Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar
by Roberta B. Turner

This new restaurant opened this year on Las Olas Boulevard in Ft. Lauderdale. Being a native Miamian, I grew up with the Cuban culture as a child and learned to love the taste and flavor of good Cuban food. So, I was excited to try this restaurant with hopes that the Miami-type Cuban food would be served.

First, let me start with the atmosphere. It has a large indoor dining space and bar, the entrance has outside seating in a courtyard-type setting, and the exterior has large murals on the walls that are vivid to say the least. Our first impression was it was a tourist attraction. There is a DJ booth in the dining room after 11 p.m. on weekends and the dining room tables are removed making it more of a nightclub.

The menu was not what we expected but we were there during the daytime when they feature a lunch menu and a brunch menu with several specialties. We had a very nice waiter who we consulted with on different menu items. We sat indoors to get a feel for the ambience and vibe of the restaurant, but on a nice day or night the outdoor seating would be my preference.

We ordered picadillo empanadas as an appetizer as picadillo is one of my favorite Cuban dishes. This dish was much different than the Cuban dish I am used to. It had the same ingredients and tomato base with olives, raisins and ground beef, but the seasoning was not the same and they added potatoes to the mix. It was good but not what I am accustomed to. We then shared a Cuban sandwich, and it was more than enough for two people to share. It was served with plantains, a salad and black bean soup. The sandwich was good but, again, not the typical Cuban sandwich with its main ingredients of Cuban bread, ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard.

On Cuba Libre’s menu it is called “Visit to Havana.” Ironically, the Cuban sandwich was developed in Key West and Tampa by Cubans before coming to Miami and did not originate in Cuba. Their sandwich is more Ybor City-Tampa-style pressed Cuban sandwich with sour orange marinated pork loin, Genoa salami, ham, provolone and Swiss cheese with yellow mustard and pickle relish. We enjoyed the sandwich but, again, the taste was not what we expected.

Staying with our Cuban theme, we shared a flan for dessert which was delicious but different than the Miami Cuban flan.

In speaking to management, we found out that the Chef was Argentinian and married to a Cuban. He is a two-times James Beard award-winning Chef-partner named Guillermo Pernot whose menus feature tastes that reflect Cuba’s culinary traditions, as well as the emerging modern cuisine.

The restaurant’s name, which translates to “a free Cuba,” signifies hope for the future of the tresured island nation. Its beverage and entertainment experiences celebrate the Cuban people and culture.

This is the fifth Cuba Libre restaurant that has opened, with the other four locations being in Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Washington, D.C. and Orlando.

If you are a lover of Cuban food, this restaurant provides good option to consider but you need to be open-minded to a new twist in the recipes. I would highly recommend you consider your first visit during the Saturday / Sunday Lunch / Brunch time period. Las Olas offers a lot of great people watching, so you will have new tastes to try and lots of entertainment on the street.

The restaurant is open seven nights a week for dinner.