Where to: Gustazo Cuban Café in North Cambridge.
Why: Because it’s the larger, livelier sibling of the cozy little Waltham location — in a prime spot in the old, two-level Elephant Walk space near Porter Square.
The Back Story: Patricia Estorino and Adolfo De La Vega lived in this neighborhood for seven years after relocating from Cuba, so it’s a personal triumph for them to open a restaurant here. They never intended to get into the food business, though — she’s a dancer; he’s a classical clarinet player who won a scholarship to the Longy School of Music — but the pair noticed a lack of Cuban cuisine in Boston and wanted to do something about it.
“It was a crazy move,” Estorino says with a laugh. They opened a small storefront in Belmont in 2011, relocating to Waltham in 2014. Clearly the move paid off: On a recent Tuesday evening, the Cambridge dining room was packed.
“On weekdays it’s busy, and on weekends it’s crazy,” says a waiter.
What to Eat: An array of dazzling tapas in the $10 range. You must order the warm tortilla española, served like a slice of eggy birthday cake, woven with ribbons of caramelized onions and potato, topped with thinly sliced cherry tomatoes. Or paunchy little beef empanadas with dabs of pumpkin-colored smoked paprika aioli, or piquillos rellenos, sweet red peppers piped with a soft béchamel-laced cod in a brown-butter carrot sauce, or fat slabs of octopus poached in olive oil on a bed of perfectly roasted fingerling potatoes. It’s easy to get full fast, but make sure to get a tin cannister of truffled yuca fries, fat and greaseless, best dunked in cilantro aioli — springy, bright, refreshing. The kids in our party devoured heaps of sweet, sticky, guava-glazed baby back ribs. (Yep, Gustazo is very family-friendly. Our waiter doled out paper, pencils, and plenty of toddler-size fist-bumps, as well as fast service.)
What to Drink: Plenty of rum. There is a traditional daiquiri, El Presidente (with vermouth and grenadine), and Hotel Nacional (with pineapple, apricot, and lime), plus Gustazo originals, such as the CoffeeCha, mixing rum with cold-brew and cinnamon. “If only we were open for breakfast,” reads the description. If only. It’d be packed.
There are plenty of fun non-alcoholic options, too, like the Coconut Mar “tea” ni, made with coconut cream, green tea, and lemongrass.
The Takeaway: A cheerful slice of Havana along Mass. Ave., complete with a salsa soundtrack. The food is excellent, the service is outstanding, and the prices are fair. Best to reserve ahead.
2067 Massachusetts Ave.,
Cambridge, 617-714-5267, www.gustazo-cubancafe.com
Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@
globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.