Curious about Cuban food, the better half & I decided to check out Cuban International Restaurant in San Jose this weekend. What we got was an almost surreal experience; if I was knocked unconscious and woke up and had this experience, I wouldve sworn I was in Cuba, or at least, some third world country in the Caribbean or Central America.
First, its tiny, and located on a second level of a tiny building. Second, its completely empty except for the mom in the kitchen and her daughter. Third, the decor screams 3rd world central america: hardwood paneling coated with thick gloss sealant; faded photo posters of various beach, market, windsurfing, scenes; small wooden tables & chairs; dark old carpeting; tiny W/C type restrooms down a dark hallway. Lastly, the Spanish radio station with its jingles and DJs mixed cheerily with the sounds of pots & pans from the kitchen. And then theres the food.
The menu is basic, taking up two pages of a plastic laminated fold out. Scans of the menu are linked below. They offer Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Brazilian dishes. Based on mamacitas recommendations, hubby got the beef stew (carne con pappas) and I got the roast pork (lechon asado), and we split a large order of Soup of the Day (chicken with veggies). BTW mamacitas english was excellent (it woke me up to the fact that I was not in Cuba); she told us theyre out of guacamole since there were no avocados at the market.
The soup was heavenly: chicken chunks (bright orange from a marinade? or from the broth?) was tender, a good variety of veggies (2 or 3 kinds of squash, carrots, celery), and a complex broth with just the right saltiness. Just baked French bread was dense looking but crisp-fluffy in texture. The beef stew was tender & had a complex spicing I couldnt even begin to place. The roast pork (huge chunks of pork shoulder/butt) was softy, tasty, but dry. The huge mound of rice was soft, cooked to the point of splitting, and cooked or fluffed with something really tasty (margarine?). It was a lot of willpower not to eat that whole mound of the rice, completely plain. But the best part was the bowl of black beans that comes with every entree. I cant believe I almost went through life without eating those beans. As a legume lover Ive had beans everywhere, but nothing ever like these. They were cooked to just the right firm/softness, swimming in deep pool of cooking liquid that had some sort of vinegar or wine, bay leaf, and unknown other flavorings. Mixing the pork, rice, & beans together, I was in heaven that night (and at lunch the next day).
Service was slower than watching a kettle boil, but not annoying so in the least; perhaps because I thought I was in Cuba; perhaps because I knew mamacita was the only one doing all the cooking and serving; perhaps because we got the food exactly when it was ready and the bill exactly when mamacita was ready.
Towards the end of our meal a family of 3 came in, and our 2 tables mightve been the only ones that Saturday night. Im hoping this gem of a place will stick around.