Sconces cast a soft glow on dinner tables draped in white linen. Green glass tiles glint in the light of fluted hanging lamps. Tea candles flicker next to plush, low lounge seating. The lighting inside Cubanu creates a romantic atmosphere before dates even dig into its menu of American-influenced Cuban dishes, such as empanadas stuffed with goat cheese and spinach. Patrons can also clink glasses of signature house-made sangria, or cap off long nights of filing joint tax returns by munching on late-night tapas dishes served on Friday and Saturday.
The chefs at Mojito Grill immerse the intimate dining area with the savory scents of classic Cuban fare. Employing a decades-old cooking method, they use traditional la caja china roasting boxes to prepare hearty cuts of pork, steak, poultry, and fish. These special ovens heat to extreme temperatures, but keep the flames from ever touching the succulent slabs. This seals in flavor and juices while creating a crispy exterior. Marinated churrasco skirt steak, grilled wild salmon in a guava glaze, and roasted pork highlight the menu alongside traditional Cuban sandwiches. Delectable flavors can be relished with a Cuban coffee and bookended by a Cuban flan.
Mambo Tea House’s combination of cuisine and teas stems from the cultural backgrounds of its married co-owners, who were profiled in (201) magazine. Louis Nuñez, who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, supplied many of the restaurant's recipes and oversees Mambo's cuisine along with his head chef. Though the restaurant specializes in authentic Cuban food, its Latin-based eats—such as paella, skirt steak, and mofongo—borrow from traditional Argentinian, Puerto Rican, Spanish, and Dominican cooking.
Elsewhere in the eatery, CiCi Chan-Nuñez curates more than 40 loose-leaf teas imported from countries such as China, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan. The BYOB facility also supplies diners with mixes to convert their wines into sangria and mojitos.
Up to 60 guests can feast in the dining room, which includes bamboo-wood floors and Cuban-cigar wallpapers. Mambo Tea House hosts live Cuban music every other Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., so visitors can dance off dinner or recite their new poem without worrying that anyone will be able to hear them.
It's been nearly two decades since Hard Grove Cafe opened, and in that time, the Cuban-themed restaurant has evolved into a place where locals gather to see art exhibits and dance to live music. Of course, the biggest draw is still the authentic Cuban cuisine. Diners can dig into seafood mofongo—roasted chicken glazed with guava-infused barbecue sauce—and tangy ropa vieja, amid other exotic dishes. Vegetarian-friendly alternatives are available, along with sandwiches and burgers for diners who are afraid to use forks. Bartenders whip up refreshing mojitos and cosmos for accompaniment. Sundays bring an extensive brunch with optional bottomless bloody marys and mimosas.
Bolts of sheer fabric dangle from the ceiling of Havana Dulce's dining room, filtering the soft lighting before it hits the burnt-orange walls and mimics the sight of a Caribbean sunset. Meanwhile, the aromas of fried plantains, lemon-marinated ceviche, and roast pork drift throughout the space and tempt diners with their combinations of sweet and savory flavors.
The nightlife at Havana Dulce revolves around the bar's refreshing cocktails and fruit-filled sangria, as well as the spirited dance floor. To help to keep feet stepping and hips swaying, the restaurant features live shows throughout the week, including DJ sets, band performances, and staged readings of colonial Virginia's first tax code.
The sound of mojitos and caipirinhas clinking fades into the rhythm of salsa and merengue tunes at Havana Alma de Cuba every night. At the heart of the restaurant, the kitchen prepares a rich spread of Cuban, Latin, and Spanish dishes rated very good to excellent by Zagat and recommended by New York Magazine. Chef Gerardo Tlapa marinates fresh fish in citrus juices to create daily ceviche specials and prepares traditional entrees by braising shredded skirt steak in tomato and covering pork chops with a rich chorizo-tomatillo sauce. Flickering votive candles and a wall-size mural of Cuban streets and musicians playing conga drums create a lively atmosphere in the dining room. Beyond the bustle inside sits an outdoor patio with seating for private events including wedding rehearsals and staring contests.
Live music from Son, Mambo and Rumba serenades guests Thursday–Saturday nights. Tuesday and Wednesday nights bring a different sort of show. Special guest Jose Martinez crafts complimentary cigars for each diner, expertly rolling each one before their eyes. Martinez draws on 30 years of experience that began with his training in the Dominican Republic and continues in his current position as a cigar maker at La Rosa Cubana, which Ciagar Aficionado calls "the old grand dame of New York's mini cigar factories."