So when I was given the task of finding a lunch destination for myself and some co-workers the other day, I made it a point to look for something centrally located, delicious and budget-conscious.
That place ended up being Cuba Libre, which is a little haven of Havana within striking distance of the Chinatown arch.
Editor's note: To get the full effect of this blog post, you'll need to click here and listen to this song for the duration of your reading.
Cuba Libre, which in September will celebrate its second birthday in the District, is meant to evoke the golden age of Havana in the 1950s, when mobsters placed bets in the seedy back rooms of nightclubs where sweat from gyrating bodies hung heavy in the humid air. In truth, the place is a tad less Cuban corruption, a tad more Disney World -- Cuba Libre is to Cuba what Fado is to Ireland, for some perspective.
That doesn't mean I didn't love the old-world ambiance any less:
The whole place makes my hair curl because of how summery and humid I think it's going to be in there based on the architecture. It is so intricately detailed that my attention-deficit-disorder-riddled brain was never wanting for visual stimulation.
Even better than the design was the service we received. In a word, IMPECCABLE. My co-workers joked that it seemed like every single person who worked at Cuba Libre came over to our table at one point or another to ensure that our glasses were filled and that we were completely satisfied. I have dined at a string of restaurants lately where we practically had to bribe the servers to fill our water glasses even once during the meal, so this was a welcome change.
But what good is a beautiful exterior and impeccable service if the food isn't equally scrumptious? At a restaurant, it's what goes inside you that counts, after all.
On that front, Cuba Libre certainly doesn't disappoint. I ordered the Cuban Bento Box, a combination platter of small plates, and every bite was perfectly spiced and succulent. It tasted so good that I forgot to take a picture until it was too late.
A final nice touch: They served our checks in a cigar box.
For the ambiance, service, delicious food and reasonable prices, you can bet your rumba shoes and frilly-armed shirts that I will be back to swill grilled pineapple mojitos again in the very near future.