On this tenth day of the 30 day ethnic food challenge it is only natural to make for Cuba. The special at El Oriental de Cuba in JP is Pernil Asada; Roast pork plus congris (black beans n’ rice) & yucca.
The owner Señor Nobel Garcia is sitting near the door with Red Sox legend El Tiante. Romeo et Julietas are on their table along with Cuban coffee, hot, strong, and super sweet. Behind the counter the Barista is laboring at a big machine with four heads under the watchful eyes of Santo Cristobal, patron Saint of Havana and evidently of Cuban cuisine because for decades someone has been watching over this place. After a firebomb stopped the kitchen in July 2005 El Oriental was back better than ever after a year and a half without Boston’s foremost Cuban cooking.
Everyone in the tropical hued and photograph covered place seems from the neighborhood. Spanish speakers and illustrated urbanites alike leave the legendary Sox his privacy and line up to be seated. Every table is full and the kitchen is humming. Tropical batido shakes include papaya, mango, guava, guanabana, tamarind, parcha, coconut, horchata, and trigo (puffed wheat). Thick and fruity the batido just makes it up the straw and tastes like your mouth went on an island vacation without you.
Sweet fried plantains, Maduros are sticky candy while little cigar ham croquettes are crispy fried delights with moist meaty centers and a vehicle for the hot sauces at each table. Chicken empanada turnovers are flaky and mild offering another opportunity for something picante. If you haven’t had too much sugar so far, Materva is a unique herba mate soda that tastes like a cross between cream soda and sparkling tea with an aftertaste reminiscent of red bull, guarana, or cotton candy pairing well with the savory big flavors.
El Oriental is perhaps most famous for its Cubano, the Cuban Sandwich containing roast pork, swiss cheese, ham, special marinade sauce and toppings. “Con todo”, with everything is recommended including lettuce, onions, tomato, dill pickle sliced lengthwise, mayo and/or mustard. The melty crispy out and tender in roast pork fully dressed on Cuban bread (made w/manteca), is then pressed under “la plancha”( the sandwich iron) and out hot, toasted and condensed comes arguably one of the world’s top ten sandwiches.
The daily special, Pernil Asada, yucca and congris is completely satisfying. The pernil is bitter orange roasted, the yucca soft and doused in garlicy mojo both served with a heap of congris . Black beans and rice/Congris, also known as Moros y Christanos (Moors and Christians) is salt pork, garlic, and cumin fragrant and tasty.
To finish this little cultural embargo breach, iced Cuban coffee is dark roast, creamy and cold sporting plenty of sugar. Rich flan is the custard with caramel, vanilla and lemon flavors in a dessert than stands up to all El Oriental’s substantial Cuban fare where the neighborhood atmosphere that resists big brand change or expansion is waiting for each dinner to return as if to family Sunday dinner…in La Habana or Dade.
Hours: Monday through Thursday 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. | Friday and Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. | Sunday 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
El Oriental de Cuba 416 Centre St. Jamaica Plain, MA 2130 617-524-6464