These five Cuban restaurants are better than a lot of Cuban restaurants in Miami, and this is coming from a Miami native.
While that statement might seem absurd and will likely get me into trouble with friends and family, it’s important to realize that those that are farthest from home and miss it the most are more likely to spend arduous hours perfecting the recipes that remind them of their patria. A couple of these Chicago restaurants aren’t even owned by Cubans, but you can’t tell the difference. When you eat at these five Cuban restaurants you’ll taste a lot of love and longing.
26 E. Congress Pkwy.
7 N. Wells St.
215 E. Chestnut St.
I have two rules when it comes to a Cuban restaurant: It can’t be expensive, and it has to have a good Cuban sandwich. Cafecito knows how to follow the rules. The first rule has very little with me being cheap and more with the fact that most Latin American food is peasant food, so no one should be charging an arm and a leg for tostones. You can have an excellent meal at Cafecito and be shocked at how little you spent. As far as the second rule, to me the perfect Cuban sandwich—aside from being juicy and having all the right toppings—it has to have the right ratio of pork to ham. If there is more ham than pork than don’t call yourself a Cuban restaurant. Cafecito not only has a great Cuban sandwich, but they offer a good pan con lechon and even sandwiches from other Latin American countries like the chivito from Uruguay. They have three locations, and my favorite is the one in the Gold Coast because it comes with a full bar.
3101 N. Clybourn Ave.
2540 W. Armitage Ave.
3333 Touhy Ave., Lincolnwood, IL
Featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” 90 Miles Cuban Cafe is the city’s most popular Cuban restaurant and with good reason. Sandwiches are also king here with a rule-following Cuban along with a pan con bistec, pan con lenchon, and even a frita cubana—can you tell Cubans like sandwiches. The frita cubana is a Cuban burger that is made of ground beef and chorizo and comes topped with the all-important shoe string fries. Don’t miss out.
2252 N. Western Ave.
Named after the once illegal private restaurants Cubans had in their homes on the island, Paladar is where you want to go to get great Cuban entree dishes. Their slow-roasted Cuban pork is filled with the flavors of the island that you can taste in the juiciness of every bite. They serve it with white rice and black beans, but if you want to enhance the experience switch that out for the congri, which is the black beans and white rice cooked together. Before your meal you’ll likely find the owner, Jose Gonzalez walking around talking to the visitors about the variety of rums he offers. There are over 60 premium sipping rums offered that will keep you coming back to Paladar.
2054 W. Roscoe St.
Cuba 312 is also a great spot for entrees especially La Cura, which is saffron rice topped with a creole seafood mix. However, the star of the menu is the poutine cubano, which is yuca fries topped with ropa vieja, mozzarella, mojo, and a fried egg. As Cubans say, “tremendo invento.”
601 N. Wells St.
After all the eating, head to Flaming Rum Club where you’ll time travel to a nightclub in pre-revolutionary Cuba. The live music, rumberas, dancers, and atmosphere scream tropical decadence. With a bar program from Paul Tanguay of the Tippling Brothers, you can’t go wrong with the drinks here especially the mojito. If you’re feeling adventurous try their Catch a Fire cocktail, which is Pyrat XO rum, blood orange, lime, and cinnamon served in a flaming swan. If for some reason you’re still hungry then try their food towers filled with Cuban classics.