$$$$ ($15-$24)

Editorial Review

By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, May 18, 2013

Then: A tropical crowd-pleaser(2003)
Again: Stormy weather

The bouncy music and the lush, you-are-there paintings of Cuba put diners in vacation mode the moment they step inside this mom-and-pop in Silver Spring. But where's the snappy service I used to get? Dirty dishes tend to pile up now, and getting the check involves standing up to hunt down my server. More important, where's the good food of the restaurant's early days?

The saucer-size tostones with a hearty "dip" of shredded beef -- classic ropa vieja, or "old rags" -- remains a proper introduction, as does the black bean soup shot through with cumin and garlic. Chicken-stuffed empanadas reinforce making a meal of appetizers, too.

Venture deeper into the long list of eats, and you strike trouble. The outlaw Cuban sandwich would be run out of Miami, and the way the roast pork with soft onions is seasoned, a customer might think salt is a Havana signature. The menu describes its hash of beef, olives, potatoes and peppers in such a way a carnivore can't help but order the dish -- which looks and tastes like nothing more special than hamburger gravy with a scoop of oiled rice to the side.

The mellow and soothing plantains that come with the entrees, I'll keep. "The best mojitos in town," brags a chalkboard sign in the entry. The claim is debatable, and the fruity sangria is better, but one thing is for sure: You'll want a drink to help forget some of this food.