represent cuba

Shh, don’t tell anyone. This is one of the best restaurants in the village, one of those happy instances where “best” includes the sum of its parts and then some. Some extra pizzaz.

First there’s the live music on weekend and Monday nights and then there’s the cigar roller at the window who’s ripping, twisting and pressing leathery tobacco leaves into smokeable sticks for the inclined restaurant patron every night. (And who Cigar Afficianado has called “the grand dame of New York’s mini cigar factories” — which sounds odd, but fits this supremely unfazed gentleman to a tee.)

Their calamari is fabulous: crispy but not fried stiff, tossed with sweet plantains, juicy tomatoes, and a tangy-sweet tamarind sauce. Their shrimp and chorizo appetizers are good too, but do your tastebuds a favor and order the calamari first (and no matter what).

When you’ve finished off these starters and the time has come to pick a main — well, the arroz con pollo is delicious, richly saffron-scented and cheerily loaded with pieces of tender chicken, and the vaca frita juices will send you swooning straight to Havana, but I think it’s best we all stop kidding around and get the ropa vieja, already. With the appealing moniker of “old clothes,” the shredded skirt steak comes braised in tomtaoes and pepper salsa criolla (a stew up of onions, peppers, and more), and the whole mixture settled in a nest of fried plantains.

And while you’re meandering around this unfairly tempting menu, I hope you’re washing it all down with a raspberry mojito or, even better, four. They are sensational. Fruity and refreshing, and did I mention each glass comes with a sugar cane next to the straw? And if you get a pitcher it comes with a giant wooden spoon to tamp down the mint leaves? You should get a pitcher, yes. But mostly, you should just go.

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