Chapel Hill Cuban: Abierto
After a long wait, the Cuban/Latin restaurant Boleros Cafe opened today. It's in the old El Rodeo location (1404 East Franklin St.). While on a walk, I was pleasantly surprised to find the restaurant's neon sign lit and took a peek inside. The host said today was the first day and that I should tell all my friends. Done.
The menu looks a bit like Patio Loco (both in price and the pan-Latin thing) but with more of a Cuban emphasis. It sure smelled good inside. The owner operates another Boleros Cafe in Wilmington that people seem to like. Hopefully, this will be the same.
Unfortunately, I can't get there for a few days...Anyone been to the Chapel Hill Boleros yet? How about the one in Wilmington?
I went to lunch at Boleros Cafe in Chapel Hill, and the following details my experience:
The last time I was in that building, it was El Rodeo, and not much has changed structurally. The register is still by the door. The bar is still next to the kitchen. The TV is still over the bar, except now its a flat panel showing ESPN instead of a standard TV showing Univision. The inside has a new bright green paint job, with Carribean themed posters framed on the walls. What I'm guessing is Cuban music, is playing quietly over the speakers.
The hostess sits me down, and a bowl of tortilla chips and salsa arrives at my table shortly after... this concerned me a little. I'm from Florida, and I don't ever recall being served chips and salsa at a Cuban restaurant. The tortilla chips were accompanied by dried banana chips (not plantains), which was different, and an extra dipping sauce which seemed to be a creamy stone ground mustard dressing of some sort. The tortilla chips were homemade corn chips and just as good if not better than what I was used to receiving at El Rodeo.
My waitress was very pleasant and willing to please, as was the rest of the staff that I spoke to. I ordered a "Cuban Mojito" from her, and the bartender brought it to me shortly after. I've definitely had better mojitos, but this one was good enough to drink down. I was hoping to order a roasted or pan seared chicken dish with beans and rice, but couldn't find one on the menu. My second choice was going to be half a Cuban sandwich with a side of beans and rice, which also wasn't an option (I could only find a whole Cuban sandwich which seemed to come with no sides). So I decided to try one of their combination lunches. So far my experience was average, and not up to my expectations for a Cuban restaurant. Then I got my lunch...
Yum! My combo lunch came with white rice, yellow rice, and black beans - all cooked perfectly. It also included a tasty tostone (fried pressed plantain), 2 crispy beef empanadas, a dollop of sour cream, and a tropical fruit salsa. After finishing the contents of my plate, I knew that Boleros was going to be a regular lunch spot for me. The quality reminded me of Patio Loco, which definitely is not a bad thing. The kitchen definitely knows what they're doing, even if its not 100% Cuban. The menu comes off to me as being a mix between Cuban, Mexican, and Carribean cuisine. I grabbed a take-out menu and here's some of what you can expect to find at Bolleros Cafe:
Spinach or Ham Croquettes
Black Bean Soup
Baby Back Ribs with guava BBQ sauce
Plantain Crusted Grouper
lots of other stuff...
After my one experience, I'd definitely recommend giving this place a try. I plan on going back.
Curious...have any of you been to Carmen's in Morrisville (RDU exit off I-40)? Wondering what you think of it compared to Boleros or other area Cuban places. Personally I like eating there when I'm down for business although I'm not an expert on Cuban cuisine. Great ropa vieja.
I finally got to Boleros tonight and I'd agree with Sr. Suarez--it was good, not great. The service was quite friendly--I've never been asked if I'd like my water with or without ice before. Unfortunately, the atmosphere and layout are very similar to the old El Rodeo it replaced. There were about 10 tables filled, but 2/3 of the place was empty. It's just a big space. But that's about the only drawback and folks who value the food above all else, will leave happy.
I had the Ropa Vieja, which was excellent. The meat was moist and tender, like a Cuban beef bourguignon. Perfect for a cold winter night. My amigo had the Fricase de Pollo, which was a step down from the beef. The fricase was better than the slightly overdone pollo.
Boleros is definitely worth a visit. It won't rock your world, but it's another corner of the globe included in the Chapel Hill food scene.