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2054 W Roscoe St, Chicago, IL 60618

Good Cuban can be hard to find in this big city, but the search is over.

Situated in colorful Roscoe Village, Cuba 312 presents a Cuban cuisine that is both pleasantly familiar and endlessly innovative. This could be the city’s best. The menu boasts Cuban food of the modern era, like an ever popular Cuban sandwich. Theirs is a no-nonsense Cubano, layered with glistening ham, roasted pork, slices of Swiss, pickles and mustard, all gently laid out on two fresh and flaky pieces of Cuban-style bread. As a side, nothing goes better than a generous serving of baked plantain chips, the kind that manage to be both crispy on outside and soft in the middle, salted and seasoned to perfection. It’s comfort food; a Cuban classic. And it’s delicious.

But thinking of Cuba 312 solely as an authentic Cuban eatery is ignoring half of the restaurant’s indelible charm. Husband and wife Billy and Jamie Alvarez, owners of Taste of Cuba in Lincolnwood, opened Cuba 312 with a friend last June. Listening to Jamie talk, it sounds like the trio had something specific in mind when conceiving their new restaurant. “We wanted this one to be [Taste of Cuba’s] swanky cousin,” Jamie recounted. The décor can feel as such. Like the food, it teeters the line between chic and simple, now versus then in a way that just feels right. Vintage Cuban and Chicago travel posters fill the rear wall while an adjacent side’s brick face remains exposed. On this wall hangs a large, illuminating CUBA sign, a dazzling homage to the original bearers of this delicious food.

KEV_0182LInstead of relying on the authentic, which it does quite well, Cuba 312 is constantly seeking new ways to jazz up the tried and true staples. “We try to either reinvent the classic dishes from Cuba or use typical Cuban ingredients to make new ones,” Jamie explained about the menu. Sometimes they do more than that, like the mouth-watering Mar y Tierra, a tower of mojo shrimp and skirt steak rests on a bed of grilled vegetables and mofongo — the latter being primarily of African and Puerto Rican descent.

KEV_0224LThere is even a tab on the restaurant’s website titled “House Rules,” one of which announces to customers that the chefs of Cuba 312 have the right to include any ingredient on any dish. The humorously titled “Castro’s Last Meal,” a hearty three-person platter of zesty seafood, proteins and exotic fruits varies per day, depending on what was picked up that morning. My dish included (inhale…) a 24-hour-marinated skirt steak, blackened salmon with mango salsa, langostinos cooked in the house Havana sauce, sautéed scallops in a rich guava glaze and crispy yuca fritas. It certainly was a meal to die for.

KEV_0253LAlso a rule is this: “Please do not ask us to turn down the music or ask a table to be quiet. We will not oblige.” On this particular Friday evening, the dozen or so tables inside are all occupied with a handful more eating al fresco outside, and they’re all a different crowd too. In one corner a trio of young professionals chats over a six pack and a few sharable entrées. Cuba 312 is currently BYOB, liquoring license pending. On the other side, a family of five sits, their youngest child still in a stroller. Filling in the rest of tables are various dates and couples’ night out. It seems that the people certainly do oblige.

KEV_0196LJamie says that one of their biggest complaints is that they use jalapeños. Naturally, this always comes from someone of the older Cuban generation. “But they’re so delicious,” she quickly added. If a restaurant’s biggest critique is the inclusion of jalapeños in their meals, then it’s fair to say that Cuba 312 is doing pretty well for itself. In Jamie’s own words, “if it’s good, it’s good.” There’s no arguing that.

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2054 W Roscoe St, Chicago, IL 60618

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