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Ropa Vieja Cuban Lunch Special at Mikey’s in San Rafael (and ex-Mambo’s Cafe chef found)

Melanie Wong | Dec 15, 201012:30 AM

After reading the rec by “DezzerSF”
for Cuban lunch specials at Mikey’s, I slid into this very nice upholstered booth the very next day.

The ambiance of the neighboring body shops (littered with BMWs, Porsches and Benzes) and Mikey’s generic storefront, ,
provide no clue at all of how nice the inside of this little diner actually is. Warm colors, high ceilings, wooden surfaces, Cuban music, and attractive lighting make this an easy place to sit a spell.

Since DezzerSF had reported on the masitas, I focused on something different to try. I asked my waitress to check with the kitchen about whether I could have all dark meat if I ordered the chicharron de pollo. Her initial answer was that it had no meat in it, only chicken, so I requested that she ask the chef if he could make it with just leg meat. I had to wait nearly 30 minutes for the chicken to be cooked to order, and I was ready to pounce when the plate landed in front of me. Priced at $7.50, the chicharron was served with plantains, salad, and black beans and rice. Black beans over soft white rice had delicious depth from the well-turned sofrito. Golden brown and custardy fried plantains, done nicely too. Yet my highest praise might go to the vibrant vinaigrette bursting with fresh herbs and Cuban spices served over baby greens. It could turn anyone into a veggie eater.

Unfortunately, the chicharron de pollo turned out to be nearly 3/4s breast meat. I tried one boneless chunk and it was hard and too dry for me. Admittedly the very delicious garlicky mojo splashed over the chicken earned brownie points leading to mixed feelings about returning it. Still, I motioned to my waitress who apologized for not telling me that this is made from all parts of the chicken, a little of each.

I asked her to replace it with ropa vieja, being precooked and therefore the fastest dish to serve. The flank steak was not dried out and turned to lifeless floss. Instead the beef was just tender enough while retaining a little bit of chew. The flavorful, fresh-tasting creole sauce had me wishing I had a bit more rice to soak up the juices. Then the owner stopped by and asked if I wanted more rice! But no, I was more than full at that point and feeling very satisfied by the homey flavors elevated with a touch of finesse.

Asked for feedback, I praised the food, other than the miscommunication, and was curious how he’d decided to add Cuban dishes to the menu. He explained that he owns a club and after many delays in trying to get a food permit, the city denied it. He bought this place to have a catering kitchen to supply the club. He said that his breakfast cook had worked for another Cuban place in town and suggested trying some lunch specials to have something different. Turns out he is the chef from Mambo’s Café which shut down three years ago. I told the owner that I was happy to have his chef’s food again, that I preferred his cooking to Sol Food but there had been service problems there. He said that customers have been coming back for the Cuban food, and I told him I thought he was off to a good start at six weeks of operation.

Here’s the listing of lunch specials on the sandwich board outside.

I’ve noticed that the website now includes the Cuban and Peruvian specialties. Oh, and when I asked the owner to start serving Cuban coffee, he said it was on order.

Hoping we’ll hear more about the other dishes from the local ‘hounds!

Marin IJ

783 Andersen Dr, San Rafael, CA 94901

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