New eats: Cuba Libre brings flavors, colors of Havana to Manila

Angelo G. Garcia

Posted at Mar 06 2018 06:02 AM

Cuba Libre is located in Serendra. Photo by author

MANILA -- Filipinos know little about Cuban cuisine but surprisingly, the Caribbean island's taste profiles are very similar to Pinoy food as both island nations have huge Spanish influences when it comes to food. 

The newly opened restaurant Cuba Libre is introducing Cuban food to Filipinos through familiarity. 

First, the setup. The restaurant, which is located at Serendra in Bonifacio Global City, is patterned after a traditional Cuban cantina. It has a somewhat carinderia vibe but more elevated. The space is bright and colorful, from the Spanish tiles to the wall mural created by The Acid House art group.

The colorful interiors of Cuba Libre is dominated by a wall mural. Photo by author

The small restaurant seats around 30 people including the al fresco area. 

The food is presented in a canteen style where diners choose the main and side dishes they want. Each meal comes with rice as well.

Canteen-style dining at Cuba Libre. Photo by author
A typical Cuban meal consists of a main dish, rice and a side. Photo by author

Cuban cuisine has the same flavors as Mexican cuisine but is more subtle when it comes to spice or is less spicy.

The main dishes sounds familiar but very different, flavor-wise. The picadillo Cubano is the classic arroz a la Cubana dish. It's basically pork mince in light tomato sauce served with your choice of oregano rice or yellow rice or rice and beans; and a side dish.

There's also the ropa vieja, slow cooked beef brisket in peppers, tomatoes, and white wine, then shredded when served. It's similar to beef mechado but is flavored with more spices similar to Mexican cuisine. 

Albondigas criollas or Creole meatballs. Photo by author

The albondigas criollas or Creole meatballs is a meatball dish with a tomato-based sauce. The meatballs are flavored with various herbs and spices including cilantro. The local version of albondigas is usually served in broth with misua noodles.

Cuba Libre also has special dishes including chuletas de cerdo con guayaba or guava pork chops; the lechon al mojo Cubano or crispy Cuban pork belly; and pollo a la cerveza or beer-braised chicken. 

For the sides, must-tries are the tostones or double fried crispy plantain patties; croquetas de malanga or taro and pumpkin fritters; and the boniato frito or sweet potato fries.

Espresso coffee leche flan. Photo by author

For dessert, the tres leches con fanguito or three-milk sponge cake with caramelized condensed milk and the flan de cafe Cubano is the espresso coffee leche flan, are must-tries. 

Cuba Libre is a new concept from Tasteless Food Group, same team behind Pizza Express, Le Petit Souffle, Scout's Honor, and Hanamaruken.