Where: Pambiche, 2811 NE Glisan St., Portland, OR
Cuban food is one of those things I THINK I know more about than I do. There’s a stereotype to be sure- rum, mojitos, lots of pork, absurdly powerful and sweet coffee drinks, and pressed sandwiches. As for Cuban sweets, I guessed there was a lot of dulce de leche (or caramelized sweetened condensed milk,) coconut, palm sugar, and tropical fruits.
Lucky for me, I got to find out just how right (and wrong) I was.
Pambiche was only a couple blocks from our cafe, but good God you could see that building from Mars. The entire front of the building is beautifully painted with bright, vivid colors, reminiscent of Cuban art and architecture. The lower floor and basement are given to the restaurant, and yet the actual dining room (even with the sidewalk seating) is extremely close and intimate. Bright colors, artwork, musical instruments, and Cubanismo music surround you, making the small room somehow feel more cramped but its atmosphere light and airy.
No mojitos. Sure, their bartender could make me one if you asked- they had a full bar. A Pambiche-recipe mojito though? No way, esé.
What they’ve got is bright and exciting cocktails- including my newfound-favorite summer cocktail, the Michelada, or “Bloody Beer, a tall refresher of spicy tomato juice and cold lager, on the rocks.
The girls arrive and make their choices. A baker’s pay isn’t the best and we stick to the happy hour menu- but when it lands, it’s more than enough. We descend like vultures- everyone snatching a little of everything.
Around us, waiters whip through the small room, barking at each other in rapid-fire Spanish. No, this is NOT a theme restaurant. Pambiche is Hispanic-owned, Hispanic-managed, and Hispanic staffed. If you are not Hispanic and want a job, a requirement IS apparently fluency in the language. Peeking up occasionally from my plate, I try to follow the chatter with my limited Duolingo- based skills. They are barely needed though- I’ve worked in the field long enough to know what the waiters and cooks are yelling at each other.
The bill is paid and we depart- Victoria giving Gwen a ride, Roy on his own, and me on my bike. As the evening sets in and I wander outside, I almost get glaucoma from the setting sun on the bright colors of the building.
I clearly need to eat more Cuban. This kind of education I can REALLY get behind.
WHEN: Pambiche is open 7 days a week, and seat throughout the day. Toward the evenings it can get a little crowded and they don’t take reservations, so expect a bit of a wait if you show up late.
WHY: Because you want to try something Hispanic, but are burned out on burritos, tacos, and Tex Mex and want more of a Caribbean flare. More than that, you want to feel relaxed and easy while surrounded by brightness and activity.
HOW: Walk right in! Check out their website for their menus, as well as catering options.