Authentic Cuban food in Chicago

August 20, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Manny Valdes grew up in Cuba, moving to the states when he was 10. When he longs for a taste of his childhood, he stops by the 90 Miles Cuban Cafe, which has two locations in the city, including this one in Logan Square.

"First of all, love the ambience here, great outdoor scene," said Valdes. "On the weekends, they always cook a whole pig; beyond that, they make a lot of those typical, everyday dishes that your mom would make."

Valdes says celebratory meals in Cuba always revolve around whole pigs, and the lechon asado at 90 Miles is done to perfection.

"They just sort of pulled it?" I asked him.

"That's right, it's the roast suckling pig; it's just kind of shredded... and then it's got that mojo de ajo, which has got that garlic and citrus marinade over it; caramelized onions, a little bit of red peppers is very traditional Spanish, and then served with white rice, black beans and those fried plantains that are really, really, really sweet. And then the white rice you basically just break that up and add a little black beans on top of it and go to town on that," said Valdes. "Ropa vieja is kind of a peasant food; it means 'old clothes' because it resembles your old clothes once it's cooked for a long time and shredded."

"So it's a braised beef?" I asked.

"Yeah, it's actually twice-braised; first braised in a little bit of water, then with all of these seasonings that just make it absolutely perfect," he said.

Plantains are a staple in Cuban food, and Valdes loves how 90 Miles cooks them.

"This other variation is made with the plantains when they're really, really green. These are called marequitas - fried plantains - and they're usually dipped into a little bit of that mojo, which is that garlic marinade again - it's fantastic," he said.

"Wow is that garlicky, man, lot of garlic in Cuba," I told him.

"Absolutely, a lot of garlic; it's the Spanish influence of course," he said.

To cool off, a batido made from mamey, an indigenous tropical fruit.

"A batido is typically made with milk, it's kind of like a Cuban smoothie," said Valdes.

As they say in Cuba, the food was riquissimo, or delicious.

In addition to the pig roast every weekend, the Cuban sandwich is great.

90 Miles Cuban Cafe

2540 W. Armitage Ave.


3101 N. Clybourn Ave.

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