Cuban Love at Cafe Piquet

Cafe Piquet never lets me down. I'll be the first to say this is not the place you go to when you're in a hurry. We Latinos believe in taking our time to enjoy a meal; we'll chat with our table-mates, take our time with each plate set before us, then linger over a cup of coffee. Yes, I'll say it, service here is not hurried or harried.

This charming cafe is located at 5757 Bissonet, just West of the 610 loop. This is their third location, if you count their beginnings at a little cocina on Chimney Rock where Mama Piquet was busy putting out plates of delicious food. Her son, Guido, learned all her secrets and continued serving his family's traditional dishes for years to come. Together with his wife, Nelly, they made you feel right at home as soon as you walked in through the door. Sadly, he was killed in an accident a few years ago, but Nelly has kept the dream going, always reminding us that it happened "because two people fell in love."

I suggest you start off with the Mariquitas, paper-thin slices of green plantain, deep-fried until golden and topped with loads of mojo criollo--a sauce made with garlic, olive oil and lime juice. They're like potato chips, but 10 times better.

We followed those with the Bistec Empanizado, a Latin take on a chicken fried steak. Ask for some extra mojo criollo to bathe this huge piece of meat with; that said, the beef was fork-tender and flavorful and fried to perfection. We also ordered the Enchilado de Calamares, a sort of Creole squid casserole. I have to admit I was nervous about this choice; I love squid, but it is often massacred. Not at Piquet. The calamari rings were plump and tender, and in a tomato-garlicky sauce heavy with onions and green bell peppers. Both entries were served with white rice, black beans and either tostones (green twice-fried plantains) or maduros (ripened, sweet plantains, fried).

And just because we couldn't resist it, we ordered the Sandwich Policia (police sandwich). I felt the need to summon Gerard Butler in 300 and say 'THIS.IS.MADNESS'. Roast pork and maduros under perfectly pressed French bread. It was a bit dry, so when I reheated it at home, I added some of the mojo and mayo. WOW. The salty pork, pressed against the sweet and crisp plantain, made for the perfect bite. We should've ordered two of those.

There are other new sandwiches, including the Frita, a Cuban-style hamburger. And all the traditional Cuban fare is still prepared the same way Mama Piquet used to. If you haven't yet, you should make your way to Cafe Piquet, order a beer or sangria, chill with the locals and have some awesome food.

Where do you go for down-home cooking?

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