Houston restaurant reviews, industry profiles and food culture

Restaurant Review,West Side Stories

October 24, 2010

Flor de Cuba’s Buffet: Cuban for the Masses

Quick Facts

Flor de Cuba
16233 Clay Road
Houston, TX 77084-5423
(281) 463-8611

Lunch buffet hours: 11 am to 2 pm

Price: $7.99 Monday – Thursday; $8.99 Friday

Thank you to @bitemehouston for recommending Flor de Cuba. I had no idea there was a Cuban restaurant that offered a lunchtime buffet, much less one in Northwest Houston. A few days later, I bounded off to try it out. I love authentic Cuban food. When I was a teenager, my mom and I were friends with a Cuban family that would sometimes invite lots of their friends over for a traditional meal. That was when I discovered how wonderful black beans are. Their recipe was seasoned but not spicy, and the mingled flavors were fantastic.

Flor de Cuba’s buffet, on the Friday we visited, was $8.99 (before tax and tip) and consisted of the following:

  • A basket of rolls
  • Black beans
  • White rice
  • Picadillo
  • Shrimp
  • Pigeon peas and rice
  • Roasted plantains
  • A salad bar with a basic iceberg mix
  • Chicken and vegetable soup with spaghetti noodles

If you speak “menu Spanish” and you don’t mind working at communicating a little bit, you’ll do just fine here. Our first waitress was very kind and tried hard to understand us. She got an “A” for effort. Towards the end of the meal, a younger, bilingual lady helped us.

The buffet was surprisingly small and had a limited selection. On the other hand, it’s only $8.99. I have paid $6.95 for a Cuban sandwich with no sides before. One thing that struck me as a little odd was that pigeon peas and rice were offered at the same time as black beans and rice. It reminded me of what financial talk show host Dave Ramsey tells people to serve for dinner to save money: “rice and beans, beans and rice.” Two legume and grain combos seem redundant on a buffet so small. I can’t recommend the uninteresting soup and didn’t bother with the run-of-the-mill salad.

A basket of rolls were brought to the table. It is possible they were baked at the restaurant, but they seemed a great deal like standard heat-and-eat pull apart rolls. They were basic, plain, white bread rolls, albeit pleasingly crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle.

dinner rolls at Flor de Cuba

On the good side, the black beans approached what I remembered from my teen years. These were full-flavored without being spicy, and I found a whole bay leaf in mine. Some people don’t like that, but I love finding whole spices in my food. I like seeing the evidence. It makes me feel like I am eating homestyle food.

The roasted plantain was perfect. These golden bites were tender and sweet, mostly from the caramelization. They rival those at Samba Grille, which I thought were outstanding for the same reasons.

plantains_flor_de_cuba

Deeply carmelized, ripe plantains were a high point of the meal

We ordered a delightful limonada, as well as a tamarind refresco. These alone were worth the trip, especially the limonada that had a creamy and cold topping that tasted like lime sherbet.

I was looking forward to some interesting picadillo, but that’s not what I got. Picadillo is traditionally given an extra kick of flavor and texture from the inclusion of green olives or raisins (sometimes both), and neither was present here. It was a low-rent version, and it came off like “Mom’s Desperation Ground Beef Recipe.” To make sure I wasn’t misjudging it, I made some at home from a traditional recipe and it was much more interesting. If you don’t like the idea of raisins in your meat, try @bitchincamero’s version.

As far as the lunch buffet goes, I hope they will consider turning up the volume on the flavors. Your personal taste will determine whether or not you like it. If you don’t like aggressively seasoned foods, you’ll probably love it. For me, the buffet at Flor de Cuba just wasn’t interesting enough for me to want to have it again.

However, I’m not done with this restaurant yet. I want to order off the menu next time to see if I’m happier with the results. They have an extremely promising breakfast menu, with items like Huevos Guajiros, or “Farmer Eggs” with steak, green plantains and bread, and they do roasted pig on the weekends. I also suspect something will be going home with me from the extensive and beautiful dessert case.

Flor de Cuba on Urbanspoon

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