El Albanico

Rich Coast Food (La Cabaña Bakeshop & Restaurant)

La Cabaña Bakeshop & Restaurant, 3 Dayton St, Trenton, NJ
Open 7 days until 9PM. Opening hours are changing: call first if going for breakfast.
(609) 989-0918   Website    Google Maps

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We’ve never had a Costa Rican restaurant in Trenton that reached our standards for reviewing on Hidden Trenton.  Until now.  La Cabaña opened in early 2017, and has been slowly garnering serious fans. Like us. It tries to do a lot of things: it’s a bakery, a coffee house, and a restaurant. It does breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (BTW, it’s one of the few places in Trenton where you can get a Sunday brunch).

The food of Costa Rico (literally, “Rich Coast”, named by Columbus himself) is similar to Guatemalan, with an emphasis on grilled meats – particularly pork – and seafood, but even less spicy (and MUCH less spicy than Mexican). At La Cabaña, you can also order a burger, fajitas or quesadillas (Mexican), and mofongo (Puerto Rican). If you have kids who are picky eaters, you can also order from a kid’s menu with chicken tenders, pasta, or mozzarella sticks.

At their best, many dishes on the dinner menu are utterly sublime, rivaling in both quality and presentation much, much more expensive restaurants. At their worst, other items are just OK. Our advice is to visit, explore the menu, and see if you strike it “Rich”. For us, there’s enough overlap between food we love and their best menu items that we expect to return many times.

Items we strongly recommend include:

  • Ceviche de Pescado, which comes beautifully presented with 4 superb tostones (fried plantain cakes, savory not sweet); the fish is “cooked” in fresh lime juice, mixed with onions and cilantro.  Absolutely the best available in Trenton, and rivaling versions I’ve eaten in little seaside restaurants in Mexico.Ceviche
  • El Abanico, the “humongous” pork chop illustrated in the banner. This is actually a pork chop butchered so that pork belly and rind stay attached. The belly adds a quarter pound or so of bacon meat (though not smoked). Crispy, fatty heaven if you’re in the mood for it. Something to perhaps share unless you’re a large person carrying a fearsome appetite.  It comes with some green salad, several of La Cabaña’s world class tostones, plus the yellow rice mixture, which is by itself superb:  subtly spiced, and infused with fresh cilantro.
  • Chifrijo, crispy fried pork (similar in texture to ham, but not smoked) layered in a deep dish with beans, rice, pico de gallo, and avocado.chifrijo
  • Sopa Negra, black bean soup, that comes beautifully presented in a pot and ladled out at the table. This is a vegetarian preparation, though normally served with hard boiled eggs (making it inappropriate for vegans).Sopa Negra
  • Tres Leches, a favorite Central American dessert. This is the only baked item we’ve sampled to date from La Cabaña, but what an item! Tres leches (3 milks) refers to an angel cake soaked in a mixture of evaporated and condensed milk, with a whipped cream icing. We actually try to restrict our dairy and sweet consumption, but Tres Leches is one of my very favorite desserts and this is one of the BEST I’ve ever had. You get a huge portion, suitable for sharing.
  • Virtually the entire breakfast menu. Cabaña offers a number of traditional egg and pancake dishes from Costa Rica and other Latino cultures. Pictured is the La Cabaña Omelette, which my wife ordered with fresh made Arepas instead of home fries. The coffee’s pretty decent too (drip, espresso, cappuccino, or lattes). omelette

For all of these extraordinary items (and no doubt there are others on the menu we haven’t sampled yet), we were disappointed with a couple. One was the Casado Platter. Considering this is virtually the national dish of Costa Rico, we found this surprising. It came with white rice topped by a fried egg, which is traditional, and just fine, but not nearly as good as the yellow rice. The black beans and cold beet salad were just OK. We ordered ours with Carne Adobada, which we expected to be spicy like the Guatemalan dish of the same name. This pork wasn’t spicy at all, and slightly overcooked to boot. My wife ordered the Arroz Marinero (seafood rice) and was also disappointed. Considering it’s a $15.35 entree (the second most expensive on the menu, after El Abanico at $16.95, she expected something pretty spectacular. Instead the fish was finely chopped and mixed into the rice, and several of the mussels were shut tight (a sign that they were dead when cooked, and possibly inedible).

We’re inclined to overlook these issues, given how spectacular is most of the food we sampled. We’ve rated La Cabaña “Veggie Friendly” because there are items on the menu that are suitable, and much more in the kitchen that could be negotiated with the friendly staff. Both our waitress and the owners speak fluent English, even though the base menu has only a few dishes that would suit a vegetarian as listed.

La Cabaña follows a pattern we’ve noticed in recently opened Latino restaurants of not being priced at rock bottom. We rated it $$, which is a little unfair, since if you’re selective about what you order, you can certainly get out for less than $15/head. Dinner entrees range from $9.45 to $16.95 as of the date of this review (October 2017). But add soup or an appetizer and dessert, you’ll more likely find yourself in the $15-$30 range of our $$ rating, though probably at the lower end of the range. Given the presentation and quality of the food, we don’t begrudge what is still very reasonable pricing. The decor is nothing to write home about either: the restaurant is located in what appears to be a 1960s-style bakery/restaurant. It’s clean and inoffensive, and you can escape the omnipresent (in Latino restaurants) large screen TV from certain tables.

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