Cuban all stars at Rumba Cafe

by Mary Tutwiler

Ok, I'm a sucker for barbacoa.

It personifies the fifth taste, umami, meaning savory. Put dark chicken, pot roasted in soy sauce and butter on my plate and I'm helpless. It's so good, it makes me blush at first bite.

For years, the only place you could get chicken barbacoa was at Cafe Habana City, the mango-colored Cuban restaurant on Bertrand owned by Raphael Garcia. Lucky for Lafayette, the Garcia-Suarez clan has more than one great cook in the family. Garcia's cousin, Yoani Suarez, who was a partner in Cafe Habana, has set out on his own, with a new restaurant, Rumba Cafe, on Ambassador Caffery.

The menu is nearly identical to Cafe Havana's right now, but Suarez, who is cook, bartender, bottle washer and sweep, (his wife, Josefina runs the front of the house) is experimenting as he goes. I had lunch there yesterday and walked away with stars in my eyes.

Suarez's tuna croquettes were a revelation. He was fooling around with the Cuban classic and tried adding some ham and cheese to the tuna mix. The little croquettes are breaded and lightly fried. The come to the table too hot to bite, let them cool a bit so that you can experience the creamy savory mix without searing your tongue.

His Cuban sandwich was dead on, the bread crunchy with a beautiful patina from the sandwich press called a plancha, the pork slow cooked and shredded, ham, melty cheese, mustard, pickles, and a dish of hot green sauce on the side. And then there was the barbacoa, with sides of black beans and rice cooked together called moros, boiled yucca and sweet fried plantains.

I wasn't the only one stuffing herself at lunchtime, but I was the only customer in the room speaking English. Rumba Cafe sounds like it's the Cuban expat gathering place, replete with son and salsa on the stereo. The liquor license arrived last week, mojitos, naturally, are the drink of the house.

Lunch runs about $8-$10, there's nothing on the menu over $20. Rumba's Cafe is located at 1512 Ambassador Caffery, (just north of the Eraste Landry intersection). Hours are 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Mon-Sat, call 988-5208 for more info.