Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898 | SUBSCRIBE

Magazine cover for July - August 2020 issue.

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Tastes and Tables

A Night at Gustazo

Modern delights of Cuban cuisine, in Cambridge

March-April 2020

The bar at Gustavo restaurant

Gustazo’s lively bar zone

Photograph courtesy of Gustazo Cuban Kitchen & Bar


Gustazo’s lively bar zone

Photograph courtesy of Gustazo Cuban Kitchen & Bar

Since 2011, Gustazo Cuban Kitchen & Bar has grown from a homey storefront in Belmont, serving a handful of authentic specials, to two locations—in Cambridge and a new Moody Street, Waltham, site—that can seat more than 500 diners a night.

Such leaps are risky for any restaurateur and maybe more so for those serving ethnic food that requires fresh non-local ingredients, nuanced spicing, and long, slow cooking times. Jazzing up ropa vieja—shredded flanked steak in a refined tomato sauce—by dumping in paprika at the last second doesn’t work. Carelessly handled, empanadas become tasteless wads of dough. Happily, none of this occurs at Gustazo, where Cuban-born owners Patricia Estorino and Adolfo de la Vega have scaled up without tapping out.


Corn fritters with quail egg
Photograph courtesy of Gustazo Cuban Kitchen & Bar

The Cambridge Gustazo opened last year. Its huge Porter Square space sports wood-heavy décor and rusty red walls lit with wrought-iron fixtures and brightened by art-house movie posters.

For a more festive evening, sit near, or at, the bar, with its rows of sparkling spirits and Spanish-style tiles. Beers, ciders, and wines from around the globe are all fine—but splurge for an elegant cocktail: a classic gimlet or margarita (get the optional guanábana), or the Rumba Rye, with hints of walnut and chocolate. A radiant wall sculpture depicts the island, and an eclectic salsa soundtrack puts one in the mood for intimate club-dancing.

Diners seeking less buzz may prefer tables across the room; the menu’s vibrant tapas and entrées compensate. The modern, inventive options ultimately stay true to Cuba’s Spanish, African, and Caribbean culinary heritage. Roasted cauliflower with pistachios ($13) is flecked with manchego—Spanish sheep’s milk cheese—and plump lamb chops are paired with piquant romesco ($15). Caribbean maduros (fried sweet plantains) and tostones (flattened, fried savory plantains) often appear on the side—but don’t miss the truffled yuca fries, thick and crunchy logs dipped in cilantro aioli ($9).

Vaca frita tacos ($14) replace tortillas with soft, slightly sweet tostones that enfold juicy strips of flank steak and chunks of avocado in a limey dressing laced with cilantro. Hot croquettes the size of golf balls are filled with a mash of Serrano ham and chicken ($7).


A Cuban-style tamal
Photograph courtesy of Gustazo Cuban Kitchen & Bar

Do order the ensalada verde ($14). Whole grilled Little Gem lettuce leaves are dotted with fried ham and calabaza (squash); feta and pepitas add cream and crunch, and grilled tomatoes acidity. More decadent is the jibarito ($10): a spongy mélange of pork, smoked ham, gruyere, and pickles layered on tostones with a slather of mustard.

Shellfish and calamari in the large-plate mariscada ($32) swim in a velvety coconut-milk and lobster sauce. Or try the traditional arroz con pollo ($24), laced with saffron and topped with a poached egg. Market-priced ceviche comes piled in a seashell, amid raw onions, radish, and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.

Finish with a not-too-sweet tres leches cake with fresh fruit and crispy meringue ($10) or the dreamy dulce de leche-filled crêpes with vanilla ice cream ($8).

In all, an evening out at Gustazo is, as the name declares, a great pleasure.  

Harvard Squared

A guide to the arts and culture, history, cuisine, and natural beauty of Cambridge, Boston, and beyond

You Might Also Like:

Fresh-baked jam turnovers at Sofra

Sofra's fresh-baked raspberry-rose jam turnovers

Photograph courtesy of Sofra

Sofra Bakery & Café

"Rohan Duck" dish at Talulla

“Rohan Duck” at Talulla

Photograph by Wayne E. Chinnock/Courtesy of Talulla

Boston and Cambridge celebratory restaurants

Cozy Map Room Tea Lounge with books, bar, and vaulted ceiling

The casual Map Room Tea Lounge offers “bar bites,” like the charcuterie board and tartines
Photograph by Binita Patel

 

The Map Room Tea Lounge at BPL

You Might Also Like:

Fresh-baked jam turnovers at Sofra

Sofra's fresh-baked raspberry-rose jam turnovers

Photograph courtesy of Sofra

Sofra Bakery & Café

"Rohan Duck" dish at Talulla

“Rohan Duck” at Talulla

Photograph by Wayne E. Chinnock/Courtesy of Talulla

Boston and Cambridge celebratory restaurants

Cozy Map Room Tea Lounge with books, bar, and vaulted ceiling

The casual Map Room Tea Lounge offers “bar bites,” like the charcuterie board and tartines
Photograph by Binita Patel

 

The Map Room Tea Lounge at BPL