Food & Drink

Cuban food with a side of politics

Looking to add a little spice to your routine? Check out The Cuban Revolution (318-100 Blackwell St., Durham; 687-4300; www.thecubanrevolution.com), which opened July 1 in the American Tobacco Historic District, in the former Symposium Café space. The restaurant is the first outside of Rhode Island for Ed and Mary Morabito, who own two Cuban Revolution locations in Providence.

Inspired by Ed's former career in national and state politics and Tampa native Mary's dream of owning a Cuban eatery, The Cuban Revolution serves up a mix of authentic Cuban and Cuban-American fusion fare with a generous side of edgy politics and Kennedy-era nostalgia. Posters of Castro and Che, vintage newsreels of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, speeches by Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and a menu peppered with revolutionary graffiti create a decidedly spicy vibe.

The food itself is relatively mild in comparison, though the selection offers plenty of tempting options for a variety of tastes. Culinary conservatives will find the classics well represented with the likes of ropa vieja, ham croquettes, roast pork with garlic-citrus mojo sauce and a pressed Cuban sandwich that the menu boldly bills as "World's Best." Meanwhile, progressive palates can explore an eclectic offering that ranges from stone crab bisque to maduro sushi to arroz con pollo wrap. Regardless of affiliation (political or otherwise), you shouldn't have any problem quenching your thirst with a selection that includes tropical milkshakes, classic cocktails, sangria and Cuban coffee. The Cuban Revolution is open from 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

Compact and cheerful

Meanwhile in Wake Forest, Carlos Rivero and Yoselin Nunez have opened Tropical Picken Chicken (2010-406 S. Main St.; 435-6812; tropicalpickenchicken.com) in the former Full Moon Pizza location. The husband-and-wife team, which previously owned Caribbean Café in North Raleigh, have created a twin bill menu that features the cuisines of Rivero's native Cuba and the Dominican Republic, where Nunez was born.

The restaurant's name refers to its specialty, a popular Dominican dish featuring chicken marinated in tropical juices and spices and grilled over an open flame. The Spanish name of the dish is pica pollo, which translates loosely to "pickin' (or, even more loosely, picken) chicken." But the Cuban style roast pork is equally popular, according to the owners' son, Ledwis Rivero, who sometimes helps out in the restaurant.

The menu is as compact as the cheerfully casual dining room, but Cuban and Dominican cuisines are amply represented by the likes of steak encebollado, Caribbean pork chops, barbecued ribs and shrimp in red sauce or garlic sauce. The cheery, family-friendly eatery also offers a kids' menu as well as family-style meals that serve three or four for $15 to $20, including sides. Tropical Picken Chicken is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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