Man Food: Charm Over Substance at Gustazo Cuban Café

The Belmont restaurant has plenty of neighborhood charisma, but lacks on flavor.

By | Chowder |

The Tamal en Cazuela from Gustazo Cuban Café. All photos by Katie Barszcz for Boston magazine

It’s easy to fall in love with a quaint and cozy neighborhood restaurant—the kind of place that knows regulars by name, and makes first-timers feel as if they’ve been going for years. The one problem with this much local charm and charisma? It’s all too easy to lose sight of that should be the most important at any restaurant: the food. Gustazo Cuban Café in Belmont is exactly that, a cozy little number with all the right feelings and notes for a success, but the food, which has some perks, can’t nearly match up to the mystique of it all.

Relying heavily both on classic and less-traditional Cuban preparations, both the lunch and dinner menus are peppered with plenty of pork, plantains, and black bean options to keep you interested. Sandwiches are heavily featured, and the massive Pan con Lechon ($8.50) is a striking elongated sandwich filled to the brim with slow-roasted pork and caramelized onions and pressed between crusty French bread. Visually it’s a beauty, and while the pork has a tenderness that can’t be beat, it’s on the cusp of being too dry. The bread is fresh and crackly and the generous helping of pork makes it meaty from head to toe. The apparent absence of the promised mojo sauce, though, is a head-scratcher, and the typically tangy and citrus-laden sauce is virtually undetectable. It could have provided the missing link to a sandwich that had a heck of a lot of promise. The accompany salad of avocado and pineapple is just that; undressed greens with teeny tiny amounts of pineapple and large chunks of unseasoned avocado.

The Tamal en Cazuela ($5) is a hearty appetizer of too-thick polenta, not enough pork or spice., and a slab of rubbery Swiss cheese encrusted on top. Once again it just satisfies, but it seems to be missing that extra edge. The Sandwich de Berenjena ($6.95, not pictured) showcases perfectly roasted eggplant mistakenly combined with an overload of mayonnaise, making it gloppy when it didn’t need to be. The accents of crispy capers and honey are thoughtful touches, however

Ultimately, Gustazo Cuban Café is fine; you don’t leave disappointed, but there aren’t enough flavors to leave you thinking about it for days afterwards. If décor and character were the only measuring sticks of dining out this would easily be a strong contender in the under-represented Cuban fare of Greater Boston.

289 Belmont Street, Belmont, 855-487-8296, gustazo-cubancafe.com