Since 2012, The Lost Cuban in Cedar Rapids has been consistently serving flavorful Cuban favorites, garnering well-deserved buzz along way.
The restaurant’s dining room is colorful and clean, free from the clutter of knickknacks. Customers order at the register, and friendly, helpful servers bring the food out to the table when it’s ready (which doesn’t take long).
The menu offers sandwich fare, including the ever-popular, hot-pressed Cuban sandwich (an Iowan’s dream of pork, cheese, mustard and pickles), and entree-style dishes, such as the ropa vieja (steak in a tomato-based sauce, though a vegetarian version is also available), served over rice with a choice of side and a fountain drink. They also sell a variety of Cuban sodas. And after the main meal, those of us needing a sweet fix can choose between flan or tres leches cake for dessert.
On recommendation from the staff, I tried the lechon asado, pulled pork that is marinated for three days in mojo seasoning—a combination of sour orange, lemon, lime and herbs—then slowly steam-roasted for another eight hours. The pork was heavenly—so tender and flavorful.
My entree came with a choice of plantains or yuca—a starchy, tuberous root simmered with garlic and onions—on the side. I went with the yuca and boy, am I glad I did. My epicurean guide brought me out some sauces to top the side dish: a sweet and mildly spicy sauce with pineapple and cilantro, and the “medium spice” sauce that is made from smoked jalapeño and smoked habañero. I like heat in my food, and this sauce was hot enough to make the roof of my mouth tingle a bit, while still retaining the smoky flavor that truly adds to the food. He explained that their hottest sauce, which they call the “Cuban Missile Crisis,” was not available at the time, because they have not yet grown the ghost peppers that go into the sauce. Also, I was told that they do not serve the sauce in the small to-go containers like the other sauces, because it eats through the two ounce plastic cups. This seems a little hard to believe, but it certainly piqued my interest.
Lost Cuban serves exactly the kind of food I want to eat as the weather begins to improve—still warm and comforting, but with bright, citrusy notes that cause my taste buds to go from six to midnight. I think for the quality of the food, the $10 price I paid was a bargain. And while utensils, plates and cups at the Lost Cuban are all disposable, I could imagine the same food being served in a much more formal atmosphere.
I’m excited to go back and try an empanada—they are made fresh for each order. I’d also like to find someone to split their Cuban burger with me (apparently it’s usually too big of an undertaking for one person). It’s a double patty made from meat that they grind themselves and served with at least two different homemade sauces. And while I’m not sure I’ll ever find myself in Cedar Rapids for breakfast, if I did, I would order a Cuban espresso and some guava and cream cheese-filled pastelitos (pastries).
The Lost Cuban also offers catering services. Frankly, I can’t think of anything better for a graduation party or summer gathering. The food practically screams for a fresh mojito or an ice-cold beer to accompany it as you dine al fresco under the twinkling lights in your backyard. Which leads me to my lone scruple: Why is this not in Iowa City?!
Love food? Kind of a chicken?
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This article was originally published in Little Village issue 175