria mix ($10.95) to go with your booze. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere particularly nearby to buy rum or wine and we hadn’t brought a bottle with us, so we went for a banana milkshake ($4.25) instead. The drink was light and creamy, making for an easier drink than most shakes.
Our server quickly came over to take our orders and recommended the Cubano ($5.50), jibarito ($5.75), bistec encebollado ($9.95) and lechon asado ($9.95). We decided to stick with her advice and ordered the Cuban sandwich and grilled steak with onions.
The food came out fast and was excellent. The sandwich is served on crispy bread filled with a mix of flavorful, tender roast pork and slices of ham. It’s plenty of food, giving it delicious value.
Our favorite was the bistec, which turned out to be more reminiscent of roast beef than steak. The dish features thin strips of meat delightfully seasoned with pepper and spices, and soaking in the flavor of the grilled onions served atop it. It comes with rice and a choice of sides. I chose the sweet plantains, which were prepared perfectly, cut thick and not too sweet or mushy. The black beans were the best I’ve ever had. They’re loaded with garlic and cooked with bay leaf, making for a savory mix that was perfect over the fluffy white rice.
I wound up taking a significant portion of the dish home so I’d have room for dessert. We ordered flan ($2.75) and while it wasn’t on the menu, our server encouraged us to try the chocolate flan. This turned out to resemble a slice of chocolate cake topped with the crème caramel. It’s an odd combination, but it works well, with the richer cake cut by the lighter custard.
As a native of Miami, I grew up loving Cuban food and I seek it out whenever I’m in Florida. Taste of Cuba might not replace my favorite childhood restaurant, but I’m excited to have a local place to satisfy my cravings. I plan to go back soon to try more of their menu.