Saturday, June 30, 2012

Kuba Kuba

Photo from Kuba Kuba's website, by Chris Smith

Rating: 3.5 stars

Nestled in the Lower Fan, this quaint little spot is known to serve up the best Cuban food in town. So if you are craving some traditional Cuban dishes, or want to expand your taste buds into something new, Kuba Kuba is probably one of the better options in Richmond. It offers an eclectic experience that might just make you feel like you have indeed traveled to the little island itself.

I have told my friends often that I would like to try this place, and a month or two ago we finally found the perfect night. The four of us headed over on a lovely spring Friday evening, and upon walking in I found a small, 1950's looking restaurant, with a few tables and booths, and a dining bar complete with 50's style stools. Not really what I was expecting, but it is pretty charming in its own way.

Packed house...

At the front of the restaurant we were greeted by a wall of reviews and newspaper articles touting the greatness of this place, and a couple of benches for waiting. It took a bit, but after a few minutes we were approached by a hectic looking waitress, and while there were two tables that could have been pushed together for us to use, we were asked to wait for a booth to open up. I was not too happy about this, but apparently it is their policy, and I suppose with a small, busy, restaurant it is best to conserve space as much as possible. As a project manager who always strives for efficiency I was willing to let that one go. Sadly though, the booth right next to us while we waited was taken up by two people watching a video on their laptop while they ate nothing. much for efficiency.

After waiting about 10 minutes, while other smaller groups were seated ahead of us, we finally got our booth. As I glanced around the restaurant I could see that it had been decorated to reflect the owner's family, with original family photos from the 50's adorning the walls and recreated as works of art painted around the restaurant. It's a pretty cute concept, your typical family restaurant decor taken to an extreme. Shelves of packaged Cuban foods and drinks also align the walls like a corner store, reminding you of the culture you are supposed to be experiencing.

Family photos as art!

Once we were seated we perused the menu, and my friends let me know that the specials were on a chalkboard behind me, above the dining bar area. While it was a little uncomfortable having to turn around in my seat to check them out, at least they were very legible. I think it would be nice to have more description available about the specials on a paper menu though, because I was not very familiar with the dishes and did not have much time to focus on the chalkboard, which prevented me from trying something from the list.

Specials on chalkboards ... turning around in my booth to get this shot.

For drinks, three of us split a bottle of wine (the list is not extensive but the options cover pretty much everything) and one of our friends chose from the limited beer list, opting for a $1 Miller High Life pony bottle. We encouraged him heavily on this choice (because really where do you EVER see pony bottles?) and he was ecstatic about it once he got his beer. In fact, he was adamant that I give this place an extra half star just for the pony bottles ... very adamant about it ... as in he would not stop talking about it the rest of the night...

Pony bottles!

So now that I have gotten in the bit about the pony bottles, back to the restaurant. Not being that familiar with Cuban food, I settled on the Cuban sandwich, really branching out I know, but I figured that I would keep on the safe side for my first trip here. Another of my friends followed me on the sandwich, while the other two got Arroz Con Pollo (very traditional chicken dish with yellow rice) and Paella Valenciana (Spanish rice with clams, mussels, shrimp, and chorizo). We also ordered an appetizer of tostones (deep-fried plantains).

Honestly, I am not a huge fan of fried plantains, I know alot of people love them though, and Kuba Kuba's are very good. Sweet and salty, and fried to perfection. My only drawback was that they also come with all the sandwiches. Had I known that, I would not have eaten so many as an appetizer, so just FYI on that if you have never been here before.

The Cuban sandwich was delicious, the meat was tender and juicy, the cheese was heartily applied and the bread was perfectly crispy and chewy. It is also a big sandwich; I definitely couldn't finish it after having an appetizer. But man was I craving some french fries to go with it! I guess I am so used to having that salty taste to complement a sandwich that the tostones where just not cutting it for me. If I could pick one thing to change for this restaurant it would be to add fries to the menu as a side option (even if they are not very Cuban).

Cuban sandwich and tostones ... delish!

For the other dishes, the Arroz Con Pollo was very good, and it offered alot of food, with two large chicken breasts, veggies, and rice all mixed together. The Paella was similar, though it had alot more broth on it, which unfortunately made it a bit too salty. All of our dishes were of ample size and most of us could not finish, so you definitely get your money's worth here. Dishes range from $7 to $20, so you can pick how fancy and how expensive you want to get. They also have non-Cuban options like a New York strip and pork shank if you get dragged here and aren't in the mood for Latin American tastes. We did not opt for dessert but I have heard great things about the Tres Leche Cake and I will be sure to try that next time.

Arroz Con Pollo = alot of food.

Paella Valenciana ... more broth and a little salty, but still good.
Outside of the food there are a few complaints though. This restaurant is very small, like I said, so if you get here on a busy night you could definitely be waiting for a while. And I don't think this place would be good at accommodating large parties. We had to wait for a booth while there were open tables, and while the service was fine, it was nothing special. Also, it was very hot the night we were there (one of the guys was pretty sweaty, and I do not get hot easily, so if I say it was hot, it was hot). We attempted to laugh it off by saying they were trying to make us feel like we were really in Cuba, but it did make the night rather uncomfortable.

There isn't alot that is fancy about this place, but it doesn't claim to be fancy, so as long as you go in with that expectation, I don't think you will displeased. I can't see myself dying to go back here, but if I was in the neighborhood I certainly wouldn't mind stopping by. If you are looking for a special night out with an extravagant experience, look somewhere else, but if you love Cuban food, want to try it for the first time, or just desire a chill night and a beer in a pony bottle, I would definitely recommend hitting up Kuba Kuba!

The pony bottle was the star of the night!

Check out the Kuba Kuba website at:

Be Real.

Kuba Kuba on Urbanspoon


Marcie said...

Ha! The photographer of your opening photo, Chris Smith, is my brother's best friend! I've known him for decades. Very cool. I'm glad you're using one of his photos. :O)

Liz @ Virginia Bloggers said...

I've only been to Kuba Kuba once, but it was ok. Nothing I was DYING to try again, but good. I've heard they have a great brunch so I want to go back for that!

P.S. Are you coming to the Virginia Blogger meet up this Saturday?? It would be so fun to meet you in person!!