For more than 10 years, El Oriental de Cuba has been pleasing Jamaica Plain residents with quality Cuban cuisine. If you’re unfamiliar with Cuban food, consider a visit to El Oriental to try its cubano sandwich ($4.75) — certainly the most popular snack in South Florida, if not in Castro’s Cuba. The roast pork in El Oriental’s version is tender and spiced with black pepper and cumin, and goes nicely with the sandwich’s Swiss cheese, ham, "special marinade," and pickles. These building blocks are stacked on fresh French bread and pressed to brown the crust, melt the cheese, and provide a crunch. Take a pass on unnecessary additions such as mayo and onions, which only interfere with the cubano’s full flavor. Among other sandwich choices are roasted pork ($4.50) and steak "Cuban-style" ($4.50), marinated in garlic sauce.
Almost as popular as El Oriental’s cubano are its soups. Daily soup specials include Monday’s shrimp and fish stew ($6.50), Friday’s seafood soup ($6.75), and Sunday’s ajiaco ($5.50), a traditional stew of beef and tropical tubers. Like all the soups, the ajiaco comes in a Chinese noodle bowl — incongruous, sure, but the noodle bowls speak not only to El Oriental’s focus on food over décor, but also to the restaurant’s complete lack of pretension.
Cheap sides at El O include a delicious Cuban tamale ($3), lightly fried yucca served with sautéed onions and peppers ($2.50), and rice with pigeon peas ($2). The fried green plantains ($1.75) are good, but the fried ripe plantains ($1.75) are spot on. El O characterizes them as a side, but sprinkle some sugar on the plantains and pair them with a latte steaming in a large mug, and you have a meal-ender that’s muy sabroso.
El Oriental de Cuba, located at 416 Centre Street, in Jamaica Plain, is open Monday through Thursday, from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., on Friday and Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Sunday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Call (617) 524-6464.