The best thing about visiting the "little" versions of other regions is the food. The second-best thing is that the little versions of grown-up animals still look like baby animals. Today’s Groupon muddles the experience with tropical tastes, splashes it with Latin locomotion, and garnishes it with extended metaphors. For $10, you get $25 worth of scrumptious Cuban cuisine and drinks at Little Havana Restaurant y Cantina Cubana, a casual Federal Hill eatery that's been serving authentic cuisine for more than a decade. Little Havana's is open Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. (kitchen closes at 10 p.m.), Friday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. (kitchen closes at 11 p.m.), and Sundays for brunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. (kitchen closes at 10 p.m.).
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.
The sounds of salsa music permeate Habana Village, a multi-level space that caters to Cuban tastes in food and music alike. Diners can stop in for beef-stuffed plantains or cubano sandwiches laden with roasted pork, ham, Swiss, and pickles. Entrees also incorporate seafood, as in the arroz con mariscos, a mix of shrimp, mussels, calamari, and scallops baked with yellow rice. The food is enough to keep guests occupied, but those looking to burn off some of their dinner calories can head to the second floor for DJ sets or stop in on salsa nights for beginner or intermediate lessons.