Photos by Rebecca Bretana
The moment the abuelita in an ankle-length skirt and cardigan handed me my menu, I knew I was home. Plush couches, fake palm trees, and closely-spaced tables add to the intimate, tropical atmosphere of Laguardia. The fact that practically every chair was upholstered in cheetah print helped, too! All I needed to feel was the glare of neon lights and I would have been transported to Calle Ocho.
First thing I did: ordered a mojito. After the long drive from the western ‘burbs to Laguardia’s locale at 2111 Armitage in the Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhood, I needed… I craved…I pined for a refreshing, cold drink. The mojito did the trick. A combination of rum, mint, lime, sugar, and soda perked me up and cooled me off in no time. By the time I ordered my appetizer, fried yucca (better than any potato), Planeta Azul began their session. Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Café Laguardia are live music night (no cover). The Planeta Azul Trio, a Brazilian band that plays traditional samba is just one of the many genres and bands Laguardia invites to play in a corner near the bar. Rhythm City brings the best of Motown, Guitarra Azul plays flamenco, and Matanzas Latin Express plays while Milly la Salsera teaches the audience to dance (for free).
The entrees vary in price and size. So, if you’re interested in a budget dinner, you can get one. Sandwiches average a little over $6.00 apiece. Large entrees like the Taste of Cuba dinner will run you a bit more at $16.95, but if you don’t have a huge appetite, and are accompanied by a friend, I would suggest splitting. This way, you’ll get to try the best of what Laguardia offers without having to bring anything home, and they don’t charge for sharing a plate. The specials looked fantastic but turned out to be the most expensive things on the menu. If you feel like splurging, however, the Miami Vice Short Ribs come in at $16.95 and the Brazilian Lobster Tail at $24.95. Also, back daily by popular demand: Oxtail Stew.
I was impressed by the Cuban mainstays that often suffer at other restaurants I have been to. The black beans were thick, sweet, and perfect. I drizzled them over my white rice and went to town. The roasted pork was so tender and juicy; I could have eaten a plate full of the succulent meat. I will suggest the fried yucca over the boiled because it was not nearly as flavorful. When it comes to the plantains, though, I would go with the maduros (sweet, sautéed) over the tostones (fried). The fried seemed to have been cooked a bit too long before I ordered them and were soggy. Overall: dinner with a drink averages at about $20, but you can go cheaper if you watch what you order.