By Susan Kelleher | SeattleTimes.com
If you’re still crying over the shuttering of Pedro Vargas’ popular Cuban food truck on Aurora Avenue North in Greenwood, dry your tears.
Vargas, who closed Paladar Cubano more than two years ago, is back in action as general manager at Café Con Leche, a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Sodo that has reprised some of the food-truck favorites, along with some new items — not to mention a full bar.
The cafe lacks the curbside romance of the food truck, but it’s charming and quirky on its own terms, with a feel that is part ski lodge and part supper club.
The adjoining music venue, separated from the restaurant by red velvet stage curtains, helps turn a routine lunch into a pleasantly disorienting experience.
The menu: A good selection of pork, steak, chicken and shrimp dishes served platter-style with rice and maduros (fried plantains), or on Cuban bread with lettuce, thick caramelized onions and garlic sauce that will make you lose all self-control. The sandwiches, which come with fries and a garlic sauce, include the classic Cubano, roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard ($8.50); sautéed chicken breast ($7); marinated sirloin steak ($8.95); and Camarones Salteados, sweet shrimp sautéed with bitter orange ($9.95).
Luncheon plates include Churrasco Timbero, grilled skirt steak ($12.95); Ajiaco Criollo, Cuban country-style stew ($8.95); Puerco Asado, smoky, shredded roast pork ($9.95); and Bistec de Pollo Empanizado, breaded chicken-breast steak ($9.95).
Appetizers include beef or chicken empanadas served with spicy chimichurri sauce ($6), ham croquettes ($5), and fried pork chunks, $5.
Vegetarian offerings are limited: a tomato, avocado, Brie and caramelized onion sandwich ($6.95), fried yucca root served with garlic sauce ($5), and side orders of maduros ($4), rice ($2) and moros — rice and black beans cooked together ($3).
What to write home about: Sandwiches are the best deal, and come with a side of fries and the heavenly garlic sauce. The kitchen was busy the day we visited, but the friendly server accurately gauged how long it would take for our food to arrive, giving us an opportunity to go elsewhere if we were pressed for time.
What to skip: The Ropa Vieja, shredded flank steak in tomato sauce, was so heavily salted that it was hard to taste the meat.
The setting: A colorful, L-shaped space with seating for about 45 in the dining room. The cozy bar area seats about 12.
Summing up: A sautéed shrimp sandwich on Cuban bread ($9.95), a roasted pork platter ($9.95) with moros, shredded flank steak in tomato sauce and a large glass of mango juice came to $43.52, including tax and tip.
Café Con Leche
2901 First Ave. S., Seattle
Hours: Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday-Friday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; closed weekends
Etc: Visa and MasterCard. Street parking. Wheelchair accessible. Happy hour Thursdays and Friday from 3 p.m.-7 p.m.