Alma de Cuba is a Latin vacation, right in the heart of Philadelphia. Located at 1623 Walnut Street, it’s a perfect destination to pop into on the way home from work or for an elegant dinner. The lounge evokes sultry Miami nightlife with a mix of traditional Cuban and contemporary elements, with traditional drinks such as Caipirinhas and Classic Mojitos, which are always specially priced for happy hour. Upstairs, the balcony-style seating and classic décor promise a mellow and sophisticated ambiance. Chef Rodriguez adds novel twists to old world Cuban standards in his "Nuevo Latino" creations, such as Pan Roasted Muscovy Duck, Lobster Sancocho, and Lechon Asado.Read More ...
If you’re strolling down Walnut Street, you might almost miss Alma de Cuba’s modest and unassuming entrance. The white door is heavy, but once you’re inside, a few winding steps lead you to an entirely different world. At the hostess stand you’ll have a decision to make: do I stay on the first level with its lounge-style, ‘hip-urban’ setting, or climb the stairs for more elegant dining? If it’s happy hour (5:00 -7:00 p.m. weekdays), start downstairs and make yourself comfortable on one of the room’s sleek, white couches. You don’t have to be hip or urban; patrons here come in all ages, sizes, and styles. Animated conversation and laughter, however, come standard.
The lower level is a combination bar and lounge area. It’s modern and chic and plays a mix of old-world Cuban music and contemporary beats. Walk over the Cuban floor tiles and you’ll be transported somewhere between Miami’s Little Havana and South Beach. The lounge’s whitewashed walls have black & white photos projected on to them, affording a glimpse of authentic Cuba. There’s also a wrought iron bar and a glass wall inlaid with the skeleton-like remnants of massive tobacco leaves, which can only reference a hand-rolled Cuban cigar. Flickering red candles add to the ambiance and emit a sultry glow that beckons you to salsa in the isle to the sounds of Celia Cruz—go ahead, it’s dark and no one’s watching.
The bartender mixes a darn good Black Cherry Caipiroska, so sit back, relax, and take in the milieu. If you missed the complimentary Happy Hour tapas, try pairing your Classic Mojito with the Royal Palm Dates appetizer. The dish is made with almond-stuffed dates that are wrapped in bacon and then served with blue cheese. These sweet & savory, slightly sticky morsels melt in your mouth with an almost guilty pleasure!
If you can tear yourself away from the attractive thirty-somethings at the bar, climbing the steps to one of the restaurant’s two other levels promises a more mellow and sophisticated ambiance. The level above the lounge is the main dining area, which looks out over Walnut Street through three large windows. This mezzanine level has vaulted ceilings, creating an effect similar to open-air dining. The next level up mimics an outdoor balcony and has limited dining space. Around the corner, at the top of the stairs is a dining area that is mostly reserved for private parties. This is the room with the vivid tobacco field photos featured on the restaurant’s website.
Alma de Cuba is the creation of famed restaurateur Stephen Starr and Chef Douglas Rodriguez. With Starr’s vision and Rodriguez’s background and passion for food, it is no surprise their joint venture is spectacular from décor to menu.
There’s no mistaking Chef Rodriguez’s talent, nor his multi-influenced culinary background. The son of Cuban immigrants, Rodriguez grew up cooking in Miami and later found great fame and success in the posh streets of Manhattan. The influences of these cities are reflected in every dish, and their collaboration is a style that Rodriguez refers to as “Nuevo-Latino.” Having a chef that can blend heavily authentic flavors and manipulate them with twists of ‘haute’ cuisine is nothing less than you’d expect of Stephen Starr. No need to look up Chef Rodriguez’s many awards either; the food speaks for itself.
I decide to start with two side dishes as appetizers: The Fried Sweet Plantains and Yuca Fries with Mojo. These two side dishes are staples in most of Latin America and are a central part of Cuban Cuisine. Just one bite of the Fried Sweet Plantains is all it takes to bring me back to Miami’s Calle Ocho. The ripened plantains, which are laden with natural sugar, have been sliced and pan-fried, so the sugar caramelizes on the outside. They taste just like the maduros, as they are called, in Miami, although they are cut in smaller pieces, making them easier to share.
The Yuca fries are cut thick, boiled, and fried until crispy. Because yucca—the starchy root of the Cassava plant, which grows in arid environments, like Central and South America—tends to be a bit bland, they are tossed with mojo sauce to add more flavor. Both of these sides are incredibly good, and served in heaping portions.
Next to arrive on the table is the Pan Roasted Muscovy Duck. Like the other dishes, the duck is served on an elegant white plate. It sits sumptuously atop a watercress salad and is served with a creamy corn humita. The duck is flavorful and perfectly tender. The layer of fat that gives the meat most of its flavor has been left on for the braising but pulls off easily. Next to the duck is a small, cauldron-like bowl that holds the fresh corn humita. Alma de Cuba’s version incorporates actual pieces of duck leg that have been guava braised and are succulent and savory. The flavors and textures of this dish come together perfectly, so that all of the meat melts in your mouth, while the corn humita and the watercress salad add structure and texture to the dish.
The Lobster Sancocho with shrimp, bay scallops, and banana-curry rice is exemplary of Chef Rodriguez’s ‘Nuevo-Latino’ flair and fusion. The lobster is a vibrant red and meaty tail that is pre-split down the center for the guest’s convenience. The sancocho as our waitress explained, is the coconut broth that surrounds the tail. It has light flavors of vanilla and coconut, and you can taste the habeñero. The broth lightens the dish and highlights the delicately sweet flavors of the lobster meat while giving it just the right amount of spice! The banana-curry rice is in a bowl to the side of the lobster. You can actually hear it sizzling as the mix of aromas waft up and cause your mouth to water! The assortment of shrimp and bay scallops is generous, and they are tasty, but be sure to ration the lobster meat for your first and last bites!
If you’re perusing the menu for something a little bit more traditional, go with an entrée like the Lechon Asado. This tantalizing roasted pork option is a thick serving of meat, marinated and roasted with the skin on until the outside is crispy and the inside is tender and juicy—just like they do it in the homes in Cuba. At Alma de Cuba, the pork is marinated with a kumquat-yuzo sauce (a slightly sweet mixture like orange and soy sauce). Congri, a Spanish beans and rice mixture, and the standard helping of sweet plantains are served to the side. I paired this dish with fruit-forward Pinot Noir from Chile, which brought out all of the best flavors in the dish.
The wine list at Alma de Cuba is pleasantly surprising, incorporating selections from Spain, the USA, Chile, Argentina and more. It is set in plots of popular regions and varietals, making it easy to navigate for amateur and connoisseur alike. There is a lot to choose from, and pricing contrasts the menu by keeping the wines affordable. The majority of bottles range between $35 and $68, with more elite selections, for example wines from the Priorat and stellar vintages of Tempranillo, available for upwards of $125.
There are droves of good things coming from the kitchen of Alma de Cuba, but remember to save room for dessert. The Chocolate Cigar is made of almond cake wrapped with chocolate mousse and served with dulce de leche ice cream, which some diners find to be an aphrodisiac. I found the Warm Guava and Cheese Pastelles to be equally as invigorating. Although the pastelles sound heavy, they are actually one of the lighter options on the dessert menu. The guava and creamy cheese mixture is folded into puff pastry, with the dulce de leche ice cream placed neatly to the side. This dessert should not be shared. It’s very important that every fruity, flaky, rich and creamy component be combined and enjoyed selfishly! If your belt already seems to be fitting too tightly, there’s always room for a Cafe Cubano or an after dinner ‘sipping’ rum.
When you’re all finished, it may take you a few minutes to vacate your chairs, as your dining experience comes to an end. Lethargy takes over after such a long and languorous meal –or was that the effect of the caiperhinas? Don’t worry, the knowledgeable and attentive staff will be sure to sober you up with the bill. Dinner at Alma de Cuba is exhilarating, but it is not a cheap thrill!
Insider Tip: Although there is no valet, you can take advantage of a small discount from Park America, located on 17th and Chancellor Street. Just be sure to remember your validation from the restaurant.
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If you are looking for a lovely dinner before the ballet, symphony etc. try going off Broad Street Alma de Cuba has a wonderful modern atmosphere, a great menu and authentic Caribbean drinks. Their wine selection is very good and the staff is knowledgeable about pairings. We have been here twice and will continue to patronize.
We loved the selection of dishes and appreciated the ways the chef used traditional elements such as "lechon" or "leche de tigre" but combined or slightly repurposed these elements for delicious and fresh tastes that were beautifully presented.
The cigar-llike chocolate dessert with the eatable matches was tasty and fun.
Food was excellent. Atmosphere was like a part. Very festive.
I had never heard of the restaurant but I saw it was in the theater district, we had tickets for the ballet, I had not yet had Cuban food so....the ambiance was lovely, we were early do it was uncrowded and relaxed. The mojitos were the BEST, the food was unusual and most delicious. Our waiter did a wonderful job of suggesting wine to go with our entrees. I will return happily.
The strength of the restaurant was the atmosphere. Soft, dim light allowed one to rest their eyes, but small candles on the table were efficient in taking up nearly no table space and lighting the table significantly. The food was $12-40 (appetizers-expensive entrees) and perfect portions. The range of entrees was limited, but this posed no problem because there was nothing to dislike on the menu.
Very cozy for a couple to dine and have privacy. The lounge/bar area has a very posh yet laid back feel and the perfect place for drinks if you don't want to deal with the usual rowdy 'happy hour' crowd. The bar's signature drinks are some of the best drinks I've ever had.
Great place,took wife for bday!!
I was pleasantly surprised at the wonderful ambiance this place had. The friendliness of the workers also was comforting. The food was abundant and terrific. I had the savory pork. I enjoyed every bit of it. the appetizers were to die for. I loved everything here.
Everything about this restaurant was great. Great date night for me and my wife. Really enjoyed the atmosphere and the food. The food itself made for an interesting time and conversation as the flavors were both unique and fantastic at the same time. Really a fun night and experience. Look forward to going again.
The Alma de Cuba experience was outstanding!!
The ambience is chic, modern, upscale and tastefully done. The food is outstanding, very different, but creartive and a wonderful bouquet of flavors for each of our dishes. Bravo! Service was great
beautiful, chic interior and food to match. creative cuisine, beautifully presented, delicious and unexpected combinations. a very original menu put together in a way that seems authentic, unforced, yet very inventive. service was terrific. this is a place you must try -- you will taste something new, discover something new, learn something new, but be totally comfortable and feel well-cared for throughout
Really nice surprise. I was not sure if I would like the food as it is Cuban influence. However, you cannot find flaws with this restaurant. Highly recommended from a person who dines out a great deal. You will not be disappointed. Make a reservation!
Love this restaurant! The food is great.
Every dish was prepared perfectly and was quite innovative. The special bar sections are unique nad compliment the food.Service and atmpspher were extremely enjoyable.
dined with wife and 3 children, and we all rated Alma de Cuba best food we have ever eaten at a restaurant. our mouths were filled with wonderful combinations of ingredients.Every dish that was brought to the table was enjoyed by all. We will definitely be back next time in Philly.
The menu offers a wide array of outstanding meal options that made our mouths water just reading! I never had a meal out where I kept seconding guessing myself on what to order. All of my family were very pleased with our choices. Make sure to save room for dessert because it will most certainly be worth your while. It is a great place to celebrate a special event in style and spend an evening out!
Great drinks, food, environment
What a great place to go! Food was FANTASTIC! ( I'll suggest the Chellian Sea Bass) Great atmosphere! You will not be disappointed I promise...I will be back again ! Sonya L.
The atmosphere is really great,subtle cuban decor without being blatant or overly themed. The food was delicious, the ceviche appetizer menu was a favorite, as was the Chilean sea bass. The service was fantastic, the server even offered up her reading glasses! It was just a little bit dark for reading the menu print, but not inappropriately dark to entertain business colleagues. I dined at another cuban restaurant in the area that same week, and it didn't come close to my experience at Alma.
My wife and I very much enjoyed all that Alma de Cuba had to offer the food and service was excellentt. I will be returning with my friends very soon. The duck was out of this world
The bread which they serve before bringing the food is awesome. Overall good food.
We went to Alma de Cuba for the first time last week and had a great meal and experience. Our waiter was outstanding and was extremely knowledgable about the menu and restaurant. The drinks and food were excellent. The atmosphere was fun. It was a unique dining experience.
Excellent new taste esperiences.
Great place to eat. Price is affortable, not cheap but you get what you pay for.
My wife and I choose Alma de Cuba for our 5th wedding anniversary. The setting was perfect. The wait staff was very knowledgeable about the menu. The food was outstanding, exspecially desserts We would definately recommend Alma de Cuba to anyone that wants a great dining experience, that is also wallet friendly. We have rated this as our best dinning out event!!
Very romantic atmosphere. The service was very good and the food came out quickly. The lechon asado was to die for!
Daring dishes carefully prepared--a fantastic experience a bit tarnished by a bad waitress --other than that this is a superb place with great food that goes beyond the traditional Cuban dishes and dares and dares---from the pan de bono --very Cali--to the ostras Rodriguez---a top place anywhere in the world!!!!!!!!! I'd give it a 5 if the service had been a bit friendlier.
The restaurant and the food seemed to be fun at first. But as the noise increased and the food was served, I became disappointed. The oyster appetizer looked great, but was more breading than oyster. The food on the skewer was OK, but not great. I think this is a restaurant for young people who prefer drinking to dining.
the food was great, wine and drinks excellent, atmosphere was fun and relaxing. highly recommend this restaurant.
This is a really terriffic restaruant. The food is interesting and served with great presentation and flare. The staff was very accomodating. When we got our table on a very busy friday night it was fine. Then they set a table for 16 close to us. We knew we would hate life and not be able to hear one another so we asked to be moved, They werent sure if they had a table, but were able to find one and moved us. This is a huge plus in my book!
Found the resto on this website. Great staff, Lively atmosphere, interesting menu. Highly recommend.
The wait staff was very, very good and assisted my wife and I in the ordering of our meal, which was prepared excellent. Would dine there again
We loved it! If you like Latin food, you have to try this place. I had the duck -- soft, so tasty. My husband had the pork dish that he said melted in his mouth. The bread was excellent. Even though I typically don't eat bread I couldn't resist. Our waiter was talkative, knowledgeable and helpful but not intrusive. Great place to go for a special occasion!
Took my girlfriend for her birthday and we both loved it. The suave mojito was amazing. I had the vaca frita (skirt steak) and it was off the charts. She had the alaskan sea bass and loved it.
A very nice variety of cuban food (traditional and contemporary). High energy, and a dark but inviting ambience. Loud in a good way, so don't plan on debates across the table. Recommend their ceviche tasting appetizer for value, taste and presentation. The almond stuffing in the Royal Palm dates was an interesting touch. My son loved the Lechon Asado. The waiter gave honest and informative answers to our questions without seeming to 'push' a dish.
cool, dark, spicy with a heartbeat
This restaraunt has desserts that are a work of art. The Cuban cigar and tapioca served in a real carved out coconut were beautiful and delicious.
It was a great restaurant little noisy but overall is a nice place to hang out and have a good time
I went there last night for my birthday and I wasn't all that impressed. The kobe beef tacos were extremely too greasy for my taste. However there were some good things that I did enjoy like their drinks especially the mojitos and their desserts. Overall I wouldn't go back.