If you are about to go to a Cuban restaurant for the first time, you are in for a treat. Cuban cuisine is varied and flavorful, boasting rich meats and unique spices. While most anything on the menu at a good Cuban restaurant should be delicious, here are a few particular dishes you may want to try the first time you visit.
Tamales in Cuban cuisine are a bit different from the Mexican ones you may have had before. Instead of having a meat filling, these tamales are a mixture of seasoned meats and corn-based dough, all rolled up and cooked in a husk. Cuban tamales have a unique creaminess to them and are often a bit spicy, but not overwhelmingly so.
This dish's name translates to "fried cow" or "fried beef" in English. Thin strips of beef are marinated in a citrus sauce, which tenderizes the beef and adds flavor. Then, the beef is fried on griddle or in a skillet until it is crisp on all sides. The result is sort of a cross between steak and a moist jerky. Vaca frita is lovely as an appetizer for sharing!
Another beef dish, this one's name translates to "old clothes." But have no fear -- you will be served shredded and pulled beef, not someone's old clothing! The beef is seasoned and cooked with tomatoes, peppers, and onions, and then served over white rice. The sauce from the beef soaks into the rice and gives it flavor.
Pernil is a roast pork shoulder, and it's probably the best roast pork shoulder you'll ever have. The shoulder is rubbed with a mixture of spices like cumin and garlic, Then, it is slowly roasted, which causes the fat to render down into the roast. This keeps the pork nice and tender -- more tender than with the high-heat roasting methods often used in American cooking. Pernil is usually sliced thinly and served with seasoned rice on the side.
For dessert, you have to order the tostones! These are fried plantains, flavored with some cinnamon and sugar. They're flatter and crispier than the fried plantains you may see in Puerto Rican or other cuisines. Often, a restaurant will offer a big order of tostones for you to share with the table at the end of your meal.
With any of these Cuban dishes, it's hard to go wrong. Enjoy!