It seems strange to me, at first, that a perfectly decent Cuban restaurant would be situated in this all-but-abandoned strip mall in Northwest Vegas, across from Santa Fe Station. The movie theater that once anchored this center has been empty for years, and the Centennial Hills suburb out here is one of several distant neighborhoods hushed by the economy. It’s not a spot where you expect to find good ethnic food.
But do you have a tasty Cuban restaurant in your neighborhood? I don’t. Varadero is certainly worth the trip for me, and unless you live near Havana Grill on South Eastern, you should probably go check this out, too. Varadero’s version of the traditional Cuban sandwich, with thin slices of roast pork and ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard and mayo on toasty pressed bread, is the best I’ve tasted. It’s satisfying and comfortable, as is the rest of the menu.
- 5081 N. Rainbow Blvd., 463-3609.
- Tuesday-Wednesday, Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
For about $11, I had a filling dinner of black bean soup, a huge pile of moist, savory rice seasoned and colored bright orange with slightly sweet annatto, and the shredded beef dish known as ropa vieja, tangy from simmering forever with tomatoes, onions, garlic and cumin. Toss in some crispy, sweet plantain chips with a garlic-lime dipping sauce as an appetizer and dense, creamy flan for dessert. Varadero also serves classics like arroz con pollo and the simple beans-and-rice side dish moros y cristianos, and more adventuresome fare like whole fried red snapper with grilled onions and tasajo con boniatos, salt-dried beef with potatoes in a peppery tomato sauce. I’ll be back at lunchtime for the sandwiches with chorizo sausage, marinated sirloin with grilled onions or fish croquettes.
I’ve been told (by a native Las Vegan born to Cuban parents) that you have to sweat when you eat this kind of food, and it’s some heavy stuff. But at this small, charming restaurant, this unique cuisine is full of flavor and soul, true comfort food no matter the neighborhood.