With cigar smoke lingering around you, a rum cocktail in your hand and decor that pays homage to Cuba, dining at Casta’s Rum Bar feels like a tropical escape.
Tucked away beneath the West End Washington D.C. hotel at 1121 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Casta’s is a casual Cuban restaurant and rum bar just two blocks from campus. The late hours, a cigar menu, an all-day happy hour on Wednesdays and an all-day brunch menu on Sundays make this spot an ideal spot for students to frequent for a night out or celebration.
After checking in at the hostess stand at the door, you walk through a dark cement hallway into the main dining room where you’re welcomed by the yellow-ish glow of the dim lights and lively buzz of conversation. Exposed brick walls throughout the restaurant are painted with murals of scenes from Havana and the Cuban flag, and green palm plants scattered around compliment the tropical vibe.
Casta’s seats guests in the main dining room and a sunroom-like patio space in the back of the restaurant, both of which feature full bars.
Casta’s menu of small plates, sandwiches and desserts is relatively short, making it easy to choose which Cuban dish you want to try out.
For an appetizer to share with friends, the black hummus y mariquitas ($12), a black bean hummus and fruit salsa duo served with plantain chips, is a great choice. For a heartier appetizer, try the las borrachas ($18), which are barbeque pork ribs with a spicy rum sauce.
To give a traditional Cuban dish a try, order the classic Cuban sandwich ($15), a roast pork and glazed ham sandwich on Cuban bread with Swiss cheese, pickles and yellow mustard.
Growing up in Florida, authentic Cuban food was a regular part of my diet and my favorite dish has always been maduras – fried chunks of sweet plantains often served as a side dish. So when I picked up the menu at Casta’s, the maduros envueltos en tocino ($12) from the small plates section were my first choice.
The dish was served on a black, plank-like wooden plate atop a green leaf. Four chunks of soft sweet plantain pieces came wrapped in charred bacon with a creamy guava sauce underneath. To complete the appetizer, a pile of citrus-dressed greens were served on the side as a light and tangy contrast.
Plantains taste like a hybrid between yucca, starchy root plants eaten in Cuban cuisine, and bananas. The sweet flavor profile of bananas, plantain’s look-alike, comes through and is balanced by the savory and heartier elements similar to yucca. The maduros on this dish were just soft enough to enjoy without being too mushy to stay inside the bacon.
A tropical fruit essence came through in the guava sauce but was not overpowering and played well with other acidic and salty flavors in the sauce. Unsuspectingly, the lightly dressed green salad on the side was an appreciated bright addition to the dish.
The cocktails at Casta’s are its specialty so be sure to try out drinks like the frozen Havana vice ($12, or $10 during happy hour), a variation of a piña colada with the addition of strawberry or non-frozen cocktails like the el nacional ($12, or $10 during happy hour) with aged rum, apricot, pineapple and lime.
Whether you want a regular spot near campus to enjoy drinks with friends or are craving an immersive Cuban experience, Casta’s Rum Bar is the place for you.
This article appeared in the September 23, 2021 issue of the Hatchet.