Editor’s note: CuencaHighLife restaurant reviewer Larry Schunk enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1960 and, following two tours of duty in Vietnam, where he was wounded, he was retrained in aviation electronics and pioneered the Marine Corps Computer Based Training (CBT) system. Following his military service, Larry was an information systems consultant for several Fortune 500 companies, specializing in work for banking and investment firms. In 2008 he retired from consulting and became Chief Technology Officer for the Iowa and Chicago Cubs, where he concentrated on software development. He continues to work as a database programmer for the Cubs and several other firms from Cuenca, where he and wife Karen relocated permanently in 2010.
By Larry Schunk
I stumbled on Bella Cuba recently when it turned out that the restaurant I was headed to across the street was closed for the holidays. I had heard that Bella Cuba had a good almuerzo and was happy to give it a try.
Bella Cuba, by the way, is located in a two-block stretch of Calle Honorato Vasquez, between Hermano Miguel and Luis Cordero, a block from Calle Larga, that has a number of good, low-cost restaurants that are often overlooked by expats as well as the locals.
I felt comfortable as soon as I entered Bella Cuba. It was clean with freshly painted walls that
were decorated with posters of Cuban landscapes. The tables were also clean with glass tops covering more pictures of Cuban scenes. Also under the glass were cards advertising local events, including salsa nights (dancing, not sauce).
My waiter was Mario, a member of the Cuban family that owns and operates Bella Cuba. Mario’s Spanish was slow and clear enough, even for my limited skills, and he knew enough English to help out when my brain went blank. I was on an almuerzo mission, I told Mario, and inquired about the pescado (fish) which, he assured me was available, along with the usual chicken, beef, and pork choices.
The soup was full of vegetables and came in a much larger-than-usual bowl. The almuerzo main course came with a large piece of fried fish, moro rice (cooked in black beans), a bit of salad and a piece of nicely cooked yuca with some colorful onion strings on top (see photo). There was no postre (dessert), but the meal itself was plenty for me. Everything was tasty, well-prepared, and attractively presented, and the $2.50 price was right.
One meal at a restaurant should never be the basis for a recommendation, pro or con, so I returned to Bella Cuba for three more almuerzos. Two were standard fare (different soup and salad); for the third, I tried the $4.50 Ropa Vieja (literally “Old Clothes,” but it doesn’t taste like it, fortunately). Ropa Vieja is an iconic Cuban dish of shredded beef or pork cooked in a tomato sauce, that originated, oddly enough, in the Spanish Jewish community in the 12th and 13th centuries.
My Ropa Vieja pork was a bit too salty for my taste, which may be the traditional preparation or the result of a heavy hand in the kitchen.
I’ll be back for Bella Cuba in the future. I’ve added it to my growing list for almuerzo favorites.
Bella Cuba is open for breakfast and dinner as well as for lunch.
Next week? Think Chile.
Bella Cuba is located at Honorato Vasquez 6-11 y Hermano Miguel. Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Phone 099 587 0270. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Have any restaurant tips or inside dining information you would like to share with Larry? Contact him at email@example.com.