PUBLISHED: 7:01 PM on Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Taste of Cuba
New Juneau restaurant offers authentic cuisine, tropical atmosphere
JUNEAU - Argelio Cervantes knows of only two other Cubans in town - and that makes him all the more excited about introducing food from his homeland to Juneau.

Cervantes is the chef of the new Latinos Restaurant at 115 S. Franklin St. in the former Elks Club building. Doloros Gonzalez is managing the restaurant.

  Argelio Cervantes, chef and co-owner of Latinos Restaurant.
"We're going to offer people something that's not available to Juneau," Gonzalez said. "It was a dream to put something together for our community."

Gonzalez has lived in Juneau for a decade but Cervantes has been in town only two years. He worked as a chef for 13 years in Cuba and is bringing the same foods and flavors to the dishes he creates with Juneau.

"Es comida típica cubana," Cervantes said - that is, he's cooking typical Cuban food.

In fact, the initial menu at Latinos will include the five most popular dishes from his last restaurant. He will see what diners like and rotate in new dishes in response.

So far, most of the plates have come back empty, he said, which is a good sign that the flavors of the Caribbean are appealing to Juneau taste buds.

The cuisine of Cuba is influenced by the country's centuries of Spanish colonialism, the slave trade and Caribbean neighbors. Pork, chicken and beef simmer in mild spices like cumin, oregano and bay leaves.

A very traditional Cuban dish on the menu is "ropa vieja," a beef stew with peppers and onions. Diners should not be put off by the name, which means "old clothes."

Another special is a Cuban sandwich, which features a number of key ingredients in Cuban cuisine, including pork, avocado, lettuce, tomato and onion. The basic sauce is made with lemon, vinegar, oil and salt, Cervantes said.

A staple accompanying dishes is black beans and rice, called "moros y cristianos," which means "Moors and Christians," a reference to the two groups coming to live together in Spain when the Moors conquered the Iberian peninsula in the eighth century.

Some of the fruits and vegetables used, such as plantains and taro root, are shipped up from Seattle, Cervantes said.

The restaurant has already hosted birthday parties, a baby shower and a baptism party, Gonzalez said. She plans to host regular dance nights on Friday and show films about Cuba.

"I feel it is important to have a place to play our music and dance and speak Spanish," Gonzalez said. "Besides our food, it is something else to give. Our culture is very rich in music."

Last week Latinos was decorated for Halloween, but in the future diners will see bamboo wallpaper and palms. Gonzalez hopes it will give Juneau residents a bright place to forget the rain and cold.

"We want this place to become something where you come in and it's tropical," Gonzalez said.

Hours of operation

Latinos Restaurant is now open daily for lunch from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. and dinner from 5-10 p.m. Latinos will stay open until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. For more information call 523-4881.