Victor’s 1959 Cafe
3756 Grand Avenue
Victor’s 1959 Cafe claims to bring a small piece of Havana to south Minneapolis, and works hard to make that argument hard to refute. A few minutes early for our reservation (the hardly-larger-than-a-trailer venue has about 8 tables, so calling ahead is a must), we scanned the tiny eatery to find that not a free space is wasted. Photos of Cuba and Fidel Castro plaster the walls, and bumper stickers for sale read, “Eating With The Enemy.” Customers from the restaurant’s past 11 years fill in the cracks with their handiwork, leaving signatures, Spanish sayings and notes of praise for Victor’s staff. The service we encountered was friendly and welcoming. The owner (a Greek woman previously married to a Cuban native) led us to our seats and a bubbly waitress quickly followed to explain the menu. Both of them had us believing they truly valued our decision to spend dinner with them, adding to Victor’s neighborhood atmosphere and small-business attitude.
Within 10 minutes of ordering, our food arrived. Jim’s Ropa Vieja consisted of shredded flank steak that had simmered in a sherry-spiked Spanish sauce and steamed among bell peppers, onions, garlic and sweet peas. The meat sat next to a helping of yellow rice, a few greens, and fried sweet plantains. Upon first taste, Jim said of the plantains, “Yum, I don’t know what these are, but they’re fun.” Laughing, I told my banana-averse husband what they were and watched his jaw drop. Apparently, they were that good.
I ordered Masas de Puerco: lean pork that, after marinating in a house mojo sauce, was shredded, mixed with onions and garlic, and topped with lime juice. My side dish was fried yuca — a root vegetable in the cactus family that – when cut and fried – resembles fries, but with an almost sweeter, drier taste. They’d have been excellent if served with some type of dipping sauce to add some moisture and flavor.
Our experience at Victor’s was somewhat a victim of expectations. We both anticipated dishes with a feisty Cuban kick, and while both were tasty, our plates didn’t deliver the outstanding flavor we had hoped. Everything was well-prepared, authentic and delicious for what it was — we had just expected a little more. Our take-away: pretty good food with ethnic authenticity. We want to make it back for breakfast (mango pancakes, anyone?), and would not deny another dinner experience. After all, it’s probably the closest to Cuba these two Americans will ever get!
Guy Fieri also dined with the enemy and lived to tell about it. Check out this Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives episode: http://www.flavortownusa.com/victors-1959-cafe.aspx
RATING (out of 5 ♠♠♠♠♠)
Menu Selection: ♠♠♠
Food Taste & Presentation: ♠♠♠ 1/2
COMPLETE EXPERIENCE: ♠♠♠ 1/2
Total bill, including tip: $33.50