This Saturday was a momentous day for our family. We actually ate a meal at a restaurant. Yes, this week I have for you not another pandemic takeout writeup but an account of a meal eaten in person at a restaurant. We didn’t eat it inside the restaurant, however, but in their excellent outdoor dining area. The restaurant in question is El Cubano in West St. Paul, which serves Cuban and Dominican food. It opened in 2019 after a prior incarnation as, I believe, a food truck. I had not heard of it until it was recommended highly in the comments on my report on Black Market StP by both Kathy Jenkins and Constance Lepro. Looking idly at their website I noticed what looked like a proper outdoor seating area and we decided to give it a go with a couple of friends we’ve eaten takeout meals with on a number of occasions during the pandemic. Herewith my report for the benefit of others who have not yet been.
It’s a small restaurant with a couple of indoor seating areas (which are now open) but really, whether you have residual pandemic concerns or not, the outdoor area is the place to be. There are a few tables under umbrellas up close to the street and also a few large wooden tables under attractive thatched roofs. We scored one of those for our party of six and then got to work on the menu.
The selection is not over-large. The main menu has three sandwiches, six entrees and some snacks and sides. A few more dishes are listed on a chalkboard by the counter where you order and pay. All of the food is in the genre of the solid and unpretentious. Between the six of us we tried five of those entrees and liked them all. We had the ropa vieja (the classic Cuban dish of slow cooked and shredded flank steak); el guajiro (marinated and roasted pork); the masitas de puerco (marinated and deep fried chunks of pork); the red snapper fillet from the specials menu (Dominican style grilled snapper); and two orders of the bistec de pollo (marinated and grilled chicken breast). Portions are hearty and all our entrees came with rice and black beans and fried, sweet plantains and a salad. In addition we got an order of ham croquetas (three to an order) and one empanada with chicken. Their smoothies were recommended and the missus and the kids got one each and liked them.
How was the food? Well, we liked it all. The ham croquetas and the empanada were very nicely done. Of the entrees, the meat in the ropa vieja was not as tender as we expected but the flavour was very good. I had most of the snapper and it was grilled very well as were the chicken breasts—both were fairly lightly seasoned. But it was the pork dishes, particularly the roast pork that were the standouts among the entrees. But I think our favourite part of the meal was the black beans and rice and plantains. I would like to try the dishes on their menu that we didn’t get to on this occasion—especially the sandwiches—but truth be told I’d be happy here just getting beans and rice and plantains along with an assortment of the sides.
For a look at the space and the food launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for thoughts on price and the rest of the experience.
The food is priced very well for the quality and quantity. With tax and a big tip I want to say that our portion of the meal (four entrees, two sides plus three fruit smoothies) came to a little below $100. That may seem like a lot for two adults and two children but we took enough leftovers home for another meal.
The restaurant itself has a very nice vibe. The staff are very friendly and helpful and the space is attractive, inside and out. That said, outside—ideally at one of those thatch-roofed tables—is the place to be. Well, maybe not in the depths of Minnesota winter but certainly now. It’s a great neighbourhood spot and I wish we had it—or something like it—in our neighbourhood. You shouldn’t expect food that sets off fireworks but if good comfort food in a pleasant setting sounds like your kind of thing then you could do a lot worse. If you haven’t been you should go give them a try.
What’s up next? The boys are very impatient to eat tandoori chicken and naan again and so I think it really will have to be Indian food. It would be nice though if we could find a place with both good food and good outdoor seating. If you know of any that fit both those descriptions please drop me a note in the comments.