If you can pack yourself up and head to the Caribbean tonight for dinner, screw you. If you’re like the rest of us, though, you can get your Caribbean food fix at a little shack on 38th and Grand on the south side of Minneapolis. A place where you can soak in the heat of a summer evening, where torches flicker and Christmas lights hang overhead. A place where a Cubano sandwich and bottle of Red Stripe make you as comfortable as a lawn chair does, and the mojo sauce stays with you for days.
The haven of which I speak is Victor’s 1959 Cafe, where my friend Ducky and I dined in last Friday’s nighttime heat. I could fill a few pages with praise for this place, but let me simply say this: Your ability to enjoy a good sandwich outside isn’t going to last much longer. If you don’t have a target locked as a must-hit before summer ends, make it Victor’s.
The Basics: You can find a link to make online reservations on their website, which I’d suggest for a tiny stop such as this. They advertise their closing time as “9-ish.” Ducky and I left around nine, but the remaining diners didn’t appear to be in a hurry to leave and this didn’t appear to be agitating the wait staff. The two-car parking lot is an exquisite ass-pain to maneuver.
I don’t want to turn this into a political/history discussion, but I’d be remiss to not point out Fidel Castro’s armies forced Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista out of Havana on January 1, 1959. I think we’re safe assuming that’s what inspired the 1959 in their name and the “Revolutionary Cuban Cooking” catchphrase.
On the outside, the cafe resembles a shabby backyard shed with its paper bag-looking roof and tattered wood paneling. Step inside, and the walls are filled with the etchings of past patrons. Something about the lighting and the arrangements of the writing really makes it come alive. Here’s a vacant corner, but you’ve really got to see the whole place. And bring a Sharpie.
With only four bottled beers available, Victor’s probably isn’t someplace you want to hit up to get … well, $3.60 for a Red Stripe, though? That’s pretty good considering … you know what, screw it. Get drunk at Victor’s. You have my permission.
We both ordered Sandwich Cubanos, and ordered the Cubano Mix to kick off our meal. Each of the sample items in the mix impressed as improved versions of other foods. The tostones, roid-raged potato chips that paired nicely with the creole side sauce; croquettas, like mozzarella sticks injected with ham; and empanadas, like miniature calzones filled with cream cheese. The mojo sauce added a nice, limey spark for the latter two.
The sandwich, with the chorizo sausage, was hearty and well worth the $10.50. The meat pile inside was enhanced by the zip of mustard and cooled by the snap of pickles. The tortilla-but-thicker bread was perfect for this sandwich; anything with four corners and crust would have been hokey. The yuca frita I ordered on the side was like the love child of Corona and breakfast potatoes – assuming that child grew up to be Selma Hayek’s character in “From Dusk Till Dawn.”
Like most unmashed potatoes, however, the yuca frita does not reheat well.
That’s the closest thing I can make to a negative remark about Victor’s. Our server didn’t forget about us, the prices were par, and we left in consensus regarding where we go for Cubanos from here on. I’ll be back whether there’s snow on the roads or not, but I implore you to enjoy this place before we’re back into our autumn routine of cursing at fantasy lineups and leaf piles. Walk past the mural, squeeze between the bushes at the entry, and load up on mojo sauce while it makes the most sense. Write on the wall you were there.