The State Department Opens Cuba Libre to Burger Tourism

Burger Breakdown

Cuba Libre - Map It!
$12.00
Tomato, lettuce, and crispy worms.
One pound of something that was once a potato (maybe)
3.5/10

A meal inside Cuba Libre is anything but Cuban. It lacks poverty and sweltering humidity, replacing the former with expensive dishes and top shelf rum and the latter with chilled air and faux charming stucco. It's the Disney version of a Latin restaurant. To the establishment's credit they make a mean Mojito, actually 36 varieties of Mojito. That's right kids, there's no reason to go home sober if you don't want to. With drinks this delicious we dare you to have just one.

The Burger: The Miami Frita is beef, pork and Spanish chorizo merged into an oblong patty and built into a Leaning Tower of Pisa-esq structure with tomato, lettuce, mojo de ajo and mustard and then hidden in shoestring fries much the way a child hides ice cream with chocolate syrup.

Photo of the Cuba Libre Burger

Laurence: There's a lot to like about Cuba... Ernest Hemingway, cigar smoking dictators, communism, universal health care. There's less to like about Cuba Libre, especially at night when Old City is bursting at the seams with some of Philadelphia's classiest citizens. But at lunch the salsa music is tamer and it can be a nice respite from the reality of Philadelphia.

I had honestly totally expected to get a free burger simply because I'm a hard worker and feel I've earned it. Sadly that wasn't the way the manager at Cuba Libre seemed to feel when I explained why I wasn't paying the bill.

In all honesty the reason I shouldn't have paid the bill is that the burger was pretty unenjoyable to eat. This is now the third burger we've come across that stands on the philosophical principle that merging animals into a single burger patty is a good thing. In our other experiences this wasn't the case and I'm sure you'll be surprised to hear that it didn't work out so well on this burger either. I sometimes feel we're starting to preach on this subject, but it just doesn't seem possible to add pork to a burger without being forced to overcook everything. Good intentions may abound but that's not enough to make up for a dry burger.

A photo of burgers at Cuba LibreAdd to this the strange addition of a small mountain of shoestring fries covering the burger and the end result isn't so much good as it is weird. The fries are so crispy they more closey resemble shredded potato chips than fries and they occur in such quantity that it was hard at first to see where they ended and the real meal began. I had the impression for a moment that I was about to eat the burger equivalent of the Adams Family's Cousin Itt.

It was hard to get a real sense of any of the flavors with all the fries and when I did finally reach the tootsie roll center I discovered it was mostly dry slightly tough. I felt disgusted with myself for trying to finish it.

The savior of the meal was an appetizer of shortrib on a roll and a few dangerously delicious Mojitos. And that will be my closing thought. The food at Cuba Libre is pretty good (in fact I just had the Cuban Bento Box for lunch and was really happy with it) but the burger is an addition that would have best been left on the embargoed list. Rating: 4/10.

A photo of the Cuba Libre Burger

Kyle: Despite being two doors down from my old billiards stop Brownies, and despite having dangerously addictive Mojitos, I've had very little reason to ever go to Cuba Libre and no occasion to eat there. And now I know why.

Wreathed in crispy shoestring potatoes piled several inches high, the sandwich initially presents an impressive display, like a corpse flower or that spitting dinosaur from Jurassic Park. Unfortunately, that's where the favorable comparisons end.

The burger on this sandwich is like a meat composite, carne a priori, an amalgam of what life-long vegetarians think meat may taste like. I say that because, despite combining beef, chorizo and "pork," it's flavors are an indistinct mishmash. The patty is chewy yet thoroughly inconsistent, its thin body separating easily into isolated elements that can't be broken down further. At first you wouldn't be bludgeoned to death for thinking the sandwich is juicy, but it doesn't take long to realize that there's no actual life in the burger, and any liquid is residual water that was squirted onto the skillet to steam the meat. The burger is massively, disgustingly overseasoned with salt and Sazón, and that's the highlight of the meal. It's like eating a salisbury steak on a stale sourdough roll.

Those cute little potato sticks that make tourists coo with amazement are the same potato sticks they sell in 8 oz. tins at Dollar Tree. Tasting of, in descending order, salt, oil, poverty and finally potato, they only mask the flavorlessness of the sandwich with a heavy dose of sodium. Each individual stick has enough grease to coat your colon forever, and every one that accidentally touches your face will leave a trail of acne in its wake. On the plus side, the crunchiness of the potatoes almost distracted from the occasional crunch of what I can only hope was gristle in the patty. Almost.

Everything else about our lunch was of comparable quality. From the dry, cracking bread to the mealy tomato to the wilted lettuce, it was a slipshod job all around. Cuba Libre's burger is an exercise in trying to mask bad flavors with other bad flavors, and then submerging it in a salt bath. It is ingredients no one wants mixed with other ingredients no one wants, the green bean casserole of burgers. What amazed me was watching other diners order the same thing and devouring it, but be warned, the Miami Frita is under no circumstances worth getting. I can't stress this enough, and I don't want to exaggerate, so let me say this plainly and truthfully: this is the reason Hemingway killed himself. Rating: 3/10.

Verdict: 

For a good Mojito, go to Cuba Libre. For an authentic Cuban experience, go to Southern Florida. For a hamburger, go anywhere else.

3.5
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