Nuevo master Jose Garces and his crew show they can deliver soulful updates to straight-ahead Cuban classics in an attempt to rename and remake Chifa into an accessible Latin diner. The multiroom, bilevel space has too many split personalities (teal-colored lunch counter; dark rear dining room) to feel coherent. But there are so many well-crafted, affordable Latin flavors, from masterful empanadas to silky ropa vieja that the draw of those meals with a side of perfect black beans alone is enough to justify its existence.
Empanadas (ham and cheese; picadillo; chicken); croquetas (ham; chicken) bacalao fritters; grilled octopus; conch and crab chowder; las Palmas salad; Cuban cobb; Cubano sandwich; pollo a la brasa; vaca frita; ropa vieja; masitas de Puerco; chocolate tres leches; Malta float.
An extensive list of 70-plus rums is a highlight, with favorites Barbancourt, Mount Gay XO, Flor de Caña, and El Dorado for easy sipping. There’s a standard assortment of rum cocktails, though I preferred the classic lime daiquiri to the mojitos, which were weak. There’s a small list of inexpensive but appropriately Latin American Spanish wines (Condes de Albarei Albariño is a good match.) The small beer list has a couple of craft options but only commercial Caribbean brands. Batidos are a fun nonalcoholic option.
Terrible acoustics in the front room echo like a gymnasium to 93 decibels. The rear is quieter; the lonely downstairs competes only with the salsa soundtrack.
Entire menu Sunday through Thursday, 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, until midnight.