We might have never stopped at El Cubo de Cuba if it weren’t for my mother’s broken shoulder. We had just gotten done visiting her in rehab, and were on our way to a weekend getaway in the Gorge. But Southeast Portland is a long way from Hood River when you are hungry, so we stopped at the first place we saw that looked interesting – a bright little corner on the westerly end of Hawthorne where parking is miraculously plentiful – El Cubo de Cuba. It has been nearly forever since Mr. B and I have tried out a new place without first consulting Yelp or UrbanSpoon or one of our foodie friends. All can say about that is, let’s hear it for doing things the old-fashioned way.
The first thing that hits you walking through the door is the décor. Bright, colorful walls are literally covered with hand-written messages – congratulations to the owners, menu advice, even a warning or two over the exit door. The feel of the place is casual and homey, and the environment is very inviting.
El Cubo de Cuba is another Portland Food cart gone brick-n-mortar. The menu reflects its roots: simple and straightforward, and the atmosphere casual to a fault – just a click away from food cart etiquette. After perusing the menu, you order at the kitchen window counter and when you’re finished eating, you bus your own table. Service was fast, and the staff was friendly and very helpful.
Nothing we ordered stood out proclaiming, “Yes! This is the best [insert Cuban favorite here] I’ve ever eaten and I must eat this every night for the rest of my life.” On the other hand, having now eaten there on three separate occasions, I can say that the offerings are solidly, consistently good and very satisfying.
The menu includes a simple selection of rice bowls, plates, and sandwiches, each offering up to three choices of meat and a vegetarian option. Mr. B and I shared the Mojo Pork Plate. Our plate came with Cuban Black Beans and a choice of yellow, brown or white rice (we opted for brown). We also ordered a Caribbean Salad, which turned out to be a great choice – the mango, cucumber, red onion and avocado paired extremely well with the Mojo Pork. The Mojo Pork, a slow roasted, locally sourced pork shoulder, arrived lean, tender and succulent, and we were both very impressed with the sweet, savory flavors that the accompanying citrus mojo sauce imparted to it.
The black beans were very mildly spiced – maybe even bordering on bland, but not in a bad way, if that makes any sense. I guess I was expecting something with a bit more punch, but Mr. B and I are both fans of spicy food, and have come to expect that sometimes you have to tone things down for the masses. After all, it is so much easier to add spice to something then take it out, right? In the case of the black beans, it was nothing a shake or two of hot sauce and a squirt of lime couldn’t remedy.
El Cubo de Cuba also sports a decent beverage menu that includes a variety of rum cocktails, wine and sangria, beer, espresso, and a number of non-alcoholic options beyond the expected soda, coffee and juice.
Finally, this review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t share a little peek inside the “facilities” and these photographs that were hanging on the walls. I was so intrigued and touched by these faces. They got me to thinking about Cuban politics and what relatively little I know of them – and how my generation and the ones that have followed have never known a world with a free Cuba. Here is Oregon, Cuba seems a world away, when in reality it is only 90 miles from the US Borders of the Florida coastline - the same distance from 31st & Hawthorne to The Dalles. These images made me consider those Cuban people with more depth than I have in a long time. That’s a lot to get out of a short trip to the bathroom, so I think it’s worth noting.
Overall, if you are in Southeast Portland and looking for a good plate of savory comfort with a side of mango and lime, look no farther than the corner of 31th and Hawthorne, right under the big blue sign.
El Cubo de Cuba
3106 SE Hawthorne, Portland, Oregon.
Sunday through Thursday, 11:30am – 9:00 pm,
Friday & Saturday, 11:30 am – 10:00 pm
Happy Hour 3 – 6 pm Daily
Hours are extended in summer