Gustazo Cuban Cafe
289 Belmont Street, Belmont, MA 02478
While you can find find almost any kind of food in the Boston area, some cuisines are a bit more underrepresented than others. Take Cuban food, for example; sure, you can find it in a handful of places in and around the city (including popular spots such as Chez Henri in Cambridge and El Oriental de Cuba in Jamaica Plain), but you won't find Cuban fare at every turn in the road like you might with Thai eateries, Indian spots, and Chinese restaurants. So yes, Cuban cuisine probably falls into the same category as Portuguese, Jewish/Kosher, Australian, and German food in the region, but there are indeed places to find it. And one such restaurant in Belmont called Gustazo Cuban Cafe is a spot that is nearly completely unknown, but is a good option for traditional dishes at reasonable prices in a casual and relatively comfortable environment.
Gustazo Cuban Cafe is like so many other businesses on Belmont Street along the Belmont/Watertown line in that it is a blink-and-you-miss-it place that looks like it is too small to be much of anything, let alone a full-service restaurant. But a restaurant it is, and one that is rather cozy and attractive, with dim lighting, large windows that look out at the street, a mural of Cuba in a little nook where a large table is, and a tile floor and tile ceiling whose colors go nicely with the warm color scheme of the place. Space is a little tight inside, which causes the restaurant to fill up quickly, and the rest room...well, you might actually want to consider using facilities before you go to Gustazo, as the bathroom (which is accessed through the kitchen area) may be the smallest of any restaurant in the entire Boston area, with less leg room than a Mini Cooper. It is, to put it mildly, a rather unpleasant experience that could be an absolute nightmare for those with disabilities, so hopefully the folks behind the restaurant can find a way to enlarge the room somehow (which may be tough, as there is definitely a premium on space at this spot).
Not all Boston-area restaurants that offer Cuban fare focus exclusively on this cuisine (Chez Henri, for instance, has both Cuban and French dishes), but Gustazo Cuban Cafe comes awfully close, with such items as codfish croquettes, a beet salad with honey drizzled queso frito and sunflower seeds, malanga puree with roasted garlic (malanga is a yam-like root vegetable), pan-fried polenta, fried pork cubes with malanga puree and mojo sauce, grilled chicken thighs with a guava glaze, and avocado panna cotta. Lovers of root vegetables--and soup--will not want to miss the traditional Cuban stew (ajiaco criollo), as it contains a hearty mix of sweet potatoes, malanga, yuca, and potatoes, as well as squash, corn, and plantains, all in a thick sofrito base. Another delicious starter is the yuca frita plate, which consists of yuca shaped much like French fries (and tasting a bit like them) with a savory garlic-potato dip on the side. For entrees, meat eaters may want to give the ropa vieja a try, as the tender skirt steak is marinated in that wonderful sofrito (the same one used for the stew mentioned above) and served with a tasty blend of black beans and rice along with moist plantains. And while the Cubano at Gustazo may not be quite as tasty as the sublime version from the aforementioned Chez Henri, it is very good, with ham, slow-roasted pork, pickles, Gruyere cheese, and spicy mustard, all packed into a couple of long crunchy pieces of bread. It may be a good idea to save room for dessert at this restaurant, mainly because the pudin de pan (bread pudding) is nothing short of spectacular, with toppings of turron de Alicante (Spanish nougat with almonds) and crema de vie (a sort of Cuban eggnog) making this incredibly rich dish one that you won't soon forget. Gustazo Cuban Cafe does not have a liquor license as of this writing, but diners are free to bring their own wine or beer if they wish.
It would probably be unfair to say that some cuisines are "better" than others, but in the case of Cuban food, well, there does seem to be something special about it. The Boston area could certainly use more Cuban dining spots, but the ones that do exist are mostly impressive, including this tiny spot on the southern edge of Belmont. Now if they could only do something about that bathroom....
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