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Oct 3, 2006 04:58 AM

San Rafael - Mambo's Café Redux (Cuban & Puerto Rican) – There may be simple greatness here.

I was just going to append to the post from a few days ago ... but,no ... this place deserves another spotlight.

Ok, this time I didn’t just happen to be in San Rafael. I made a trip across the San Rafael bridge and paid the toll just to go to Mambo ... the beans I had a few days ago were just that good.

I wanted the Cuban tamale and I was interested in trying the Moro beans. Out of tamales, so I ordered the chicken chicharrons with moro rice and maduros.

This is it. This is real Cuban food. This is not food that is adapted to Bay Area tastes or sensibilites. This is what made me lose my mind over Cuban food in Miami.

This is so good I forgot to copy down the menu description. I ordered it because it was in some special marinade I never had before. Amazing, amazing, amazing.

Cubes of white meat chicken with bones attached in a vinegary marinade had crisp crunchy skin and the most succulant, juicy white meat I have ever eaten. This is the reason the word succulent was invented. It was topped with raw white onion rings.

The moro rice was lovely, tasting of bay leaf and other spices. About moro rice ...

The maduros were fine and not greasy. Not as outstanding as the rice and chicken but so perfectly suited to the whole. Total Cuban comfort food.

Today the dinner came with a salad that was pretty fine too ... red and yellow cherry tomatoes, crisp red pepper, romaine lettuce, cucumber and lots of raw white onion rings. I hate raw onions. I scarfed these up they were so good. The onions are really mild and crisp and slighly dressed in a nice vinagrette.

There was an older gentleman from Cuba at the next table explaining to his friend that this was exactly like the food he ate in Cuba ... I’m guessing pre-revolution. Another table was commenting how perfectly the steak was done.

Again I apologize. The place has been open four days. Not fair to rave. Anything can happen. However, if the food continues to be this good, it just may go on my top five restaurant list.

Usually, to save on calories I eat a little at restaurants and bring leftovers home to enjoy for future lunches. I ate every single bite at this restaurant. No leftovers today ... darn.

This so blows Laurel’s out of the water. On my first post I worried that Mambo might have stiff competition with Sol Food opening next door. Now I think Sol Food should be concerned. Hopefully San Rafael can support two great Cuban/Puerto Rican restaurants.

The food at Mambo's Café isn’t fancy, just well done. It’s real Cuban food.

Previous Mambo post:

Mambo's Café
903 Lincoln Avenue
San Rafael, CA 94901
Phone: 415-453-1155


They’ll see. They are thinking 11am – midnight, maybe seven days a week. If planning to go early or late or on Sunday or Monday ... I’d call to be sure.

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  1. So I've tried all the bean dishes here. The red beans are really nice with pieces of white potato and a sauce almost gravy-like not so much in taste but in richness.

    Yeah, I like all the beans, I'll be hard-pressed to choose between the black, red or moro next time I'm there.

    Also tried the Cuban tamales. These are corundo-style (according to the book "Tamales 101). The pork and other ingrediants are ground up and mixed with the masa rather than a filling with chunks of meat like Mexican or Central American tamales. Wrapped in corn husks, they were moist and good, but I probably wouldn't order them again with so many other tasty dishes on the menu. I might buy some for the family at Christmas though.

    They came with a white sour-cream like sauce on the side.

    The owner said that maybe ... maybe ... they might have Puerto Rican pastelles some day ... maybe. He said they were a lot more work.

    Tried the bottled Malta India, not my thing. Too molassesy.

    The water is very lovely. It comes with a sprig of fresh mint and the bottom of the water picture filled with chopped fruit like pineapple, giving a pleasant fruit essence to the water.

    They might have live music Friday night. If not this week, hopefully next. They are waiting for a permit.

    I wanted to throw a plastic coconut at the woman at the next table. She was asking questions and when told the owner had just moved here from Miami, she said that was fine but he would be smart to adjust the recipes so there were vegan and more vegetarian dishes. According to her, real Miami Cuban food won't sell in the Bay Area.

    Cuban tamales

    1. Mambo sounds great! As we're in San Rafael, I'll head on down there tomorrow and report back.

      I used to like going to a small, hole in the wall Cuban place on Decatur St in NOLA called El Liborio. They had this Cuban steak there...a beatifully marinated flank steak with fried plantains, black beans and rice. Man o man was that good eatin!

      1. I'm anxious to find a place with good Cuban comfort food. Mambo's looks promising! The problem is they never answer their phone! (415-451-1155). Are they still in business or just a case of Telephonophobia?

        3 Replies
        1. re: FrustratedChef

          Here's the correct number: (415) 453-1155

          1. re: FrustratedChef


            Mambo's Cafe (CLOSED)
            903 Lincoln Ave, San Rafael, CA

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              That was a typo in my reply. I checked the number on my cell, it was 415-453-1155. I tried all day and evening on Friday and Saturday. No answer. Only thing left is to just drive over there.

          2. They are closed. The sign says "Closed for Inventory". Sounds like out of business to me. Too bad.

            4 Replies
            1. re: FrustratedChef

              I've tried them a few times for lunch and found the service to be so amateurish as to be comical/bad (with never more than 1/4 of their tables occupied) and the food not up to Sol Food next door (to my taste; don't know what "authentic" should be).

              1. re: Mick Ruthven

                Did anyone really think that a Puerto Rican restaurant next door to a popular Puerto Rican restaurant in a city the size of San Rafael would get off the ground?

                1. re: OldTimer

                  Especially if it is more true to the origins and doesn't cater to California sensibilities. God help us ... the service sucks ... however, the food didn't.

                  And really ... Sol isn't exactly warm service-wise.

                  1. re: rworange

                    IMHO, Sol's is overrated. Too salty. But their maduros are good. ;)