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  • Reservations Recommended

    Restaurant Review ~ Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar / 801 9th St., NW

    Hot and sizzling.

    Sizzling in summer’s heat? Why not sizzle more with a hot and spicy Cuban experience, from inspired island food to Latino dancing on weekends? The best remedy for summer (and winter) lethargy and constant cravings for an offbeat food/fun experience is to head to Cuba Libre.

    Obviously, patrons find a tempting array of rums and rum-based cocktails, starting with a mango mojito (yes, awesomeness) and heading on to coconut Cuba Libre (made with coconut rum and Coca Cola), and Blanco Bay (made with spiced rum, Kahlua, and cream). Those are the rummy drinks, but the bar pours out Brazilian cocktails, Pisco punches, sangrias, and assorted beers.

    Of course, the menu calls for taking on multiple courses. Kick off dinner with at least these two appetizers: the crab guacamole and the tropical chips — plantain and Malanga chips — with two different styles of hummus and curried onions.

    Well, consider this third offering as well: the slow-cooked rib with a guava BBQ sauce glaze. This is surely one of its kind.

    Moving on to the main course, pick carefully, as the Cube Libre pork dishes are outstanding. If you are with a group, or at least two people are at table, the crispy pork Pata will overwhelm. A slow-cooked pork shank arrives with an array of grilled vegetables, and the flavors of this masterpiece is remarkable. As the menu notes, there is only a limited number available, but it’s worth a request. Besides, the portions are so tender and well-seasoned that its ultra-large price tag turns this into a unique and memorable meal.

    If you are more inclined to seafood, the griddled red snapper with candied cashews, mango salsa and red curry sauce is certainly one option. Or you can simply base your meal around small plates, or tapas, such as the Cuban meatballs of beef, pork, pine nuts, and raisins or the grilled baby octopus that has been citrus-marinated and served with crispy garbanzo beans and seasoned with Spanish paprika.

    The kitchen turns out an extensive list of sweets to wrap up the meal, including the classic Latino favorite, a tres leches cake, plus Cuban flan of vanilla custard and served with candied mango and papaya salad, or dulce de leche ice cream. To top this off, consider the Cuban coffee made with steamed coconut milk, whole milk, and a shot of rum.

    If you plan on a weekend dinner, hang around until the Latino party dancing starts up, around 10:30 p.m. DJs play a variety of Latino music —  Merengue, Salsa, Bachata — that keeps folks dancing until the bar closes at about 3 a.m. Now that makes for a memorable Friday or Saturday night, for sure.

    Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar / lunch & dinner daily; brunch Sat. & Sun. (202) 408-1600.

    Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, editor, and restaurant reviewer. She has authored books on Asian and Mexican cuisines published by Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, and Macmillan. Other credits include restaurant reviews and food articles for national and regional publications, as well as former editor of the Vegetarian Times and former food editor/writer for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Click here to visit her website.