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Alma de Cuba, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Alma de Cuba (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Alma de Cuba, Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaThis “Caribbean oasis in the heart of Philadelphia” looks all wrong on the outside. Alma de Cuba is situated in a three-story pale-yellow Federal townhouse—sandwiched between a banal office building and a hideous edifice—with large ground-floor windows with flowerboxes beneath them, old-fashioned lanterns flanking the door, and a dormer window at the roofline. It’s charming, but it doesn’t exactly indicate the Cuban delights within.

Inside, however, it’s all south of the border. A long, bright red illuminated bar occupies the front, under slow-swirling fans. Comfortable leather chairs and small tables in the lounge area with exposed-brick walls give way to a more formal dining area in the rear, where photos of Cubans are illuminated onto the walls in between shuttered faux windows. A staircase with a wrought-iron banister straight out of Havana leads upstairs. You’ll have a few moments to appreciate it all before the quick service starts bringing you the beginnings of your memorable meal.

Fork and KnifeTry This: Begin your dinner with one of the nearly dozen ceviche options, or try the black bean soup with crema fresca, sour orange mojo, and croquetas de arroz. For the main course, you can sample the braised goat or the sugar cane tuna, but I opted for the vaca frita—slowly braised then pan-seared skirt steak, with black beans and white rice, little avocado slices, and tomato escabeche. Accompany it with a side of sweet plantains or yucca with creamy mojo, and a glass of Latin wine from Spain, Argentina, or Chile. Finish your meal with a Cuban cigar—a chocolate cigar, that is: an almond cake with chocolate mousse and dulce de leche ice cream.