I love this place. It's as simple as that. The food, the drinks, the vibe. La Bodeguita is now one of my favorite restaurants in the Peninsula.
Last night, Jon and I walked in (without a reservation) just after 5:30pm. Since that's what time the Cuban restaurant opens, we didn't have a problem getting a table. But if you're planning to arrive after 7pm, get a reservation. The main dining room -- as well as the bar area, which features some tables as well -- were both full when we were done with our meal.
We started off with a pair of mojitos. Fantastic. Even though I had to go non-alcoholic because I forgot my ID and the waitress actually carded me! Anyway. The drinks -- they live up to their reputation as the best mojitos in town. With rum or without.
For our appetizers, I opted for the empanadas -- a trio of flaky pastries stuffed with shredded pork -- and it was delicious. Loved the textures and flavors, and even the coconut sauce lightly drizzled over the dish (I'm not usually a fan of coconut-anything). Jon couldn't decide between the crab cakes and the croquetas, so he ordered both. The crab cakes were good, but weren't anything extraordinary. The deep-fried potato fritters, however, were awesome with the tamarind-chipotle dipping sauce.
The entrees: I had the ropa vieja (tender shredded skirt steak served over yellow rice with a few plaintain slices) and Jon had the masitas (spicy roasted pork with white rice, black beans and carmelized onions). We couldn't agree on whose dish was better (I thought mine, he thought his), but we did come to the consensus that both were amazing. The only disappointment for me were the plantains. They were on the dry side, and some slices were even gummy. I actually prefered the sweet plantain chips that served as garnish on my plate.
I purposely didn't finish off my entire dinner because I was saving room for dessert. We decided to share the Havana Bananas, which consisted of carmelized bananas, walnuts, and vanilla ice cream sprinkled with cinnamon. It was simple and tasty, but nothing special.
Last night, there were quite a few large groups in the dining room -- and this does seem like a great place to imbibe and dine with a gathering of friends.The decor here has a tropical feel to it, and Hemingway's influence is clear (his picture is on the menu, and his words are featured behind the bar). The restaurant's walls are filled with paintings from Cuban artists.
You may not be able to make it to the original La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana. But I can't imagine the food is that much better there anyway. And the Palo Alto eatery does offer plenty of rum cocktails and even cigars. No passport required, but remember to bring your ID.
La Bodeguita del Medio
463 South California Avenue
Palo Alto, CA