One of the things I like the most about my job is finding great new places and being the first to tell you about them. So I was really excited when I found Los Autenticos Cuban Cafe, a small but delightful little eatery on East Colonial Drive. Everyone should know about this place, I thought as I enjoyed the delicious food and kind service. So imagine my surprise when I discovered the restaurant has been around for 10 years, four under its current owner.
But no matter, I’ll just assume there are some other people out there who love good Cuban food who haven’t heard of the place either.
In my defense, it’s an easy place to overlook. It’s very small, only a few booths packed into a corner spot in a little strip of businesses fronting the busy street. But it’s bright and cheery, spotlessly clean, and visitors are greeted warmly -- as though they’ve been regulars for, oh, I don't know, a decade.
I took a seat at one of the booths and looked over the menu. Breakfast is available all day, but I was attracted by the “oven-roasted in the house” pulled pork lunch special, which included rice and black beans and a choice of a side dish. I selected the ham croquettes as my side. I was also drawn to a “side bowl” portion of the chicken soup, which the menu says is made from grandma’s recipe. How could you go wrong with grandma?
But alas I was told the kitchen was out of the soup. And since I was getting the black beans with my lunch, there wasn’t much reason to order the black bean soup. So I just stuck with the main order.
The pork was wonderful, moist (don’t call it greasy, though, of course, it’s the pork “juices” that give it that moisture) and with grilled onions mixed in. Just the right amount of garlic. What made the pork even better was the house made hot sauce, served in a plastic squeeze bottle with a piece of tape on it with the word “hot” written on it. True that. It was, I was told later, made with 13 types of chilies. How they settled on just that number I do not know, but I won’t question perfection. It was green and pulpy and not just hot but flavorful -- it didn’t sear the tastebuds but excited them.
The beans were good, so, too, the croquettes. And while I was enjoying them, the man who had taken my order (I learned later that he is the owner) brought over a just-off-the-stove serving of the chicken soup I had requested. How thoughtful.
And how tasty, too. It was a rich broth with tiny bubbles of love on top. It had hearty chunks of chicken, carrots and celery and plenty of thin noodles. I can’t wait to catch a cold so I can soothe myself with some more of this soup.
It was when I was paying my bill that I found out that the man who had served me, Robert Cruz, bought the restaurant four years ago. He comes from a restaurant family -- his parents, he said, had owned some restaurants on Semoran Boulevard -- some I had actually reviewed over the years, such as Cuchifritos.
They taught him well. He’s running a terrific little spot, one I wish I had found years ago.
Los Autenticos Cuban Cafe is at 7339 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. It is open for breakfast and lunch daily (opens at 10 a.m. Sunday). Here is a link to the website. The phone number is 407-282-2322.