Editors' pick

Cuba de Ayer

Cuban
$$$$ ($14 and under)
Cuba de Ayer photo
Tetona Dunlap
'

Editorial Review

2009 Fall Dining Guide

By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009

"A good breaded steak isn't mushy; it's crisp," my Cuban-born friend says as he slices into a version of the entree that prompts a smile of recognition. The oiled rice and intense black beans riding shotgun on the plate are the real thing, too, he tells me over dinner at the family-run Cuba de Ayer in Burtonsville. The bouncy music and colorful paintings in the small dining room bring the island nation a little closer to Washington, but it's the cooking, from the recipe files of Mayra Lopez, that keeps bringing me back to the restaurant. Tender shrimp arrive in a garlicky haze of butter. Mashed potatoes and ground beef are glorified in a crisp, golden, baseball-size papa rellena. And as much as I dig the breaded steak, which tastes like schnitzel by way of Havana and is best eaten with a squeeze of lime, the chopped roast pork sweetened with soft onions proves stiff competition. The soft, ripe plantains are a better bet than the starch-stiff unripe ones, and be warned: The desserts are achingly sweet. "We love sugar," my friend says, reminding me yet again how closely this kitchen hews to tradition.