Restaurant Review

Martino’s Cuban Restaurant

On weekends, Martino Linares Sr. walks jauntily around his self-named establishment checking the tables, wearing his white fedora—bought in Colombia, he’ll tell you—and humming a little ditty. Martino’s is simple in the extreme, with just a few posters on the walls. The loud, pulsating Latin music isn’t exactly conducive to conversation. Here, you order, eat, and leave. One reason Martino’s doesn’t earn a higher rating is that many of the dishes taste similar and lack the depth of flavor you would expect from a good Cuban restaurant.

The Cuban food here is homey and simple rather than subtle and innovative, but the first appetizers we taste are a revelation. Crisp little cups of green plantains stuffed with a well-flavored Cuban meat sauce and the crisp pieces of bacon strips with fried yuca are absolutely delicious. Fried green plantains with slices of grilled Spanish sausage tossed with onions, sweet pepper strips, and lemon juice are also excellent. But the Cuban empanadas are doughy and have a dry filling, and the ham croquettes are mushy and lack ham flavor. I prefer the Puerto Rican pasteles (meat turnovers), filled with slightly ground beef and spices, to the mushy Cuban corn tamales with shredded pork and a garlic-tomato sauce.

Of the main courses, the spicy stuffed chicken—a boneless leg stuffed with jalapeños, peppers, onions, and cilantro in a light-brown garlic-tomato sauce—is excellent, the flavors perfect together. Roasted pork chunks with jalapeños, onions, sweet plantains, apples, tomato, and cilantro in a light tomato sauce (Cuban-style pork mole) is earthy and satisfying. The ropa vieja, a traditional Cuban shredded-beef dish, is better than versions served elsewhere, owing to its tasty, plentiful sauce. Cuban-style steak, sliced thin and topped with grilled onion, raw onions, cilantro, and lemon juice, has a fresh, sprightly taste. The ground beef Cuban-style, a mixture of sautéed ground beef with onions, garlic, pepper, tomato, green olives, cilantro, and capers in tomato sauce topped with a fried egg, is also quite good. So is the deep-fried whole sea bass with fra diabolo sauce, although you might want to ask that the fish’s head be removed before serving. All main courses are served with rice, black beans, and sweet plantains.

There are only two desserts: a rather heavy flan and a three-milk cake—a square of white cake topped with frosting and soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk, and half-and-half—a surprisingly popular concoction at our table.

Reviewed October, 2005.