Sometimes I need a little Gloria Estefan in my life, so I high tail it over to Bongos Cuban Cafe!
I’m just kidding. I rarely need any Gloria Estefan in my life, but I DO need the deliciousness that is Bongos. Seriously, you guys, I haven’t had a bad meal here…ever. It’s a hidden gem, and if you haven’t been there, start your planning engines for your next trip!
It’s Cuban food of awesomeness — tons of flavor, not-always-efficient-but-at-least-friendly service, and drinks that are BIGGER THAN YOUR HEAD. Plus souvenir glasses. And POPSYCAKES!
Located in Downtown Disney West Side, most Disney guests know this eatery as “the place with the big pineapple out front.” During the evening, Bongos looks and feels like a nightclub that you’d find in Old Havana or South Beach. It’s like a party waiting to happen, this place.
Open and airy, you can imagine the celebration spilling out onto the “street” during especially festive times.
And a festive good time is what you’d expect here, as is evident from the two bars that dominate the inside.
Sit yourself down on actual bongos at the bar up front! Fun (and REALLY uncomfortable!).
So if you’re tired of sitting on the Bongos, no worries; this place offers a wide array of seating areas. The upstairs seating area — both inside and outside on the balcony — offer good views of the surrounding Downtown Disney area.
It may be a teensy bit quieter upstairs at night, but during the day (for lunch) the whole place is nice and relaxed.
Yep — two-story ceilings and lots of hard surfaces (like cement-hard) mean that this place can get pretty loud when it’s crowded.
If it’s a party you’re after, be sure to stop by on Friday or Saturday evening, when music and dancing take place from 11:30 pm until 2:00 am!
But don’t be scared away from Bongos if you prefer a more intimate seating situation. These booths, located adjacent to one of the two bars, offer a quieter spot — perfect for catching up with friends or a romantic evening.
The stenciled quotes are fun, but what do they say????!!! I need to know espanol better.
A huge, vintage-looking poster of owner Gloria Estefan (she owns the place) depicts the glory days of Old Havana, and is a really nice touch to the colorful, eclectic decor.
Although many of my photos show you what Bongo’s looks like at night, during the day, you get the same open, airy feel, as ceiling fans whir above and doors and windows let in plenty of light. Also, it’s much quieter and low-key.
Time to check out what’s on the menu!!
When I say that Bongos has an extensive menu, I mean it.
The options — Beef, Pork, Chicken, and Seafood — seem practically endless! And in addition to all of the meat-based options, you also have a couple of extra entrees that I think are interesting.
And here’s a cool detail about lunch at Bongos. It includes a list of sandwiches that are only available for the noonday meal. Since we had sampled a few of the delicious entrees during our last visit, we decided to focus on this portion of the menu this time.
Bongos also offers an extensive Drink Menu.
Cuba’s most famous cocktail — the Mojito — figures prominently on the beverage menu, which features classic versions as well as interesting varieties. I’m not a big mint fan, but my friend tried a Mojito on our last visit and said it was terrific.
On this day, I wanted something unleaded to drink, so I went with the Non-Alcoholic Strawberry Daiquiri, which is offered on the menu. There’s also a Non-Alcoholic Bloody Mary and Pina Colada available. (Yes, I’m a lime freak, just in case you were wondering why there are so many limes everywhere. ;-D)
My husband chose a Modelo Especial (his beer of choice at home, too! well, that an Tecate in a can) and enjoyed it with a slice of lime.
We enjoyed some of the more interesting appetizers during our last meal here with the Bongos Combo — a great choice if you’re new to the flavors of Cuban cuisine.
For this visit, I wanted a little extra bread to start the meal, so we tried the Classic Cuban Garlic Toast. The pressed, toasted bread was buttery and lightly tasted of garlic. It was perfect to nosh on with our drinks and soup. Really wow.
And speaking of soup, that’s the next thing to show you! We each opted to start with a cup of soup. I went for the Chicken Soup, which was brothy and comforting, with big chunks of Chicken mixed in with Noodles and Carrots.
My husband chose the Black Bean Soup. He’s a black bean dip fan and absolutely loved this soup.
After a long morning, I was very hungry, and craving something that involved red meat! So I went with the Frita Cubana Burger.
Holy Fantastic Burger, Batman! Why have I never heard of this before??
It’s served with Plantain Chips, but I requested Fries, which were also very good.
The burger itself is made up of two (two!!) Pork, Beef, and Chorizo (huzzah!!) Patties, sandwiched together with Cheese and Shoestring Potatoes! I’ve never seen a burger like this before, and it was amazing!
My husband decided on the Midnight (Medianoche) Sandwich. This is basically the same as a Cuban Sandwich, featuring Roasted Pork, Ham, Swiss Cheese, Pickles, and Mustard. But it’s served on a Sweet Egg-rich Bread that’s similar to challah or brioche, rather than Cuban bread.
The sandwich is pressed and toasted, so it’s served warm throughout. He thought it was delicious, and it compared favorably with other Cubans he’d had. The sweeter bread went nicely with the meats, almost like a less guilt-inducing Monte Cristo. 🙂
Lunch was simple, but delish! And sometimes, that’s really all you’re after, right?
But we weren’t leaving without sampling something sweet! During our last visit, we had ordered both the Tres Leches and the Rice Pudding, and had been pleased with the very traditional takes on each of the dishes.
This time we decided to try an option that we never miss when we venture to Disneyland. So why not try them here and compare? That’s right — we’re talkin’ Churros.
Like the tres leches and rice pudding, these were completely traditional versions of a classic favorite. But the portion was generous enough to share, especially after such a hearty lunch.
The Churros are served with three — THREE! — Dipping Sauces! I love this! Because I lurve, lurve, lurve sauce.
All in all, they were a perfect cinnamon-y, crunchy, sweet ending to a wonderful meal. Sure I was ready for a nap…but that’s not necessarily a bad thing on vacation. ;-D
The trend holds — after several visits to Bongos Cuban Cafe, this Downtown Disney dining spot is quickly becoming another favorite place to grab a bite when I’m in the neighborhood. It is a little surprising to me that the menu hasn’t changed at all since my last visit. I mean, nothing. Every selection is the same — but so, miraculously, are the prices.
Bongos may not be for you if you’re after some kind of new take on Cuban cuisine, or a fusion of Caribbean-meets-(insert your other favorite here). It’s straight Cuban food, plain and simple. But I’ve discovered that I really love Cuban food, so for me, that’s a very good thing.
And together with the fact that the enormous restaurant is rarely packed, it’s also a great spot for a last minute lunch, or an evening during which you forgot to secure an advance dining reservation.
So I say it again. Give Bongos a try. And if you happen to be there, dancing the night away on a Friday or Saturday night, chime in and tell us all about it!
Is Bongos Cuban Cafe a favorite spot on your Disney Dining Agenda? Leave a comment and tell us about your experience there!