I have a confession to make: when it comes to Cuban cuisine, my knowledge is pretty much limited to ropa vieja and the oh-so-delicious sandwich with its pork, ham, cheese, pickles and mustard.  Cuba is a blank spot on my culinary map, and the dearth of Cuban restaurants in the district hasn’t done anything to help that.  But all that can change tonight, courtesy of Cuba Libre.

It’s official.  Tonight is opening night, and after a few days of soft service it looks like they’re ready to go.  The latest in a line of recent DC imports (the original is in Philadelphia and they’ve also got locations in Atlantic City and Orlando), Cuba Libre will be bringing an updated version of Cuban and Latin classics to Chinatown.

If you’re wondering what took so long (besides the fact that Cuba Libre is opening in Washington, DC) you need only look around when you step inside and you’ll see.  The restaurant goes out of its way to make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to pre-revolution Havana…or at least the idealized version of pre-revolution Havana.  It’s like you’ve sneaked onto the set of Godfather II.

No expense has been spared to create that atmosphere.  Above the dining area (the space is two floors high), facades have been created by Kevin Hale with a set designer’s eye for detail.  Stucco building-fronts feature backlit windows and real curtains.  A mural presents a Cuban street scene in one corner of the space.  The long, pale wooden bar was recovered from Havana’s Hotel Nacional.  It’s all tastefully accomplished – this isn’t Pirates of the Caribbean: the Restaurant.

More interior photos and a look at what Cuba Libre offers to eat and drink after the jump.  (more…)