There’s a Lot to Love About Cuban Food at Cuba Libre
It’s lunchtime on just another Thursday and Cuba Libre is packed, so much so that diner who have come as a group have to be seated separately among several communal tables. There’s a line to the main counter that snakes through the venue, curious eyes look through the glass windows, and serves jostle through the crowd to clean up after guests. But there are no complaints—all these add to the festive atmosphere the Cuban-style outpost gives off.
Here is another concept rolled out by the great minds behind the Tasteless Food Group. Just in the first quarter of the year, the group has already launched several fully developed restaurants, cementing their stature in the local food scene. There seems to be no stopping team lead Charles Paw in his insatiable thirst to put up one concept after another. This time, he asked the help of Luis de Terry to take command of Cuba Libre’s kitchen, which finds its first location in Serendra. The result is nothing less of marvelous. From the get-go, there is the promise of authenticity, balanced with the desire to please the Filipino palate.
The flavors are familiar. Cuban food is a hodge-podge of cuisines, most prominent of which is Spanish, which it shares with Filipino food. Its being a tropical country, just like the Philippines, means the produce—even cooking techniques, styles, and traditions—is also similar. Even the colors you’ll find on your plate is undeniably almost very Filipino.
Rice is also a main staple. At Cuba Libre, there are three options aside from the usual white: Arroz Blanco, white grains specked with oregano; Arroz Amarillo, tinted a nice orange hue; and Moros y Cristianos, a hearty mix of rice and beans that’s sure to fill one up instantly.
Choosing a main can just be as confusing. The albondigas criollas (hearty meatballs of beef and pork in a Cuban creole tomato sauce), picadillo cubano (their version of the classic arroz a la Cubana with olives and raisins), and the masitas de puerco en adobo (a lovely pork belly and potato adobo with orange and oregano) are all safe choices.
Cuban fried chicken with frijoles negros
Ropa vieja, Cuban fried chicken, and sides
You won’t go wrong with any of the standbys, but it’s Cuba Libre’s ropa vieja that’s the unmistakable champion. This one is a beautiful stew of tender, shredded beef brisket in a most flavorful sauce of luscious oil, delicate tomatoes, and sweet peppers. Other options include the Cuban fried chicken, which kids will adore, and the quimbombo a la habanera, a stew made with okra.
It’s easy to understand why the canteen-style serving of Cuba Libre appeals to Filipinos: Their set meals are value for money! You choose a rice, a main, and you even get a side dish. There’s frijoles negros (black beans) and croquetas de malanga (made with taro and pumpkin), then the tostones (crispy plaintains) and boniato frito (sweet potato fries) that are lovely all on their own.
Iced Teas and Lemonades
Don’t wrap up your meal without a taste of their decadent espresso coffee flan—one of the best in the metro. It’s a great pick-me-up just before heading back to the office. For those who find themselves dining outside of the air-conditioned hall, make sure to grab a glass of the guava iced tea or minted lemonade to quench every bit of your thirst.
A festive vibe, vibrant murals, a comforting menu—there’s very little reason not to go again and again to Cuba Libre. The familiarity will make you want to chat up the other diners you’re sharing your table with and even get up and dance to the beat. Now don’t be surprised to find a little Cuban party during lunchtime on a weekday next time you’re in the area.
Cuba Libre is at Serendra, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.