It’s almost time for my annual trip to Miami, and I’m so excited to stuff myself with delicious Cuban food (and stone crab of course). However, there’s a little piece of Cuban Miami right here in Denver. Right at 12th & Delaware is a beautiful hidden gem called Cuba Cuba Cafe & Bar (not the Sandwicheria, although those are under the same ownership). It’s a wonderful little restaurant nestled inside two turquoise historic homes with a palm tree out front — and it feels just as authentic and homey on the inside as it looks on the outside.
This is hands-down one of my favorite restaurants in Denver. I love to come here on date night, with friends, or when I have visitors in town. Why? Because the mojitos are fantastic (and come in almost any flavor), the food is authentic and flavorful, and the atmosphere makes you feel like you really are in Miami (or I suppose Cuba as well, but I wouldn’t know).
There is also now a new “outdoor” patio that’s open 6 months a year (it has closing glass doors for colder days). Last week, I finally sat here instead of inside, and as I listened to the salsa music playing lightly in the background, I swear I could feel the island breeze flowing through the room.
My only complaint (and this should tell you how little there is to complain about), is that there is no Rabo Encendido (Cuban oxtail stew) on the menu. And if you know me, you know that oxtail is one of my favorite things to eat, and I can never find it anywhere (which is why I’m always stuck making it myself at home).
The Drinks & Happy Hour
Cuba Cuba is one of the first restaurants (if not the first) to start slinging mojitos in Denver, and I don’t think the recipe has changed much since 2001 (using fresh mint, limes, Bacardi Limón infused rum, simple syrup, and soda). In my opinion, it’s the best mojito in Denver. In addition to the classic version, it comes in mango, blackberry, strawberry, pineapple, ginger, grapefruit, and coconut. The pineapple and ginger are my favorites.
During Happy Hour (Mon-Thu 5-6:15pm), you can get these for $5, the sangria for $4.50, or Tecate for $2. You can also get these (and many other cocktails) in pitchers. The mojito pitcher is $33 (or $37 with a premium rum).
When the servers tell you that you can’t go wrong here, they’re not lying. However, there are a couple of things I’d definitely recommend over others, namely the Lechon Asado (slow roasted pork shoulder) if you want an authentic Cuban dish, or the Camarones Al Coco (shrimp with ginger & coconut milk over mashed potatoes) if you’d rather have something a little more fusion. Here’s a little more detail.
EMPANADAS DE PICADILLO ($6)
Empanadas stuffed with ground beef, peppers, onions, olives, potatoes & raisins.
These are the perfect little appetizer, and there is also an awesome non-meat version with mushrooms and manchego.
ENSALADA CUBANA ($8)
Fresh avocado, hearts of palm, red onions & tomato tossed in our house vinaigrette.
I rarely (if ever) rave about salad. I generally consider salads pointless. But this is not your average salad. The hearts of palm are a genius addition to the avocados and tomatoes (if you’ve never had them, think almost marinated artichoke hearts).
LECHON ASADO ($19)
Slow roasted pork shoulder prepared with sauteed onions, served with moro rice, maduros & black bean reduction.
If this is your first time here, you have to get this. It’s absolutely my favorite of the authentic Cuban dishes (and I’ve pretty much had them all). The tender, juicy pork and soft, sweet maduros (plantains) make this dish. I also love the “moro rice” where they mix rice and beans together instead of serving them separately.
CAMARONES AL COCO ($24)
Pan seared shrimp sautéed with garlic, ginger & coconut milk served over potato mash (served spicy upon request).
This is the dish that makes my life difficult, because I now have to decide between it and the Lechon Asado. It’s just so rich and creamy, and it definitely has a bit of spicy Thai flavor (which makes it a bit more of a fusion dish). After you try the Lechon, you need to try this. And then your life will also become full of difficult decisions.
VACA FRITA ($20)
Mojo marinated flank steak, seared crispy with sauteed onions, white rice, black beans & maduros.
The Vaca Frita is similar to the Lechon Asado, but it’s made with steak instead of pork. Personally, I prefer the pork, as well as “moro rice” where the beans and rice are mixed together, but you really can’t go wrong.