A hairy, brown tuber may seem an unlikely namesake for a restaurant, but it made sense to Melissa and Tony Vias, who intend their 8-month-old Malanga Cafe to satisfy Old Cuba yearnings. “In Cuba, the old folks used to solve every problem with malanga,” says Tony Vias. “Ulcer? Smash up boiled malanga with milk. Stomachache? Make malanga soup.“
You don’t have to be Cuban to enjoy this charmer, but you may need to check your Cubanics app to decipher the expressions painted on one wall. Le ronca el mango, for instance, which translates “It snores the mango,” is slang for “That’s just too much.” The Cubanisms share wall space with patrons’ autographs, a tribute to La Bodeguita del Medio, a restaurant-bar in Old Havana where Ernest Hemingway, Nat King Cole and others left handwritten messages on the walls.
Malanga may be the name, but the cafe is really all about the pig. Marinated, barbecued, roasted, shredded — you can go whole hog here. Literally. A 14-pound suckling pig is spit-roasted on the patio every Saturday. A whole cochinillo, roasted or stuffed with congri, can be pre-ordered ($135-$165). It’s not just the atmosphere that evokes an earlier era. Croquettes (ham, chicken or chorizo) are handmade. Corn is ground by hand for the house-made Cuban tamales. The velvety malanga soup is prepared fresh daily.
Ambience: Black-and-white Cuban photos, including a poster-size one of fame bandleader Benny Moré, add to the atmosphere, as does the old-school Cuban music. The small dining room with rows of wooden tables covered in lime-green cloth and topped with white butcher paper can be crowded on weekend nights, so it’s smart to make reservations.- Jodi Mailander Farrell (Miami Herald Food Critic)10/19/2011