It has all the textures of a true dive spot. The small local restaurant that people will regular no matter what. It's the food they come for. The food, the atmosphere, and the waitress that will remember your name.
The owner is a Cuban man with a wild mane of curling black hair and an equally unruly beard. He's put pictures of his family in Cuba in the 1950s all over every wall. He's even had a mural of his family painted on the wall above the bathroom doors. His parent's on their wedding day, himself at the age of seven with thick rimmed glasses and a chubby smile, and his sister at carnival.
They've made covers for each of the ceiling lights out of coffee cans. Cut to look like dresses, Barbie legs hanging out of them - Bustelo brand coffee. None of the chairs match and almost all of the tables are made for two. My table - the one I always hope to get - has been painted with a rooster on top and the label "Pelea de Gallo." The thick varnish has chips and dents in it, and you can still see the pencil marks sketching out the bird before painting it.
I come for the Cuban sandwich. Pulled pork, pickles, ham and Swiss grilled into Cuban bread. The fried plantains are a must, and they'll always sprinkle dices of tomato, yellow peppers and red onion on everything no matter what you order.
I know when I walk in the door already what I want. My list of regulars is short. The Cuban sandwich, huevos rancheros, the avocado salad or black bean soup with an extra piece of corn bread. Then there's always a fresh squeezed lemonade and a piece of tres leche cake for dessert. I don't even need a menu - I know what else is on there too.
I come to write. This is a place where writing comes easily to me. This is a place where I can think clearly. It always relaxes me to eat here. I almost always come by myself now. I just sit and watch people, eat and write.
Behind me the wall is filled with shelves filled with Cuban canned goods, coffees, and candles of the saints. It always looks like an old grocery store, fully stocked and dusted, but not touched in 25 years. If you get a candle for the guardian angel it will have a painting of a blond angel watching a small Hansel & Gretel pair crossing a bridge while a shining cross hangs in the sky over them.
This is the prayer from that candle:
Spirit protector who gives constant protection to me, my loved ones, and my friends, who helps me give guidance to those who assist me with answers to my life's problems and gives comfort to my soul. Reveal to me what I must do tomorrow and give me strength and courage to my afflicted spirit. Make my problems disappear and restore my faith. (concentrate on your desires.)