EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one in a series of reviews featuring our staff's favorite places to dine. They are either go-to spots we frequent for good service and conversation, the favorite dishes we order over and over or the one-of-a-kind Chattanooga restaurants that make us love our Scenic City that much more.
There are several reasons why I keep coming back to Embargo 62 on Chattanooga's North Shore.
In the two years since I first tried this place, just on the heels of its opening, I've stopped by on many occasions. Sunday breakfasts, late lunches, early evening drinks — all have been on the itinerary at some point. And the only predictable aspect of dining here is that it's been predictably good. I have brought friends and family alike to Embargo 62 and no one has been disappointed, save for one Sunday evening when the bar somehow managed to run out of beer. That's been the exception, not the rule.
› Where: Embargo 62 Cuban Cantina and Rum Bar, 301 Cherokee Blvd.
› Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
› Entree price range: $13-$23
› Alcohol: Full bar
› Phone: 423-551-4786
› Website: Embargo62.com
There's not a palm tree in sight nor a substantial body of shimmering water, but once inside this establishment at 301 Cherokee Blvd., the feel of old Havana takes hold. Festive music drifts through the space, which has the vibrant ambiance of a Cuban bodega. Lots of historical posters, photography and colorful, rustic furnishings create a cool, relaxing atmosphere. The covered patio out front features a large fireplace, and there's a firepit near the entrance.
You don't have to visit Havana or the Cuban enclave of Hialeah, Fla., to experience authentic fare like Pan Con Bistec and Lechon faithfully prepared and full of flavor. Embargo 62 proprietors Daniel and Brittany Alcala successfully operated a lounge in Miami's South Beach area years before setting up shop in Chattanooga and later rolling out two other restaurant concepts since Embargo 62's debut. The couple has hired well and shown they know how to operate a top-notch eatery — or three.
Embargo 62's menu boasts a diverse selection of appetizers including Island Mussels ($13.50), Empanadas ($8) and Ceviche ($13). There's also a sampler ($16) available that features four of Embargo's popular meal-starters. On most occasions, I order the Croquettas ($5), creamy béchamel and ham breaded, lightly fried and served with pickles. Very flavorful, but not too heavy.
I typically then go with the classic Cuban sandwich ($10), which consists of roast pork, ham, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on authentic Cuban bread, or the Lechon entree ($13), oven-roasted mojo-marinated pork and two sides — usually black beans and sweet plantains. I opted most recently to try the Ropa Vieja entree ($13), a succulent stack of marinated beef roasted, shredded and served in a tomato sauce and red wine reduction with peppers and Spanish onions. This savory dish tastes something akin to a Cuban-style beef stew. Embargo also serves up Pan Seared Mahi Mahi ($19), Camerones ($13.50) and Braised Beef Oxtail ($13) among nearly a dozen entree choices.
Embargo 62 will move to a larger space at 325 Cherokee Blvd., tentatively by the end of the year. The move will allow proprietors Danny and Brittany Alcala to expand the eatery’s menu and seating capacity, while also offering a stage for entertainment and room for parking.
Although I enjoy a well-crafted beer or two, Embargo's custom cocktails are the real stars of the bar. The restaurant's mixologists concoct some of the best tropic-inspired refreshment to be had in the Scenic City. I have yet to try any of the dozen or so drinks on the menu that didn't satisfy. My favorite is the 1900's Cuba Libre ($7), Embargo's version of rum and Coke. It consists of white rum, Mexican Coke, Angostura bitters and lime served in a chilled tin cup. I've come close to replicating it at home, but those attempts never quite achieve this perfection. The Mojito Criollo ($6.50) is another favorite, made with white rum, fresh lime juice, locally sourced fresh mint, sugar and club soda.
There's also a humidor for cigar aficionados.
On my recent visit, the service was as good as I've come to expect. My server was friendly and attentive but did not hover around the table. The 1900's Cuba Libre was served cold and the Ropa Vieja was hot and delicious.
I always appreciate fresh Cuban cuisine and cool drinks, and this place consistently delivers on both counts. It's a great place to unwind and replenish any time of day. Embargo 62 is slated to move a couple blocks down the street to a new, larger space later this year. When it does I'll be there, ready to experience Embargo 62 v. 2.0.
Contact Chris Zelk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 757-6244.