If it weren't for that blasted Cuban embargo, I wonder if eateries like Cuba Cuba Cafe & Bar wouldn't be everywhere. Thankfully, the delightful Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria shops appear to multiplying rapidly, and there are places like Frijoles and Buchi to satisfy any lechon craving, but an evening at Cuba Cuba's little paradise in the Golden Triangle is something else entirely. The happy hour menu is tiny, but Cuba Cuba manages to coast by on pure island charm. See also: Happy Hour: The 9th Door's Spanish siesta is a snooze
Served from 3 to 6 p.m., Cuba Cuba's happy hour offers three discount drinks: $2.00 cans of Tecate, $4.50 glasses of sangria, and $5 mojitos. Owner Kristy Socarras-Bigelow claims to have served Denver's original mojito when Cuba Cuba opened in 2001. Since then, cocktail culture has discovered, exploited, and all but abandoned the mojito, but Cuba Cuba's version still stays in place.
It's practically iconic, and for good reason. Using mint-infused Bacardi Limón rum and a big clump of fresh mint, Cuba Cuba's bartenders turn out gallons of the stuff every night and still manage to make it mighty tasty. Beyond the cheap drinks, there's not much else for bargain hunters to savor at Cuba Cuba, where entrees can easily cost upwards of $20. I paired my mojito with a fat stack of tostones ($5): green plantains mashed, fried, and coated in a sticky, garlic-citrus mojo sauce. After an order of these things, I pushed all thoughts of a full meal out of my mind. In true Caribbean fashion, Cuba Cuba will stuff you full of starch if you let it.
The next round brought a solid if unmemorable ensalada de la casa ($7.50) and a spicy mango sangria. A rebuke to the idea that sangria is weak, this goblet held a hornet-yellow elixir studded with jalapeno seeds. The steady heat it offered acted as a nice counterpoint to the cool mojito. Dinner at Cuba Cuba won't be cheap, so just think of its happy hour as a friendly invitation to a special evening, rather than a destination in itself.
Perfect for: an early dinner with friends after taking in the Denver Art Museum. After a pitcher of mojitos, they'll tell you what they really think about Georges Braque (they'll like the mojitos better).
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Can't miss: If you've already tried the mojito, break for the sangria instead. Whether spicy or sweet, it pairs well with the restaurant's tropical flavors.