If, like a lot of people, you check out a restaurant on social media before you eat there, then here’s a partial list of things you’ll see in pictures taken at Mariel: flaming cocktails, Patriots cheerleaders on a girls’ night out, wallpaper that depicts drunken monkeys, and people dressed in their underwear.
That’s not surprising once you learn that this downtown Cuban spot is from the same people behind Yvonne’s. You don’t really go to Yvonne’s for a great meal - you go to take selfies in a bathroom that was designed more for taking bathroom selfies than, you know, going to the bathroom. Mariel has a lot of that in its DNA, too. (Those drunken monkeys are in, you guessed it, the bathroom.) But once the flames on your rum cocktail die down, you’ll take a bite of the pan queso frito and face a confusing reality: the food at Mariel is actually good. Really good.
Almost everything is served small plate-style here, with the exception of a few Fred Flinstone-sized meat entrees and a selection of super thin crust “Cuban street pizzas”. Still though, you’ll want to spend more time with the small plates. Make this a place you come to drink, keep ordering various little balls of fried stuff until you’re full (like the excellent yuca cheese puffs or the only slightly less excellent chickpea fritters), and pretend you’re in a pre-revolutionary Havana nightclub with Fredo and Johnny Ola. And that bit about the drinking applies for lunch too, when they, admirably, have almost an entirely different menu. If you come in here at noon in between a couple of meetings and don’t drink something with egg whites and the Cuban flag printed on top, you’ll be the only one.
Not everything on the menu is a hit. We recommend staying away from anything goopy, like the crudo made with fish that’s completely drowned-out by watery avocado. But overall, you’re going to have a great time here. And who knows, you may even be tempted to post a picture of the crispy cod sandwich, available at lunch, which deserves way more love than the monkeys.
It’s always good to start a meal with a perfect little bite of something fried. Order these first.
And then follow them up with this creamy, flavorful, slightly spicy cheese small plate. Melted cheese is almost always the best part of any dish it’s included in, so it’s only fair that it gets to star all on its own here.
It’s not bad, but the mojo doesn’t come through much and it’s essentially a standard guacamole dish. As a general rule here, be careful with the goopy stuff.
Google tells us that authentic Cuban pizza is actually characterized by a puffy crust, and thanks to a 60-year old embargo that’s still in place despite no evidence that it’s effective, we can’t confirm that. But we can tell you that these sweet, saucy pies topped with everything from roast pork and gruyere to pineapple and chorizo are great.
Almost any dish with the word “belly” in it is probably going to be good. This dish adds hoisin bbq sauce and spicy sesame broccoli to ensure it.
This is a city where cod is so important we literally hang it from the ceiling of the State House. So it’s really saying something that this super moist sandwich is one of the best cod preparations you’ll find.
If a Cuban restaurant doesn’t nail a Cuban sandwich, it’s got problems. Mariel does with slow-roasted pork and the welcome addition of gruyere.