Williamsburg has its Thai food, and now it seems that Alphabet City has its Cuban. Bodeguita Cubana, a Serbian-run Cuban joint that opened in May on 10th Street (between 1st & Avenue A), is the third in a trifecta of ropa vieja-offering restaurants that's enveloped the neighborhood east of 1st Avenue (the other two are Cafecito & Cafe Cortadito). Arguably the most appealing of them all (though we do love Cafecito), the French doors on the facade of Bodeguita Cubana swing open, inviting a cool breeze on these warm fall nights, and the narrow space feels bigger than its 20-seat capacity. Lighting is dim, coming from the street or a few hanging straw lanterns, creating an air of coziness and welcome. Servings are consistent and generous, especially for a menu entirely under the the $10 price range. Pressed sandwiches, notably the pulled pork with homemade bbq, are scrumptious and big enough to share (depending on your hunger level), and come with either roasted potatoes or a salad with fresh steamed fava beans.
Bright colors on the window frames and photographs of Cuba pay homage to the cuisine's native land, but the atmosphere is more one of a neighborhood hangout, all the locals glad it's still BYOB. The waiter, who happily delivers food announcing that the "food's here for the ladies" (and can be a little touchy at that), is happy to de-cork bottles brought from neighboring liquor stores, and never rushes you to leave.
On two recent visits dishes were uniformly tasty--leaning more towards the comfort end than the gourmet one. The grilled chicken sandwich marinated with citrus and served with vine tomatoes and aioli was pressed on soft sweet Cuban bread and served with a generous portion of salad. The ropa vieja (shredded steak, braised with fresh tomato, onions, and peppers) was flavorful and rich in just the right portion size. The camarones diablo (shrimp in devil's tomato sauce over rice and beans) were tickling, but could have been spicier, the ratio of shrimp somewhat sparse paired with the rice, and not quite special enough to order again. A side of tostones (twice fried plantains, $3.00) was a tough match to the generous plateful offered at Cafecito, but pleased our tastebuds with their heartiness and their garlic-laden dipping sauce.
Bodeguita Cubana is a wonderful addition to Alphabet City's inexpensive dining options and we predict (after our two visits there in one week) that others will find it as charming and welcoming as we did. Some might find the service slow--almost neglectful--but if there with a conversational friend, it's the kind of treatment you'll appreciate for not feeling rushed. Otherwise, for the lack of pretension, the honestly good food, the vibe that makes you want to chat the night away, and the great prices, we highly recommend Bodeguita Cubana.
Bodeguita Cubana is located at 271 E. 10th Street, 212-533-5600, open nightly until 11 p.m.