Restaurant Review: Guantanamera Cuban Cuisine

Good things come in small packages

Guantanamera Cuban Cuisine

6800 West Gate Blvd. #112, 512/382-1022, www.guantanameraaustin.com
Mon.-Fri., 11am-10pm; Sat.-Sun., 10am-10pm
Guantanamera Cuban Cuisine
Guantanamera Cuban Cuisine

Guantanamera's owner/manager Iskander "Iska" Gener left Cuba in 2008, and began a whirlwind tour of South America, beginning in Ecuador. While bartending there, he met a friend of the restaurant's owners, "Tuky," a young Ecuadorian woman working for a Spanish oil and gas firm. He married her, and Tuky's work took them to Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico, before arriving in Austin in 2010. Once settled, he worked at several Cuban restaurants, managing at Habana Restaurant for three years. Iska and Tuky finally opened Guantanamera this past February.

Guantanamera Cuban Cuisine
Photos by John Anderson

Armed with a wealth of cherished family recipes for fresh, home-style Cuban cuisine, they tastefully remodeled what used to be a Chinese restaurant in the strip center on the Northwest corner of West Gate Boulevard and William Cannon. Inside you'll find a small but well-stocked bar at the back wall (happy hour is 4-7pm), where they make a top-notch Spanish-style gin tonic and a killer Hemingway. The entire south wall is draped in a photo mural of Havana and the Malecón, while the dark-stained concrete floor, warm colors, and wood offer a welcome 55-seat respite from the parking lot outside.

Lunch is served 11am-3pm, offering big portions of "meat and three" meals. Each plate comes with rice and beans, but you choose between congri (black beans mixed with white rice), white or yellow rice, or red or black beans. Then you add an additional side from the list of seven offerings. I have tried four of the 10 lunch entrées and have loved each one. Masas fritas ($9) are chunks of mojo criollo-marinated pork fried in lard, golden outside and succulent within. Lechon asado ($9.50) gets the same marinade and hours in a slow oven until it gets so tender it melts in your mouth. Pollo al horno ($9) is a marinated chicken leg quarter that is roasted with onion and red bell peppers, turning it moist and juicy. Ropa vieja (9.50) has the tenderest shreds of beef, bathed in a rich sauce of tomato, olives, and spices.

For sides, you choose from caramelized sweet-tart maduro (ripe) plantains, crunchy tostones (twice-cooked plantain crisps), mariquitas (thin green plantain chips), boniato frito (sweet potato fries), meltingly luscious yuca con mojo, crisp salad, or Cuban french fries. The black beans are creamy and rich, but I prefer the even richer red beans. Both the white rice and yellow rice are good, but it's hard to beat a classic Caribbean moros y cristianos (black beans and rice).

Their El Cubano sandwich ($9) is one of the better versions in town, with a hefty portion of lechon pork cradled within, and their appetizer tamale ($3) could easily be doubled up and made into a meal. Light-as-a-cloud masa is seasoned with garlic and bell pepper, and stuffed with an ample amount of shredded lechon pork. Delightful. I've also tried their beef empanada ($2.50); think flaky, golden-fried pie filled with finely minced seasoned beef, and served with their wonderful hot salsa of roasted tomato, chile, and garlic. "Hey, it's Texas. I had to have some kind of hot sauce," said Gener.


Guantanamera Cuban Cuisine

6800 West Gate Blvd. #112, 512/382-1022
Mon.-Fri., 11am-10pm; Sat.-Sun., 10am-10pm
www.guantanameraaustin.com

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Iskander "Iska" Gener

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