Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar most definitely sticks out to you as you walk down 9th Street in Chinatown. You just can’t miss the red and yellow. It doesn’t look classy by any means (which it isn’t meant to), but more like fun and perhaps a bit overzealous.
More than a year after opening, Cuba Libre has some solid dishes, while others don’t make much of an impression. My favorite thing about the Havana-inspired restaurant is the bread with mango butter. It is brought out to you warm and is a perfect free starter. See more of my recommendations after the jump.
The guacamole cubano: bland and flavorless, as were the crisy plaintain chips it came with. Skip.
Mama Amelia’s Empanadas: so far I’ve tried the hand-chopped chicken and shrimp empanadas. Both are great and the crust is always perfect, not too crispy or too soft. Definitely order.
Ceviche: I love me some ceviche. The Carne de Cangrejo (crab) ceviche would do much better without the cheddar cheese it comes with. It is just too much. Nonetheless, this is still a good dish. Order if you love cheese.
My friend loved her Camarones con Cana, and these jumbo shrimp with a mango BBQ glaze looked beautiful – by far the best presentation I have seen here. However, she misses her old favorite – the Suntanned Salmon (bring this back, Cuba Libre)! Definitely order.
For some reason I always order the Ropa Vieja when I come here, but it just does not fall apart nicely like I wish it would. Skip.
My second favorite dish is the White Rice with Cuban black beans. I could order a bucket of that to go. A must. Oh, and when you’re done…ask for more bread.
Cuba Libre is the place to go to if you are looking to have a good time with friends – it is perfect for groups – but don’t come here trying to impress your significant other with a fancy meal or if you want to hear your companion clearly. So. The food? Good but nothing special to write home about. The atmosphere? Energetic.
Note that Cuba Libre is hosting a cool cooking series in 2012 with four Cuban Chefs called “Pop-Up Paladares.” It sounds like a great time to dine there if you haven’t been to the restaurant yet.
Cuba Libre is located at 801 9th Street NW. The closest metro is Gallery Place Chinatown. For more information, call (202) 408-1600.