During my college-long search for authentic key lime pie within reasonable distance of Stanford, I came across La Bodeguita del Medio. As a native Floridian raised in California, I’ve always loved Cuban food but have had trouble finding it on the West Coast. Thankfully, this California Avenue throwback to 1960s Havana did the trick.
Food – 5/5
Only after my dad and I ordered a plate of mussels did we realize that our dinner companions, his girlfriend and my sorority sister, weren’t big seafood fans. At first we felt a little bad, but when the plump, salty mussels arrived in a bowl of jus that was perfect for bread-dipping, we were glad to have it all to ourselves. Our land-lubbing friends ordered the pork empanadas, which (though I didn’t have any) smelled delicious and disappeared into their stomachs in under three minutes.
For the main course, my dad and my friend ordered the curry, which was pretty yummy if not a little plain. His date ordered the crab cakes – as far as I’m concerned, a solid test of a restaurant’s seafood menu – which were beautiful, fresh and apparently delicious (judging by the look on her face after the first bite). I went for the nightly special, a coconut-breaded snapper filet, and it was great! The fish was light but held its own in the flavorful, sweet breading, which was complemented very well by a side of mashed sweet potatoes and wilted spinach.
We ordered a small key lime pie to split for dessert, and again, I was not disappointed. The tart yellow filling (as opposed to the fake colored green stuff you find in a lot of key lime products) belied the integrity of the pie, which was tied together by a crumbly, slightly spicy crust. I topped off the whole thing with a cup of smooth, strong coffee that provided the caffeine kick-start I needed to finish my pesky public policy paper.
Service – 5/5
Between the rapid water refills by a cute waiter, timely service (10 minutes for appetizers, 15 minutes for entrees), and the waitstaff’s willingness to let us move inside for dessert when it got too cold outside, I highly recommend the service at La Bodeguita. Although you can’t make reservations online, the restaurant is spacious enough that you probably won’t need to call ahead of time.
Price – 3/5
Although the entrees and drinks aren’t cheap (cocktails are $9, but I hear they have an amazing mojito), the appetizers are decently priced and sized if you feel like eating light. Since the appetizer menu is extensive and diverse, this would be a fun place to go with a couple friends, sample a variety of starters, and split the reasonable bill.
Location and Setting – 3/5
California Avenue is always a nice place to dine for any meal, though unfortunately this restaurant doesn’t have enough outdoor seating to take advantage of our lovely summer nights. The indoor dining room is lovely, with a smoky, colorful, delightfully subdued ambience that harkens back to Hemingway’s Cuban heyday. Be warned, it can get a little cold inside with all the fans, so wear a sweater.