Chuck Haralson and Ken Smith were inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during the 43rd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism
Rumba, the new restaurant in the River Market area, says that its fare is “Mexi-Cuban.” We can’t vouch for the authenticity of that claim, having never eaten in a Mexi-Cuban restaurant before, but we can say that Rumba is pretty good and likely to get better, and seems a nice fit for the neighborhood.
To get at the nature of Mexi-Cuban early, Rumba has some of the things you expect to find in a Mexican restaurant — tacos, enchiladas, cheese dip — plus tapas, sandwiches that all have “cubano” in the name, and, after 5 p.m., entrees such as citrus-marinated grouper topped with grilled mangos, and “ropa veija” (traditional tomato-based pork stew). Besides the usual things one can order over a bar, and this one is a very long bar, Rumba offers house drinks like the mojito (“classic Cuban cocktail of rum, fresh mint, lime and sugar”) and the Latin Kiss (“Bacardi, Midori, Peach Schnapps, cranberry, orange and pineapple juices”). It also has a good, if short, wine list, and a good and long list of imported and domestic beers, including half a dozen on tap.
We started with cheese dip, of course. How can anybody go in a Mexican restaurant, even one that’s only half Mexican, and not have cheese dip? It came with red corn chips (Rumba makes its own chips and sprinkles a seasoning mix on them) that were a little bit chewy, which makes them good for dipping — they don’t break off in the bowl. We thought the dip could have been a little hotter, but we didn’t leave any.
One of us had three tapas, which also come in orders of six and nine. She liked the chorizo/potato empanada, but found the sauteed corn botons with melted cheese on top “kind of dull,” although the pastry was pleasingly flaky. Another diner ate the third, a “Cuban slider,” and found it tasty. It’s basically a miniature version of the full-sized “Cuban Classico” on the sandwich list — thin ham, roasted pork, swiss cheese, mustard and pickle.
Both of us were pleased with our entrees. Two fish tacos — soft tacos — contained fried tilapia, shredded yellow cheese, and a thin white sauce with chipotles in it. The other entree was the “six-ounce Rumba marinated carved top sirloin.” We asked what it was marinated in, but that seemed to be some sort of house secret. At $12, the fish tacos were the cheapest item on the entree menu. The most expensive was the grilled ahi tuna in raspberry chipotle sauce — $19. All entrees come with a small salad of lettuce, tomatoes and red onions topped with citrus vinaigrette, and tortilla cups filled with black beans and rice, with a strong cumin flavor.
We loved the dessert we shared — plantains foster, which is like bananas foster except with caramelized plantains instead of bananas.
One of us went back for lunch the next day. Sandwiches go for $7 (including burgers if you’re not in a Mexi-Cuban mood). We had the “grilled chicken cubano,” which is like the “Cuban classico” except with chicken instead of pork. It’s good, big and messy. The jalapeno corn chips that were supposed to come with it never showed up.
But the dinner service was excellent. When a waitress asked how we liked the mojito, and we said it was too sweet, she took it and put more lime juice in, making it more to our taste.
Rumba has a patio, but it was filled when we went on a Wednesday night, so we ate inside. It’s a big place, and we thought a little bit noisy, considering the relatively few diners inside. But some people like noise.
300 President Clinton Ave.
The plantains foster made us forget all about bananas foster. Tip: You need to get here early if you want a place on the patio.
Kitchen open 11 a.m.‑ 11 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Bar open later on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Plans to open on Sunday, beginning in July.
Moderate to expensive. Credit cards accepted. Full bar. Revolution, a music club next door, is owned by the restaurant owners.