So I finally made my way uptown to Tierra Columbiana on friday night. My wife and I ate there before heading back into West Philly to hear Poncho Sanchez play. My experience of the two was remarkably similar: Poncho is not the best drummer I've ever heard, nor were any of the musicians in his band spectacular. Likewise this wasn't one of the best cuban restaurants I've been to (there are dozens, at least, better in Manhattan), and no single item on the table was particularly good. Nonetheless the gestalt of both experiences was not bad. Poncho's band did come together to play journeyman level latin jazz, and the feel of Tierra Columbiana was good--we were treated very nicely, and had a perfectly nice time. I didn't feel as though I'd wasted my time or my money on either experience, but I doubt I'd go out of my way to repeat either, especially if there's a better instance of either (cuban food/latin jazz) to be had.
I was really there for the tostones, and happy about the prospect of black beans and yellow rice. The tostones were totally disappointing, and the beans and rice were nothing special. The entree was eminently forgettable--the evening's special, ensalada de pulpo. It wasn't awful, just uninteresting. I suppose I'd go back and order a steak, as that looked like the most appealing thing others had on their tables. My wife had some kind of fried fish that just tasted like fishsticks.
So, my question, then, is: is there a place that has equally "down home" cuban food, but does a better job of it? I'm not looking for anything fancy, just delicious tostones, beans and rice, maybe ropa vieja. I was visiting a friend near Northern liberties yesterday, and it appears there are a lot of carribean places north of Girard, between, say, 9th and 3rd. Anyone know anything about them? I know about the higher-end places in center city, but I'm looking for someplace more low-key, not to mention reasonably priced.