LC: If you looked up “neighborhood restaurant” in the dictionary, you’d find a photo of Cruzado next to the definition, in full color. Cruzado is secretly tucked away in the charming bungalow homes of Midtown. As we parked, we literally saw neighbors taking their daily jogs, and several women passed by bearing gifts for a baby shower down the street. Initially, when I realized that the eatery is LITERALLY sandwiched between two residential homes, I was a bit thrown off. Not in a bad way per se; I just did not expect it. The building itself resembled a re-purposed auto garage. The fact that we picked the dreariest day of the decade may have also added to my “taken-abackness.” Nevertheless, we decided to cast away the fog and allowed ourselves to be whisked away to “Cuba” for a lunch date.
DC: Strangely, I was not all that bemused by the exterior. Maybe because my belly was doing a rumba dance from the excitement of trying Cuban food for the first time. Once you step inside, the place is actually cozy and endearingly quaint. There were five tables total in our dining area. We peeped into the second dining room, and there were about the same amount of tables there, as well.
LC: We were welcomed in by a beautiful wall-to-wall mural, and the sounds of Bob Marley and the Wailers. As a devout reggae-head I was super excited about their musical choice, but once the third or fourth song passed, I was ready to hear some Timba beats!…but that never came to pass. There was a table of five seated before us, so the server took a bit of a minute to get to our orders. She was pleasant enough, but took a while to truly warm up. Once I took initiative to make conversation about the menu, she seemed to open up more, and became friendlier.
LC: We started off with three aperitivos (appetizers). First, my fork navigated toward the arroz frito (literally fried rice balls). The consistency sort of reminded me of hush puppies, but crispier. It was the black bean sauce that really saved the day; without it, I don’t think I would’ve loved it.
DC: The texture of the arroz frito was definitely interesting. A fried “hush puppy” is crispy enough, but when you take a bite and taste fried rice as well, perhaps there is a bit too much crunch on top of crunch. I think maybe if there’d been more cheese, it could’ve added something more to the texture. Actually, I could barely taste the cheese at all. I would second LC’s notion about the black bean sauce. It was tasty and was definitely the saving grace.
LC: To drink, I decided on the Rum Punch ($3). The punch is an in-house secret recipe, so much so that even our server was kept in the dark on the ingredients. I don’t think I really liked the house rum they used for the cocktail, but I can definitely say I got my money’s worth.
DC: For $3, this is a steal, and you get what you pay for. Could they possibly use a higher grade of rum and charge maybe 8 or 9 bucks instead? Absolutamente! But… it’s honestly refreshing to see such an inexpensive drink on a menu, for once. Like LC, I am not a fan of house rum (too much of any cheap liquor is headache-city for me), so I’d probably limit my “rum punch” intake to one or two glasses. One thing I can say: this drink packs a MEAN punch; you can definitely taste the alcohol… if that’s what you’re going for. I ordered a sangria, which was nothing special. It did not contain fruit (the main reason I order a sangria), and tasted as if it was just pre-made, bottled sangria. The rum punch certainly wins this round.
LC: Next on the agenda: the Tropical Salad – romaine lettuce, avocado, mango, red onion, black pepper, with guava-mint dressing. Typically, I would shy away from a green salad that has fruit involved (just a personal qualm of mine), but as I perused over the menu, the guava-mint dressing definitely piqued my interest. Initially, the salad sort of confused my palate. The mango, guava, avocado, and mint would all work great in a smoothie, but these ingredients on a lettuce wedge was something that I had to get accustomed to. The cracked black pepper and savory red onions helped to sort of round out the sweet flavors. I loved the fact that it came on a romaine wedge vs. iceberg (bleh!).
DC: Ever the carnivore, I normally don’t get all amped about salads, but like Else, I found the ingredients interesting enough. I agree that the combo of green salad and sweet is something that takes a moment to get used to, but I actually really enjoyed it for the most part. When thinking of this salad, summery and fresh come to mind. To sum it all up, this dish is exactly what it purports to be: a TROPICAL salad.
LC: Next, we tried the empanadas, which were fried to perfection – crisp but not greasy, allowing the chicken to retain its flavor.
DC: The empanada was probably my favorite out of the appetizers. With tender shredded malta-braised chicken in a warm, flakey crust, this was a marvelous marriage of textures. Perhaps, my favorite part was the Cuban salsa, which was a refreshing change from the Mexican style I am used to. It was smooth, zesty, bold, and most importantly, yum.
LC: When DC and I planned the trip to Cruzado, I immediately prepared my taste-buds for an authentic Cubano, or “mixto,” as it’s often called. My first experience with a Cuban (sandwich, that is) was roughly seven years ago in a small restaurant in Little Havana, Miami. I still remember the smell and taste of the Cubano and I was eager to see if Cuzado could take me back to that moment in time. Frankly, it was a typical Cuban sandwich, with all the usual suspects: marinated pulled pork, a slice of ham, a pickle sliver, Swiss cheese and mayo all pressed together between Cuban bread. That being said, it was enjoyable, just nothing new.
DC: Now everyone who knows a thing or two about me, knows that I detest the very existence of mayonnaise, BUT for the purpose of giving an accurate review, and to experience the full authenticity of the dish, I decided to throw caution to the wind. And surprisingly, I honestly didn’t notice the mayo. I appreciate that they didn’t just slather it on. This sandwich was absolutely delicious, from the bread down to the flavorful meats, and the stretchy Swiss cheese.
LC: My favorite part of the dish was actually the side of arroz congri – which is essentially white rice mixed with black beans. As many of you know, we here at Two For A Chew LOVE spice, and this rice was giving me all the spice and flavor that I needed! Garnished with cilantro and served steamy-hot, it stole the spotlight from the sandwich and I wasn’t even mad.
DC: I ordered the Ropa Vieja – beer braised flank with caramelized onions & roasted garlic mayo (again with the mayo). This was definitely tasty too. The first initial bite gave me a sort of tangy barbecuey flavor that took a while to register on my tastemap. The more that I munched on the sandwich, the more I started to taste the caramelized onions, and the flavor got really good toward my last few bites. Again, the mayo was a non-factor and didn’t bother me at all. Dare I say I have conquered my mayophobia? Hmmm… maybe that’s a bit gutsy, but anyway, where’s my warrior badge?
LC: As I took MY first bite of the Ropa Vieja sandwich, the flank steak along with the caramelized onions rumba’d across my taste-buds. I closed my eyes for a split second, breathed in the aroma of the beer-braised flank, and happily took my second bite. This was my favorite out of the two sandwiches! I also really enjoyed my first experience with the maduros ( sweet fried plantains)! I typically get tostones (savory, twice-fried plantains) so this was a splendid surprise!
DC: This was my first experience with maduros, as well. They were rich, sweet, and delicious. Because of the richness and thickness, I could only get through a few, but I definitely enjoyed them. Out of the two sandwiches, the Cubano was the winner for me.
LC: Overall, the experience at Cruzado was pretty good. A nice lunch menu that seemed close to authentic Cuban cuisine. This would be a great place for a lunch date or a nice mini-reunion with friends. Only as we exited, did we notice the Cuban music playing outside on the lanai. It would’ve been nice to have that vibe going on inside the restaurant, to authenticate and liven up the experience.
DC: With this being my first Cuban food excursion, I went in with no hardcore expectations. Because of that, I was able to be pleasantly surprised by the myriad of interesting flavors throughout the meal. The empanada, tropical salad, and Cubano were all champions for me, and I could definitely see myself craving those again in the future. In fact, that sounds awesome right about now!
3.75 / 5
Cruzado Restaurant is located at:
366 5th St NE
Atlanta, GA 30308