Toronto, ON M6R 2M9
“Cuba is great, but the food is terrible” is the usual response when people hear you're travelling to the Communist country. Well, if you go off the beaten path, you'll find delicious Cuban favourites, but Roncy restaurant La Cubana will get your taste buds there and save you the airfare. Cuban food is a fascinating confluence of cultures. As expected, there are huge Spanish and Caribbean influences, but there are also flavours from Mexico, Africa and even China (Cuba has historically been a major trading hub). Inside a ’50s-style diner dedicated to Cuban food, the menu is peppered with throwbacks to the owner's childhood in Cuba. “I’ve taken my dad’s classics,” she says, “and drawn upon my cooking school techniques to modernize them.” The idea is to evoke Cuba in its culinary heyday — before communism made proper ingredients difficult to come by. Tiger shrimp can be boring, but the chef marinades them overnight in Worcestershire, Tabasco and herbs before giving them a mean sear on the grill and sweetening them with coconut cream sauce and corn salsa. Thinly sliced plantains are deep-fried, salted and served with salsa so that they’re kind of like tortilla chips, but more Caribbean. La Cubana serves Cuban entrees as well, including roasted pork with rice and beans, red cabbage slaw and tostones, which are savoury, twice-fried plantain slices. Plus the best café con leche you'll ever have north of the Mexican border.