Cuba Cuba exterior, Golden Triangle, Denver 2009Cuba Cuba
1173 Delaware Street
Golden Triangle, Denver
Bus directions: Catch the 52 from 17th and Larimer to 13th and Bannock; walk to Delaware

The oldest buildings in Denver—that’s where Todd and I had a late dinner Friday night.* Cuba Cuba restaurant in the Golden Triangle consists of two houses soldered together. And the sloping, spongy floors certainly showed their age. But the wall of talk that greeted us as we walked in to put our names on the list was as young and vibrant as the crowd—and, well, rather impenetrable.

At that point we beat a quick retreat to Gallery 1261, which was much quieter, and had cake for an appetizer. Only the first of the evening, it would turn out.

When we did return after an hour, we scored a table in the corner of the left-hand house near the bar and ordered mojitos. What else would we order? They were strong and refreshing and packed with mint. Not just mint: it turned out that an uninvited guest had hitched a ride—one of those small brown beetles whose back looks like a geometry problem.

I didn’t scream or anything. After all, it wasn’t a cockroach or a spider. And I was even happier after I showed the waitress and she brought me a new drink and didn’t charge us for any of our drinks. “That’s awesome!” she said, about the bug on the mint.

Which is the vibe you’d expect from a Cuban restaurant.

Turns out we could have looked at art for another half hour. About 8 o’clock we got a table in the right-hand house, where the volume was more conducive to talking. When our croquetas de jamon came, they were delivered by a no-nonsense woman who informed us, “Your server is right there,” when we informed her we were ready to order.

And she was right there, with red lipstick and black braids but still managing to resemble Heidi.

I am not a fan of ham. So for me the main attraction of croquetas is the contrast between the crispy-fried outside and the squishy inside. Oh, and the novelty of putting something as pretty as that dark-red croqueta between two saltines.

I ordered the Picadillo, which is really the Cuban cousin of Sloppy Joes. It’s ground beef in a sofrito base (onion, garlic, tomato, pepper) with raisins and potatoes, served with rice and maduros (fried plantains). The maduros were wonderful, but the meat was a little too salty and had two raisins, as far as I could tell.Picadillo at Cuba Cuba, Golden Triangle, Denver 2009

I much preferred Todd’s lechon asada. The pork was wonderfully tender, and I kept stealing bites of his rice with black beans. Lechon asada at Cuba Cuba, Golden Triangle, Denver 2009

The last time Todd and I had Cuban food was at Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine in Fort Lauderdale, where we’d flown to scuba dive and celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. We ordered croquetas there too, so I must be a hypocrite about them. Todd had a monster meat plate, and I had grouper in a cream sauce, which was good.

In my two experiences of Cuban food, I have yet to be blown away. But that seems ridiculous—like going to a couple of Mexican joints and ordering, say, fajitas and tacos, and then deciding Mexican food isn’t for me.

I’ll keep hoping there’s more to discover, and try Cuba Cuba again sometime.

*According to Robin Riddel Lima of the Native American Trading Company. Of course, the first building in Denver was supposed to be a saloon. But she didn’t say “first”; she said “oldest.”
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Leave A Comment

  1. saint facetious March 12, 2009 at 9:28 am - Reply

    People keep telling me about Cuba Cuba, but I’ve yet to go. I’ve only been to the Samba Room on Larimer Square, which I’ve never been disappointed with (it’s crazy expensive, though their “lunch boxes” are a great deal, lots of food for 12 bucks). Everyone says Cuba Cuba is better though. More authentic. At least, I’ll have to give it, that it’s a local restaurant. Was it worth the going? And how was the prices?

    saint facetious’s last blog post..On the Road to T’bilisi (???????)

  2. BernardL March 12, 2009 at 10:21 am - Reply

    I’m sure it’s a great restaurant, but when bugs arrive with my drink or food, it gives me pause. I start thinking if they’re riding out with the drinks, I wonder if there’s simply no more room for them in the kitchen. 🙂

    BernardL’s last blog post..Monster

  3. Beth Partin March 12, 2009 at 10:27 am - Reply

    Bernard, even taking up two houses, it WAS a small place–perhaps even the bugs are feeling crowded. 😀

    Saint, I thought the food was pretty good. I think our total bill was around $65, including one glass of wine but not the mojitos. So if you want a drink, plan on spending about $30 per person. If the Samba Room more than that?

    Let me know what you order if you do go.

    Beth Partin’s last blog post..Bug-Eyed at Cuba Cuba

  4. BruceQ March 12, 2009 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Have to agree with Bernard on this one, the bug would have been a deal breaker. While I understand there’s bugs (and worse) crawling over my food all the time, I cherish the fantasy that someone with clean hands is cleaning and preparing my food before it gets to the table. I know, it’s a fantasy, but if you give me incontrovertible proof to the contrary it… well… “gives me pause.” 😉

    Also, not that it has anything to do with your excellent restaurant review, but I’m skeptical of the claim of oldest building in Denver. Technically, Four Mile House is the oldest standing structure in Denver. If we limit it to downtown, Shelby’s Bar and Grill at 18th and Glenarm and one or two buildings on Larimer Square all make that claim.

  5. Beth Partin March 12, 2009 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    Bruce, it sounds like the “oldest building in Denver” has some similarities to the “oldest continuously inhabited city in America”: the Hopis and the Acoma and Taos fight over that one. That’s why I gave the source. Robin seems to know a lot about the Golden Triangle, so I thought I would put it out there for what it’s worth.

    I’ve had worse things in my food than a beetle. At a restaurant in DC called Pied de Cochon (now closed), I found a curly black hair in my crepe. That bothered me a lot more than the bug in my drink.

    Beth Partin’s last blog post..Bug-Eyed at Cuba Cuba

  6. Tracie March 15, 2009 at 6:39 pm - Reply

    Beth…I loved meeting you today! And love your blog and all of the fun reviews… I have been wanting to go to Cuba Cuba for awhile now but haven’t been able to get a group to join. I agree with Saint Facetious’ review of Samba Room. It might actually be the place to make you LOVE Cuban food.

    Tracie’s last blog post..Isn’t really only the moments?

  7. Beth Partin March 16, 2009 at 7:59 am - Reply

    Tracie, it was good to meet you too. Thanks for the nice comments about my blog.

    Beth Partin’s last blog post..Poem by Another: “Houses” by Patricia Dubrava

  8. Denveater March 16, 2009 at 5:07 pm - Reply

    Hmm, gotta say I wasn’t feeling Samba Room at all on my one visit there. Authenticity’s something of a bugaboo (no pun intended) to begin with, so I don’t worry about that too much unless it’s a matter of blatant misrepresentation. But it has to be good whether it’s “authentic” or hybridized or once-removed or what have you. The dishes I had were mostly pretty bland.

    Denveater’s last blog post..Wallowing in the warm mud of meaty grub at the British Bulldog Pub

  9. […] raisins and a sofrito base (onion, garlic, tomato, peppers). Unlike the salty picadillo I had at Cuba Cuba in Denver, this dish was warm and spicy and made me want to keep eating it. And I didn’t need […]