It's a family affair at Rincon Cubano. 

I've driven by Rincon Cubano, on North Honore Avenue just past 17th Street, many times. The parking lot is always full, and I love authentic Cuban food, so I don't know why I waited so long to try it. Well, thanks to friends' recommendations, I finally did—and not only did I have a fabulous meal, I met Rincon Cubano's owners and their family.

Judi Gallagher at Rincon Cubano

You just know the level of flavor goes up at a restaurant like this, where the owner's mom and aunt are side-by-side in the kitchen making old family recipes. That theory proves true here, too. Rincon Cubano's rooms are big, and there's a full bar, but it's exactly like a place you might find tucked away in a strip mall in Miami. You walk in and you know the food is going to set the bar high.

Well, we put our tastebuds in the hands of Rincon Cubano's owner, Jose Quintana, and we weren't disappointed.

The Quintana family has owned Café Havana in Bradenton for years, so it was natural that Jose, his mom and aunt partnered up on this larger space—which is usually filled with Cuban family and friends, with a few “in the know” foodies and transplants from Miami thrown in, too.

But let's get to the important stuff: the food. Here are my picks.

Barquito is a split plantain filled with meet and cheese.

Barquito, a special, is a sweet plantain cut down the middle then deep fried, stuffed with your choice of well-seasoned ground beef or shredded beef, then topped with a mix of melted cheese. Yum.

The jibarito is going to make my Sandwich of the Year list. Assembled using fried smashed plantains instead of bread, the fillings are either seasoned steak or chicken, with lettuce, tomato, onion and homemade dressing. OMG, I dream of this sandwich.

Instead of bread, Rincon Cubano's jibarito is held together with smashed plantains.

Steak palomia is another house specialty, made with marinated steak cooked with onions, black beans and plantains.

Ropa vieja—or “old clothes”—is shredded beef, pressure cooked with the family's own Cuban seasoning blend and tomato paste until it is the consistency of pulled pork. This is your comfort plate.

Roasted Cuban-style pork is injected with mojo seasoning and served with congri—black beans cooked with white rice and boiled yuca.

Ropa vieja is comfort on a plate.

Chicken legs with delicious yellow rice.

Each day of the week offers a different special. On Friday, I jumped in for a $9 lunch of a quarter chicken, seasoned and marinated with citrus overnight then roasted and served with yellow rice, red beans and plantains. The chicken was slightly dry, but the flavor was still very good, and I could eat a bucket full of the yellow rice, it's that good.

And yes, there are Cuban sandwiches—one traditional and one served on a soft egg bread.

Flan is a signature dessert at Rincon Cubano.

There's so much more, too—this is just what I tried on my first two visits. For dessert, there are several tropical-flavored milkshakes with unique fruit, along with an fantastic flan, creamy and rich with its own baked-in caramel sauce.

It may have taken me way too long to find this Cuban jewel, but there's no turning back now.

Rincon Cubano is located at 1756 N. Honore Ave., Sarasota, and open Monday through Saturday. Check the restaurants's schedule for live entertainment; all the food travels well for takeout, too. For more information, call  (941) 706-3472.

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