Editors' pick

Cuba de Ayer

$$$$ ($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.