With owners from Havana, a bright interior and a menu that is in Spanish, Mi Cuba Cafe is the closest you’ll get to authentic Cuban food in the District.
The small restaurant, which is located in Columbia Heights at 1424 Park Road NW, only has about 25 seats and is decorated with hanging plants and vibrant paintings of papayas, watermelons and mangoes hung on green, yellow and orange painted walls.
While the interior may come off as slightly kitschy, you can ignore the lack of ambiance because the restaurant’s food is worth your trip to Columbia Heights.
Mi Cuba Cafe tackles some of the more well-known Cuban dishes like Cuban sandwiches and empanadas to give residents of the District a true introduction into Cuban fare.
The restaurant’s standard entree ($13.95 to $16.95) includes a choice of meat – like beef, chicken or pork – prepared in various ways like shredded, fried or roasted. Each entree comes with an order of plantains and rice and beans. If you don’t eat meat, Mi Cuba Cafe also offers a vegetable entree ($12.25) with sauteed onions, carrots, corn and peppers, and seafood like filete de pescado ($14.25), a grilled or breaded fish fillet, or camarones ($15.95), a shrimp stew served in tomato sauce with peppers and onions.
But the entree that will give you a proper introduction and have you coming back for more is the aporreado ($13.95) – a hearty shredded chicken dish that is cooked in tomato sauce.
The chicken takes over nearly half of an oversized dinner plate and every piece is flavorful and tender. The shredded meat is seasoned with aromatics like garlic, onions and ground pepper. The chicken is slow cooked in tomato sauce – making it practically melt in your mouth.
Alongside the pile of finely shredded chicken, the plate includes two side options of plantains and rice and beans prepared in various ways. I opted for the congri – a Cuban classic of black beans and rice cooked together – and fried sweet plantains.
Congri is made by combining white rice and black beans with the water the beans were cooked in as a binder. The preparation leaves the rice mostly black from soaking up the excess liquid, and it is topped with fresh cilantro.
But my favorite of the two sides was the sweet plantains. The plantains not only cut the savory flavors in the chicken and congri, but they were also fried in a skillet which left each slice golden and caramelized with the slightest crispiness.
The hefty dish could have easily been shared with a friend, but I opted to take the leftovers home instead. All of the entrees are big, so for something less sizable, you can opt for appetizers like ham and cheese or vegetable empanadas ($5.75 for four) and chicken or vegetable bite-size croquettes ($4.95 for four).
Pair your food with one of Mi Cuba Cafe’s mojitos ($8) or a well-priced pitcher of red, white, guava or mango sangria ($24). For non-alcoholic options, the restaurant also has fresh-squeezed orange juice ($4.25) and fruit milkshakes ($4.75), which come in flavors like guava and mango.
To get a taste of Cuban fare that goes beyond the mainstream and offers authentic options, head to Mi Cuba Cafe.