If you’ve ever been to Miami for more than five minutes, chances are good you’ve had Cuban food. Unfortunately, outside of southern Florida, finding truly authentic, delicious Cuban fare in the States is next to impossible.
Not so in Nashville, where the corner of Harding Pike and Trousdale in the Crieve Hall district has been home for Back to Cuba Café since 2004.
Owned and operated by Alex Martinez, whose family hails from the island nation, Back to Cuba Café isn’t much to look at on the outside, but step inside the door and it feels like you’ve arrived in Little Havana.
The savory aroma of slow-roasted pork blends harmoniously with fresh-brewed café Cubano, and the sounds of Latin jazz artists like Buena Vista Social Club fill the air. The décor is café casual, with an earthy yet colorful motif replete with a dedicated table for playing a traditional game of dominoes.
"I wanted to share my Cuban roots with Nashville," says Martinez, who longs for a return to the days when travel between America and Cuba is permitted.
Until then, taking cues from his mother’s authentic family recipes, Martinez and company are serving up plate after heaping plate of genuine Cuban food to tantalize the taste buds of both locals and Cuban immigrants alike.
Their most popular dish? According to server Eva, who works the lunch rush almost daily, it would be the Lechon Asado, a slow-roasted shredded pork dish served with seasoned white rice, a bowl of homemade black beans, and steamed yucca (a root vegetable akin to a potato) topped with sautéed onions seasoned with mojo sauce.
One bite and it’s easy to see why Lechon Asado is a favorite amongst regulars. The portion size is extremely generous for $10.95—it could easily feed two, making it an attractive bargain. The yucca with mojo sauce is also particularly tasty, with hints of garlic, sour orange, and other native spices.
Martinez reminds his patrons that Cuban food is, essentially, Caribbean cuisine. Nothing on the menu is particularly spicy, but it is all very flavorful and well seasoned.
In addition, expect to find the usual suspects on the Back to Cuba Café menu. There’s the ubiquitous Cuban sandwich ($7.25), a pressed French bread that contains a melted blend of ham, cheese, pork, mustard and pickles. There are also chicken, steak (Carne con Papas is another local favorite) and fish entrees, both sweet and savory fried plantains, desserts such as flan and arroz con leche (rice pudding), and, of course, Cuban coffee drinks made to order. For a paltry $2.85, the Café con Leche is delicious, and pairs well with the flan.
With prices ranging from an $8.95 lunch special, up to $12.95 for premier entrees, there’s something for every taste and every budget at Back to Cuba Café. Portion sizes being what they are (huge!) you’ll be sure to take away not only an authentic Cuban dining experience, but some leftovers for later.
Oh, and don’t forget the domino table.
Starting in January, 2010, Back to Cuba Café will now be open on Mondays. New hours of operation are Monday – Saturday, 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM.
Martinez dropped a hint that Back to Cuba Café may soon become a chain, with another location in the works. Readers in Murfreesboro, keep your eyes open over the coming months.
- Back to Cuba Café is fun for the whole family, with a smoke-free, alcohol-free environment and kid-friendly menu choices.
Back to Cuba Café
4683 Trousdale Drive
Nashville, TN 37204