Welcome to Cuba (well, in DC that is)!
Mario Monte, one of three partners at Colada Shop, embodies the spirit of this small Cuban joint located on 14th and T Streets in Northwest D.C. Authentic, social, and casual, Monte’s personality and Cuban roots are mirrored in the flavorful food and drink items available at the area’s newest café.
On the day I visited Colada it was only 25 degrees outside, but the temperature didn’t deter customers from occupying any of the open-air window seats. Some even spilled onto the outdoor patio, battling the cold with the warmth of their Cortaditos. The constant stream of Cuban music, which is audible from down the block, transports Colada’s customers straight to Cuba and reinforces the passion that lies behind the shop’s menu.
Colada’s menu is comforting and flavorful. The Empanadas – Picadillo-Beef, Chicken, Spinach & Cheese, and Cauliflower – are all delicious, but the Spinach & Cheese stands out as a crowd favorite. Monte makes it a priority to include meatless options on the menu – a nontraditional but welcome take on Cuban food. After tasting several of Colada’s vegetarian items, including Mushroom Croquetas and a Veggie Cuban sandwich, I’ll bet that even staunch meat-lovers will be ordering seconds of these delectable dishes.
Colada’s Guava & Cheese Pastelitos are nostalgic for Monte, reminding him of the celebrations he had growing up in Venezuela and Miami with his half-Cuban, half-Italian family. Made of hojaldre, a light puff pastry dough, these flaky pastries are the perfect combination of sweet and savory. I admittedly ate two.
As for drinks, Colada’s classic Cuban cocktails shine, specifically the Mojito and the Daiquiri. These refreshing drinks will be perfect for a balmy D.C. summer day.
Colada brews Compass Coffee’s Havana Blend, a custom roast developed for the café, to create authentic Cuban coffee drinks. As the Food & Beverage director, Monte wants the shop’s coffee to be simple, social and unintimidating, emphasizing his belief that customers shouldn’t need a translator to figure out what kind of coffee they’d like to order. As in Cuba, Colada’s coffee is straightforward and the shop’s atmosphere reiterates its role as a social catalyst in daily Cuban life.
In a few weeks, Colada will reveal its 24-seat addition to the public. The shop’s expansion will be a friendly environment for customers who want to work over Café Cubanos – or alternatively, rum-based cocktails. The roof will also be open for business soon, just in time for summer.
When asked about the success of Colada Shop in such a short period of time, Monte expressed his gratitude that D.C., a cosmopolitan city with a predominantly American culture, seems to “get it” in a way that Miami, a place where Cuban culture infiltrates daily life, has gotten it for decades. His passion for Cuban food is clear. After all, as Monte mentioned, it is the one thing Cubans still have from an era that no longer exists in a country that is rapidly changing. Having just visited Havana, I’d have to agree with him.
Whether you are eager to explore Cuba, have recently returned from the land of salsa and cigars, or simply want to consume Cuban fare at incredibly reasonable prices, be sure to add Colada Shop to your list of must-try places this spring!
Featured image by Brian Oh