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The Great $8 Lunch: Soul de Cuba, downtown


The chili comes spicy and the rice comes fancy at Soul de Cuba.

John Heckathorn

Whenever I eat at downtown's remarkably successful little Cuban eatery, Soul de Cuba, I usually order the chicken with olives (called on the menu Fricase de Pollo, $15).

But then I had lunch with a friend who was stretching thin between paydays, a common problem. 

"Have you tried their chili?" she asked. "That's what I eat when I'm broke."

Biting Commentary is a fan of Zippy's chili chicken plate, but sometimes you need a chili with a little more oomph. Soul de Cuba's $5 a bowl black bean chili does the trick. Ground beef-based, spicy but not too spicy, dark, full of vegetables, remarkably satisfying.

I wonder why Hawaii leads the rest of the benighted world in chili eating.  We understand that chili doesn't reach its true heights unless you buffer it with rice. At Soul de Cuba, you have to order the rice separately ($3).

At least it comes fancy after all that, perfectly molded, topped with slices of red onion, the plate sprinkled with diced green and red bell pepper.

I asked Soul de Cuba's Michael Iamele what was in the restaurant's chili. "Love, compassion, black beans," he said. (Also, I deduced, ground beef, red and green peppers, onion, some assertive spicing.)

It's a great $8 lunch, cheap enough I bought my broke friend's as well.

There's only one problem.

Soul de Cuba makes a mean caipirinha. The national drink of Brazil, a caipirinha combines muddled lime wedges and sugar with the powerful sugar cane liquor called Cachaça. It’s hard to resist.

A caipirinha costs $8, which doubles the price of lunch. Oh well, you shouldn't be drinking at lunch anyway.

Soul de Cuba Café, lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; dinner Monday through Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturday  until 11 p.m.  1121 Bethel St., 545-2822, www.souldecuba.com.

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