Saucy Cuban music beats in your ears as you enter the brightly colored small, fast-casual Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria in Boulder. You’re greeted with hues of canary yellow, turquoise and crimson red in the unassuming strip mall location on Folsom and Arapahoe. Don’t be fooled by the location, their food is incredibly authentic and run by the guidance of longtime, traditional Cuban recipes.
I recently sat with Co-Owner, Lourdes Sanchez, who was born in Matanzas, Cuba. She moved to the United States in 1965 and she describes it as “fleeing harsh living conditions under Castro’s regime.” Lourdes has been in Boulder since 2000 and she co-opened The Cream Puffery which was her first entry into the restaurant world. That was when she met a soon-friend in Kristy Socarras Bigelow (another Cuban) who was in the process of opening Denver’s Cuba Cuba. After the Puffery closed, Lourdes managed Cuba Cuba in Denver and soon realized Boulder would be a perfect place to expand and serve the food they loved while growing up.
That dream became a reality when Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria opened in Boulder in June 2011, as the only Cuban restaurant in the area.
I was intrigued to learn Lourdes has no formal cooking experience prior to manning the helm in Cuba Cuba’s kitchen (alongside her support of line cooks, of course). After their opening chef didn’t work out, Lourdes took matters into her own hands – leafing through recipes from her mother and grandmother that would translate to their menu and talking to family members so she could properly bring those classic, authentic Cuban dishes to fruition.
As we sat and chatted, Lourdes hopped up to hug regulars, hustled up to the register to ring in customers orders, was in and out of the kitchen, was clearing dishes at tables and spouting joyful greetings in Spanish at Cuban friends that walked in. You can tell she is committed to doing it right from the service to the food and I love her attitude even as an owner, that she just does it all, especially with humility.
The menu is straightforward and although there are seats for dining in, it’s also a great option for take-out. I recently tried a handful of their most popular dishes and was wowed. Lourdes also told me that she takes gluten-free seriously. While Cuban food is largely gluten-free by nature, she has a separate fryer for gluten-free and their pressed sandwiches are available in gluten-free bread, as well.
Lourdes only brings in certain items that she can’t seem to find or replace out West. The bread is sent in fresh from Miami (she tried fruitlessly with bakeries locally but they couldn’t get that Cuban bread quite the same), the Cuban sodas (with flavors like: jupina, materva, ironbeer, melon, cawy & quinabeer) and the Cafe Bustelo, all available for purchase.
Lourdes told me one of their most popular plates was the Lechon Asado – their pulled pork plate with sauteed onions and garlic mojo (a Cuban garlic-citrus dipping sauce). I got fried plaintains on the side, as well. The plantains had that dark crispy edge, but when you bit into them they were soft and sweet that was a delicious bite with the salty, pulled pork. The pork is marinated overnight and then slow roasted for six hours in-house.
Lourdes is proud that “nothing here comes from a bottle,” it’s all made in-house.
From their popular sandwich menu that consists of seven sandwiches all for just $7, the Cubano pork pressed sandwich (think Cuban panini) came with roasted pork, ham, swiss, pickles and mustard. These sandwiches are such a deal – look at how big they are! I could hardly finish mine.
The desserts were intriguing and I was remembering one guava pastry I had in Miami a few years ago and I began to salivate. The pastelito is a puff pastry with guava and cream cheese and and the tres leches was perfectly moist, dripping in milk just as it should.
To top it off, I had to try Lourdes’ Grandmother’s Flan recipe (she notes, she never altered the recipe, it never needed it) and a Cortadito, which is Cuban espresso (single shot) with evaporated milk. The flan had that effortless texture almost like liquid silk with a caramel flavor. I think I began drifting off into a sugary haze as I sipped my buzzing Cortadito.
In sum, the menu is affordable (everything under $10) and the space is bright and inviting. For warmer months, a garage door opens for fresh air and there are patio seats for dining outside. They offer mojitos, beer and sangria and have a killer happy hour deal if you’re willing to venture from downtown. You can also expect to find specials that make their way to the menu every once in a while, to mix it up. If you find yourself at the fast-casual eatery, please don’t forget to order one of their incredible, stand-out desserts.
One final thing – Lourdes shared with me that because this fast-casual concept has been so successful in Boulder they have plans to expand in Denver. If you’re in the Denver area, do not fear, they’re finalizing plans as we speak.