Since the popular Philadelphia Israeli restaurant Zahav continued to elude me in terms of availability, I ended up making a reservation at Alma de Cuba when I went home for the Fourth of July holiday. Although I had eaten at Philadelphia’s other popular Cuban restaurant (Cuba Libre) countless times, I had never made it to Alma even though it’s been around for well over a decade.
Unlike at Cuba Libre, whose décor and ambience is meant to resemble 1940s Havana, Alma de Cuba is the complete opposite. Located in Center City, Alma is housed in what appears to be a restored former townhouse from another time (the restaurant is located on three levels). The interior also features a very sleek and minimalist look (they’re not going for the visual gimmicks). My only critique of the place is that it’s very dark on the third floor away from the street (where we were seated). While I could still make out the menu, for this food blogger, it wasn’t the most optimal lighting for photographing my food. A couple near us asked to switch tables, so keep that in mind.
When in Rome, or a Cuban restaurant, I begin with a Classico Mojito (Bacardi Superior, lime, mint, sugar, and bitters). It features a yucca strip for garnish, which I just loved. There are numerous other mojito drinks to choose from.
Since I often order croquetas when I’m at a Latin/Spanish restaurant, I decided to go for something different so my mom and I split Gloria’s Black Bean Soup. This is topped with crema fresca and croquetas de arroz (croquettes made of rice). Although black bean soup is nothing overly fancy, the taste of this version was exquisite. I was also considering the Cuban Chop salad since I know it wouldn’t have been overly filling.
For my entrée, I selected the Chicken Imperial. This consists of a grilled breast over saffron Valencia rice and chicken ropa vieja (“shredded clothes”). The chicken was succulent and the portion massive. I had enough to take home for another meal.
I also ordered a side of Tostones to split. Tostones are twice fried plantains. These come with a mojo -flavored dipping sauce.
My mom (ever the fish person) ordered the Whole Roasted Bronzino (this is something I had never even heard of before). It comes with Peruvian potatoes and a sun dried tomato caper chimichurri. She thoroughly enjoyed it and also cleaned her plate.
For dessert, we ordered what I had pre-selected weeks before-the Chocolate Cigar. It’s an award winning almond cake wrapped in chocolate mousse and dusted with chocolate. It also comes with candy matches. We ordered this to go so unfortunately we missed out on the dulce de leche ice cream it’s served with, but the cigar itself was still sublime.
While I greatly enjoyed my meal at Alma de Cuba, when I go for Cuban food, I want more of the home-cooked favorites, not necessarily the artistic interpretation-style ones. I realize that Alma de Cuba is going for a more elegant and innovative culinary approach (it is, after all, a Stephen Starr restaurant), but I wanted to see more traditionally Cuban items on the menu. However, you simply won’t go wrong eating here either. And your stomach will thank you.
Alma de Cuba
1623 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19103