TRAVEL & FOOD

Cuba Libre DC Restaurant Review

Meg Cale

Last month I was in Tampa and got to spend time exploring the Cuban roots of Ybor City. I haven’t stopped thinking about Havana since. I’m a bit obsessed with the idea of Cuba even though I haven’t been there yet. My game plan is to make it to Havana sometime in 2018 – but until then – Lindsay and I set out to find the next best thing. A little piece of Cuba right here in the good ole USofA at Cuba Libre DC.
Cuba Libre is located in the Chinatown area of Washington DC, less than a 5 minute walk from the Chinatown Gallery Place Train Station and the Verizon Center. It’s right near the tourist center of town. When you first approach it’s very cute with some outside seating and a very attentive staff. Once you enter the front door it’s designed to look like you’re walking down a side street of Cuba complete with photo opportunities strategically placed around the restaurant.

Cuba Libre has locations in several cities around the United States. It’s the brainchild of two-time James Beard Award-winning Chef-Partner Guillermo Pernot. Chef Pernot’s menus feature tantalizing tastes that reflect Cuba’s culinary traditions, as well as the emerging modern cuisine he is experiencing during his continuing travels to Cuba.

Lindsay and I stopped in around 8:00 PM for some dinner and drinks. We came prepared to EAT. We knew we’d be writing this post and wanted to make sure we sampled a wide variety of items to give you guys the best content possible – oooorrr at least that’s what we told ourselves after the 5th course. We got a table right in the front because Cuba Libre turns into a salsa dance party at 10 and I wanted a good seat to see the show.

Lindsay and I have completely opposite palates and rarely agree on food items. Her palate is focused on spicy, vinegar and salty flavors. For me – well – I never met a carb of a desert I didn’t like.

We started with a basket of toast with Mango Butter and an order of Padron Peppers (choice of three tapas plates for $24). The toast itself wasn’t anything special but the mango butter was a game changer. Hands down one of the best butters I’ve had. If I hadn’t known we’d be having several courses I would have eaten the whole basket. Lindsay really loved the Spanish-style blistered Padrón peppers served with a flaky salt and lemon mahonesa sauce.

Our next course was a portion of Crab and Pineapple Guacamole ($7) and a very small sample of Ceviche. Full disclosure, avocado is one of my favorite foods and neither Lindsay or I enjoy ceviche. The Guac didn’t disappoint. I would order this again in a heartbeat. The pineapple adds a unique twist to a classic guacamole without making it overpoweringly sweet. The ceviche seemed very lackluster to me, it wasn’t much more than a few tomato halves and a couple small cuts of fish. While I’m not the best judge of a great tasting ceviche, it was rather visually disappointing.

For our entrees, Lindsay selected the Grilled Argentine-cut bavette steak, served with tostones and Argentinean chimichurri ($24). The steak was perfectly cooked and seasoned with touches that were subtle but definitely, a value added. I selected the Pargo a la Plancha ($24) red snapper with coconut basmati rice, candied cashews, mango salsa, and red curry sauce. 10 out of 10 stars – I’d definitely order the snapper again. The sweet taste was the perfect complement to the lightly grilled snapper.

Normally, we’re not big drinkers but we indulged and enjoyed a couple cocktails with our meals. The far and wide favorite was the Sandito Mojito made with Brinley Gold Shipwreck Spiced Rum and fresh watermelon juice. At $12 each or $60 for a pitcher, it’s definitely not the cheapest cocktail on the menu but of the five we sampled it was by far our favorite.

Our server Martine was attentive and always nearby when we needed him. He patiently explained several options and provided us with his opinions of the dishes. Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal and will be back for more.

Cuba Libre 801 9th St. NW, Ste A (Corner of 9th & H Streets) Washington, DC 20001 (202) 535-0040

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A special thank you to Cuba Libre DC for the complimentary meal in exchange for this honest review. As always, all opinions are my own.