Saturday, Apr 20 2013 12:14 PM

PETE TITTL: Taste of heaven, via Havana

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Fresh from the kitchen! Rincon Cubano assistant chef Jennifer Abreu serves up the Pollo al Ajillo, which is garlic chicken.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Curious about Cuban food? Rincon Cubano has a flier that tells you all you need to know.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    A clean, friendly atmosphere greets those who dine at Rincon Cubano on South Chester Avenue.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    It doesn't get any more traditional than Rincon Cubano's traditional Cuban sandwich, which features pork, ham and Swiss cheese. The Cuban cafe made Pete Tittl's list for best new restaurants of 2014.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    Garlic chicken is the centerpiece of Rincon Cubano's Pollo al Ajillo plate.

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    By Felix Adamo/ The Californian

    The Bistec Encebollado dish at Rincon Cubano on South Chester Avenue.

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By PETE TITTL, Contributing columnist

Bakersfield has not exactly been a hotbed for Cuban cuisine. We've got Mama Roomba (which was really busy on a recent Saturday night when we strolled by) but a fast-food Cuban buffet at the corner of California and Chester avenues didn't last long.

Maybe the new Rincon Cubano (Cuban Cafe) will last. Seriously, this humble little eatery on South Chester Avenue just south of the intersection with Ming is a pretty impressive ambassador for the Caribbean cuisine that dominates Miami but has never secured much of a foothold in California.

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1907 S. Chester Ave.

310-0807 ?ref=tn_tnmn#!/pages/ Rincon-CubanoCuban-Cafe/198635083495352

Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. Closed Saturday.

Prices: Breakfast, $3.99 to $4.99; appetizers, $1.50 to $3.50; sandwiches, $3.50 to $6.99; soup, $3.59; salads, $4.99 to $5.99; Cuban plates, $7.99 to $12.25; Mexican plates, $4.99 to $9.99. No child's plate.

Payment: MasterCard, VISA, American Express, Discover accepted. Personal checks not accepted.

Dress: Casual

Amenities: Wheelchair accessible; no alcohol served; some vegetarian options.

Food: ****

Atmosphere: **1/2

Service: ***1/2

Value: ****

Dining Out

On its Facebook page, Rincon Cubano writes "Cuban Cuisine is a combination of Spanish, African and Aboriginal island flavors. The fusion of these three cultures has given our food a very special and unique Flavor."

That's succinct and to the point, though the menu here does include a few Mexican choices. There are eight "Authentic Cuban Plates," including ropa vieja (shredded beef), lechon asado (roasted pork) and what we sampled, the garlic chicken ($7.99) and camaron enchilado (shrimp, $12.25).

Count us impressed. My companion's chicken (thigh and drumstick -- all dark meat) had skin that was as dark and brittle as parchment, topped with strands of lightly fried white onions and the minced garlic/parsley combination that is so standard you can now buy it in grocery stores, though the menu says all food is made in the kitchen here.

The black beans, served in a soup cup, and the white rice were pretty standard but so satisfying, and if you're the type who likes to take some of the dinner home for lunch the next day, all the ingredients on the plate, even the fried plantains, were exceptional when reheated.

The beans are beautiful in their simplicity; they don't taste as if they've been jazzed up with fat from meat, though I'm not sure they're vegan. They just seemed like it.

By the way, the garlic chicken is the specialty of the house, and I can see why, even if I'd prefer the wing and breast combo instead of the dark meat.

My six medium shrimp were presented in a wonderful soupy stew of vegetables: red peppers, onions and green peppers. It was on the spicy side, but it's hard to resist just pouring the whole thing over the white rice and eating it that way.

As with most of the food here, it had a home-cooked charm and, considering the price, seemed an exceptional value.

Save room for flan, the house specialty dessert ($2.50). This is not the small round disc you get in many Mexican restaurants. Instead you get a triangular slice, as if it were pie, an incredibly generous portion of that soupy caramelized sauce and all of it with just a wisp of cinnamon -- a staple spice of Cuban cuisine -- that makes it distinctive and worth seeking out.

I found the texture to be different, too, not as smooth, with a rougher edge, and some visible air bubbles near the outside. Very intriguing.

We also were served the typical basket of toasted, buttered bread before the meal and a small sample of their chicken soup. It had carrots, celery, onions and a small potato chunk, but the noodles in it were pretty mushy.

You've been warned.

The dining room is very small, and spotlessly clean. Cuban music was playing in the background to enhance to island vibe.

There are daily specials, all with rice, black beans and fried plantains. Sunday is rabo encendido ($11.99), Monday is fish a la Matancera ($6.99), Tuesday is chicken with rice ($6.99), and Friday is albondigas with vegetables ($6.99).

One oddity: They are closed all day Saturday, the only dark day of the week.

The hours seem to be in flux, based on our experience, and may be subject to change, so I'd call ahead before I visit.

They don't serve any alcohol, but they do offer mango smoothies and virgin pina colladas -- I had one of those and it was marvelous without rum, though, like the flan, it seemed to have just a bit of cinnamon.

Rincon Cubano can be recommended for a fine dining experience.

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