Little Place, Big Heart: Sol de Cuba Cafe


by Leslie Singer

We can go to Cuba; we can’t go to Cuba. Confusing. Keep it simple, and head to this little corner cafe on Crown – emphasis on LITTLE. The food is a cultural mix of Afro-Cuban comfort food from Ybor City, right outside of Tampa. I know, I never heard of Afro-Cuban fusion or Ybor either, but since 2004 Elm City has!

A bonus for eaters with issues: every item identifies vegetarian, gluten-free, nuts and shellfish, and asterisks point out classic Cuban dishes. I kicked off our meal with Empanadas. Not overly fried or greasy (such a relief),  filled with seasoned beef, chicken, and sauteed veggies (one each, $15), – the order is large enough for a table share. Another classic, Ceviche ($15) had some BIG flavor with shrimp and bay scallops cured in citrus juice with mango, red onion, tomato, and cilantro. The Lechon Asado: Mojo marinated roasted pork and caramelized onions was simple and hearty, and my hombre from the islands swears by their Ropa Vieja; shredded beef simmered with onion, bell peppers and garlic in a light tomato sauce ($18). The only let down was the black bean soup. Not sure what happened there.

If bocadillos (sandwiches) are your thing, you can have their Cubano ($10) until 5pm, or better yet, get it on steroids and order the Soul Cubano ($14); cured ham, salami, manchego cheese, roast pork, roasted garlic, and cilantro aioli.

And no matter what, end your meal with either the Tres Leches or the Flan. The latter was the best I had in years.

Sol de Cuba has a lot of heart. A slideshow of Cuban street scenes plays in the little bar, family photos and Cuban art hangs on the walls, and jazzy salsa tunes and spicy aromas share the air. The staff is charming and if you want some extra feel-good – read up on the founder, Jesus Puerto. He’s quite a guy, and this is quite a cafe.           283 Crown St, New Haven