Although we can now officially head to Cuba for an authentic taste of the country’s cuisine, it’s wonderful to be able to taste perfectly cooked ropa vieja and delicious frijoles negros while sitting comfortably in Boston. Head to these top notch local restaurants to devour the absolute best Cuban food in Boston and then wash it all down with a beer at one of the best Boston sports bars. Sure, the best burgres in Boston and the best pizza in Boston are perfectly delicious food groups, but there’s something about Cuban food that makes every single meal consumed extra tasty and special.
Best Cuban food in Boston
This is your best bet for delicious Cuban in Boston. For over 20 years, the cheerily appointed Jamaica Plain restaurant has been the go-to spot for pork tamales, perfectly dressed Cubano sandwiches and massive plates of shredded beef piled alongside rice, beans and fried plantains (ripe or green). Even if you just pop in for a tres leches cake and a fruit batido (shake), you’ll leave happy—everything on the menu is that good. Don’t forget to visit the premise for breakfast and order a Cuban espresso and a classic Cuban toast. The venue’s only flaw? The restaurant is no longer an under-the-radar gem—be prepared to wait for a table.
When Dona Habana soft-opened in the summer of 2016, there was little reason to think it would make waves, located as it was in the ground floor of a Hampton’s Inn. But once folks tasted the space’s offerings, they immediately started clamoring for more. Owners and seasoned restaurateurs Hector and Nivia Pina know their way around an alluring decor, starting with the 1950s Chevy embedded into the wall (well, just the front end). But it’s the classic-modern Cuban cuisine that’s the main draw. The well-seasoned pulled pork sandwich is served with a flourish atop an antique Cuban newspaper; the flaming lobster appears tableside actually aflame. The enormous entrees (ropa vieja is a must) are designed to be split and the mojito sampler is what you’ll order to wash all that deliciousness down.
The refrain you’ll hear over and over again from Cuban expats: Old Havana’s food is just like what momma used to make. As classic Cubano music plays in the background, you’ll tuck into slabs of garlic bread before beginning your culinary journey: ham croquettes, cod fritters and voluminous entrees like shrimp with yellow rice and Cuban-style fried pork chops. Don’t skip over the sandwiches—the owners make their Cuban bread in-house—and be sure to end the meal with the cream-filled churros. The decor is minimal, but that’s partly the point—you haven’t gone out to eat, you’ve gone home to eat with family.
Looking for date night worthy Cuban cuisine? Gustazo (“great pleasure”) is the place for you. The Waltham restaurant elevates simple dishes to fine-dining levels: chicharrones made with pork belly and served with avocado puree, sweet plantains wrapped in bacon and olive oil-poached octopus. But the classic entrees are still well represented and exquisitely turned out, including puerco asado and Arroz con pollo, the Sunday dinner favorite. If guests hit a lull in conversation, they can peruse the Cuban-themed book covers that plaster the restaurant's walls.
Sometimes, less is more. At this no-frills Jamaica Plain spot, Spanish is the preferred language and bachata the preferred piped-in music. Start with the addictive mango smoothie and then work your way through the reliable dinner plates, all served with plantains, beans and rice. Playing it safe means ordering the chicken stew or breaded steak, but what better time to try fried chicken rinds (Chicharron de Pollo) and oxtails in tomato sauce (robo)? If you’re so inclined, linger afterwards for a beer or two with the regulars.
Those seeking truly traditional El Cocodrilo cuisine should prep themselves for a road trip. North Attleboro houses one of the most authentic Cuban restaurants in the state, a quirky cafe serving both lunch and dinner. Every dish is proof that powerful flavors come from simple seasoning: tamales, vacas fritas and empanadas are traditionally prepared and sing with flavor. Even the garlic toast starter is a revelation. If the food doesn’t spur your desire to visit the home country, all of the Cuban ephemera decorating the small space might. Stop by on a Saturday night for a side of great live music.
A newer addition to Worcester’s burgeoning dining scene, Cafe Reyes is all about the simple daytime pleasures: papaya shakes, empanadas, black bean soup and a fluffy, flaky pastele (pastry) filled with guava preserves and cream cheese. And for those craving a classic breakfast, this is the place for a cafe con leche and Cuban toast. Bonus points: the venue partners with the Hector Reyes House, a treatment center for Latino men, and offers restaurant training to the center's residents and graduates. In other words, you get to eat great food for a great cause.
Although mostly serving Domnican sandwiches, the venue also offers addictive Cubano sandwiches. Those expecting piles of sliced meat will be pleasantly surprised—the Havana Cubano here features just a single slab of ham, but tons of shredded pernil (slow roasted pork shoulder) that adds extra spice and juiciness. Just remember that good things do come to those who wait—Tostado’s service is undeniably slow. Call in your order ahead of time, or else savor your strawberry batido while waiting for your meal to be prepared.
At first glance, the chichi restaurant inside the Envoy Hotel may seem like the last place to enjoy Cuban cuisine. But new Executive Chef Tatiana Rosana has upended the restaurant’s menu entirely, borrowing from her own heritage (she grew up in a traditional Cuban family in Miami) to delight unsuspecting diners. Cuban-influenced dishes include the salted cod croquettes, which draw from Rosana’s Cuban grandmother’s original recipe, and the head-on prawns a la plancha, for which she borrowed inspiration from a traditional Creole-Cuban shrimp dish. Then there’s her four-star version of the Cuban: smoked ham, braised pork, gruyere and jalapeno mustard on ciabatta bread, available as part of both the lunch and brunch menus.
Orinoco isn’t a Cuban restaurant per se—instead, it’s a celebrated Venezuelan spot with sly nods to Cuba. Lunch is the time to get your Cuban sandwich fix; here it’s a pepito medianoche, tweaked with a salsa rosa. Other classic dishes include fried plantains both ripe and green, empanadas, mixed rice, and, of course, mojitos aplenty. But as you work your way through the rest of the menu, remind yourself that Cuban food is itself a fluid hybrid of Spanish, African and Caribbean cuisines, and then try to ID the overlaps.