A few blocks down from the Asbury Park train station sits a humble-sized restaurant on the corner. Black and white checkers frame the exterior, giving the place a vintage, diner-style feel. But this isn’t another American diner serving pancake stacks and waffle fries. This is the Cuban Café.
A local favorite, the Cuban Café offers authentic Cuban meals that draw customers from as close as the Asbury Park boardwalk and as far as Edison and beyond.
“We were in Cuba a few months ago, and we looked this place up when we got back,” Carolin Walch, 50, of Long Branch said. “It’s as good, if not better than the best restaurants in Havana.”
The Cuban Café, which celebrated its two year anniversary on July 4, opens early and closes late. The menu covers breakfast, lunch and dinner and includes a variety of Cuban dishes and daily specials.
Spending just $5.95 will get you an entrée and drink with a side of rice and beans. Fan favorites include the Cuban sandwich, fried sweet plantains and oxtail. But even the simple dishes like baked chicken and fish fillet never tasted so good.
The business is family owned and operated. Behind the Cuban Café is a small staff of five employees, with a few additional hands helping out on busy weekends.
The café walls and countertops are decorated with Cuban mementos, including baseball shirts and boxing gloves. The authenticity of the decorations and cuisine shouldn’t come as a surprise considering restaurant owners Angel Kames, Roberto Perez and Dunechky Hernandez have ties to Cuba with family still in Havana and other neighboring cities.
On a daily basis, Perez and Hernandez can be found behind the register or at the stove, managing customers and preparing the Cuban cuisine.
The good food and service is what keeps a steady stream of customers flowing through the café each day with lines sometimes stretching outside the door.
“We don’t even have a microwave,” Perez said. “Everything you have to cook from scratch.”
The café has little indoor seating. But on warmer days, customers can take advantage of the ample seating space outside.
“You have to look at the community,” Kames said. “People are happy with the service, and people are happy with the food. That’s what I think propelled the place without any advertising.”
The Cuban Café is close enough to the beach and boardwalk that people can walk over. A number of customers also stop by the café in the morning on their way to the office or during their lunch break.
“Every day local business people come here to eat. We get lawyers, doctors, policemen,” Kames said. Seconds later, a mailman walked through the front door and placed an order at the counter.
Elise Schoening, Cuba Sí
August 12, 2016