UPDATE: Carlos Cafe has moved to Tega Cay. Read about it here.
Every month the church we attend has an ethnic dinner night at a local restaurant. Last month’s restaurant was Carlos Cafe on Cherry Road in Rock Hill, SC. It’s been open for more than a few years, but I had never thought to try it. Wish I had known what I was missing because now I am going to have to make up for lost time and that could be dangerous on the waistline.
In 2008 it changed ownership and is now owned and managed by Joe and Flor Strollo. Flor is a Cuban native, while her husband is Sicilian. They are very active in the restaurant and they will likely serve you or stop by your table and ask you if your enjoying your meal. It’s a small, intimate restaurant, long and narrow with a television at each end. Along one wall is a brightly painted Cuban beach mural. Even though it is small, they do a good job of accommodating large parties. Our party of 18 was served without any glitches that I noticed.
Cuban food is a fusion of Spanish, African, and Caribbean cuisines. Cuban cooking uses lots of spices, but is not “spicy” like Mexican food. Popular spices used are cumin, oregano, garlic, and bay leaves. Sofrito is used as a base in many Cuban dishes and includes green pepper, onions, garlic, and oregano sautéed together.
To start your Cuban food odyssey try the Mariquitas, thinly sliced fried Plantains piled high on a large platter and served with garlic in oil – something they call mojo sauce. There is more than enough to feed a table of four and it is a great value at only $3.99. The Yuca is fried up nicely and served with mojo dipping sauce, a creamy, light green cilantro flavored sauce. The ham croquettes are my favorite appetizer. They are crispy on the outside with a moist, smooth ham filling inside. Served with mojo dipping sauce.
For an entrée, I love to get the beef hash (picadillo) for $9.99. It consists of ground beef with olives and spices with fried cubed potatoes in seasoned tomato sauce. Not spicy, but definitely rich in flavor. Black beans and rice plus a choice of sweet (maduros) or green (tostones) plantains comes with it. I like the green plantains with this dish – they are a great compliment for the hash. In fact, I typically pile the hash on top of the tostones and eat them together. Be sure to top it all off with the garlic that comes with it. They give you a huge portion of this stuff and I always box half of it up to go. It’s even better for lunch the next day.
If you order the green plantains, make sure whoever you are with orders the maduros. They are the best I’ve had, very sweet and fried until nice and brown.
The roast pork is also a good choice, pork marinated in citrus juices, garlic, and cuban spices, slow roasted to perfection for hours. The fried pork chunks (masas de Puerco) are very popular.
The Cuban sandwiches are also delicious. I don’t know what it is about Cuban bread – but I love it. My son loves the Choribano Preparado ($10.49) a cuban sandwich with the addition of chorizo, grilled onions, and ham croquettes.
Sangria comes in a large pitcher with a copious amount of fruit. They also serve a few interesting Cuban sodas. The Iron Beer (don’t know where it got its name) tastes to me like a cherry root beer.
Definitely try the Cafe Cubano con Leche which is sweet, creamy, and soothing. They have three flavors of flan for dessert, but I’ve never been a big fan of flan. The caramel filled churros are good and I love the tres leches cake ($4.99). Very moist, but not mushy and big enough to share.
Carlos Cafe offers fabulous lunch specials Monday-Friday for $5.99 and check their website because they often have coupons.
Give Carlos Cafe a try and I think you to may find yourself falling in love with Cuban food.
Open Mon-Thurs 11:30 am-9:00pm
Friday and Saturday 11:30am-10:00pm
1998 Cherry Rd (Love’s Plaza)
Rock Hill, SC 29732