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Bongo’s Cuban Cafe: A Dinner Review

Co-owned by Emilio and Gloria Estefan, Bongo’s Cuban Cafe is a 2 story restaurant located at Downtown Disney Westside serving lunch and dinner daily. I had the opportunity to eat dinner here last Saturday. Is it worth it? Read on to find out. 
Bongo’s is described as “recreating the feel of a 1950’s Havanna nightclub offering authentic Caribbean flavor.” It’s certainly got a tropical feel, from the greenery, the intricate and detailed mosaic on the wall, and even the (fake) parrots over the bar. I’d previously only eaten lunch here, and found it largely empty. That is definitely not the case at night. The restaurant is packed with people at the bar and waiting for tables in line, and every table inside and outside was occupied. However, the biggest negative for me, and what will keep me from returning, is that loud music was BLASTING from speakers the entire time we were dining, and only stopped to allow a band to take a stage at night who were equally loud. I’m all for having music in a restaurant, but when it is to the point where it is impossible to have a conversation without screaming, or even order your food without screaming, it’s too much. 
The dress code is theme park casual.
Check out the cool bar stools!
Our server, Ali was good, though I think in an effort to be personable, she lingered too long at our table and tried too hard to herself into our conversation. I don’t mind a little friendly banter, and in fact prefer when a server smiles and makes good eye contact and is outgoing, but it got to a point where my table-mates and I were exchanging awkward glances wondering if she would go away. The speed in which food was brought out from time of ordering was excellent though drink refills took a little longer than I would have liked. To be fair, this may have been in part due to the large number of tables she seemed responsible for.
Just part of the interesting mosaic adoring the walls.
Not being of Cuban heritage, I suppose I’m at a disadvantage as to whether Bongo’s is truly authentic or not. Plus, to me it seems like it would be pretty hard to mess up cooking something like shredded beef over white rice, or chicken over yellow rice. However, I have seen mini reviews and heard comments from people who are Cuban who say this is a “must go to” location each trip, so I take that as a positive sign.
The varied menu features a wide selection of entrees ranging from the El Churrasco, a tenderizedskirt steak grilled to perfection and served with a side of Chimi-Churri sauce, white rice and green plantains ($19.95) to the Chicarrones de Pescado,lightly floured and fried marinated fish chunks served with a side of homemade tartar sauce accompanied by white rice and sweet plantains ($17.95). 
For my meal, I went with Ropa Vieja, shredded beef in a light tomato sauce with onions and peppers served with white rice and sweet plantains ($15.95) while my wife was a little more daring and tried the Camarones al Ajillo, tiger shrimp sauteed in a garlic and olive oil sauce served with white rice and green plantains ($22.95). The food was okay, but it didn’t wow either of us. Though the portions were generous, the food seasoned and flavorful, there was nothing about the meal that made us eager to return. For me, Bongo’s is a place I would eat if I couldn’t find availability anywhere else within the Downtown Disney area. 
The Ropa Vieja. Presentation isn’t a strong point of Bongo’s.
Prices for entrees range from approximately $15.99-$35.99, and a childrens’ menu is also available.
Bongo’s Cuban Cafe is one table service credit on the Disney Dining plan (a new addition for 2012), and they also accept the Tables in Wonderland card. Reservations are recommended before you go.

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