Marta Ines Quintana, owner and chef at Havana Road Cuban Cafe, hails from Guantánamo, a city that has reached new levels of infamy in recent years. But to Marta, Guantánamo’s character and trove of positive attributes far outweigh what it’s become known for. “I am everything beautiful that Guantánamo has,” she told the Baltimore Sun in the spring of 2012, “from food to culture to music to artists.”
With Havana Road Cuban Cafe, Marta has transformed a suburban storefront into a tropical retreat. It’s here, through authentic Cuban dishes, music, and artwork, that Marta is attempting to change the unfavorable perception that has cast a shadow over her native city. Inside Havana Road, mango-red and lime walls and snapshots of Cuba surround visitors as they dig into ropa vieja (tender Cuban brisket) and mojo pollo asado (boneless Cuban chicken breast). The Cubano sandwich, with its hunks of slow-roasted pork, ham, and pressed bread, has become particularly popular. In fact, in 2011, Baltimore Magazine honored the Cubano—not by nominating it for mayor, but by selecting it as the best sandwich in the city.
Mexico and Italy are an ocean apart, but at Il Capo di Capitol Hill, the culinary team whips up meals that unite their culinary traditions. Pastas, such as spaghetti with meatballs and seafood linguine, represent the Italian portion of the menu, along with Italian-inspired entrees that range from salmon drizzled in lemon caper sauce to steak crowned with porcini mushrooms. For south-of-the-border flavors, diners can opt for chimichangas, chilies rellenos, and burritos, which can also come in handy in propping up uneven table legs. Margaritas and a slew of classic cocktails stand at the ready to wash down the savory bites.
Cuba de Ayer Restaurant owners Jessica and William Rodriguez ensure their dishes demonstrate what the Washingtonian dubbed "the mandate of the Cuban restaurant: The food should never be too fine or too fussy." Their menu lets the traditional food speak for itself, from the marinated pork that arrives draped in sautéed onions to the hearty black beans and rice that accompany thinly-sliced steaks.
Steaming plates load tables inside the cozy dining room, which sports rich oxblood walls decorated with colorful artwork. Guests relax in snug booths with cups of café con leche and sweet tres leches cakes, a decadent alternative to glasses of milk.