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Mambo's Café marries food and music

Two nights a week, this café is the place to go for flavors and sounds.

March 12, 2013|By Kirk Silsbee
  • Kieber Jorge, from left, Simon Carroll, Carlinhos Pandeiro de Ouro, Leo Nobre and Munyungo Jackson perform at Mambos Cafe in Glendale. Mambos will celebrate its 25th year anniversary this September. It is a Cuban restaurant where customers can dine and watch live performance every Tuesday and Thursday. The restaurant is owned by Raul Gonzaelez, Jr. and his father, Raul Gonzalez, Sr.
Kieber Jorge, from left, Simon Carroll, Carlinhos Pandeiro… (Cheryl A. Guerrero…)

A quick show of hands here: How many SoCal cities have a resident Cuban restaurant? Not many, eh? Well, Glendale stands tall in this regard. Mambo’s Café, at the corner of Victory Boulevard and Western Avenue, serves lunch and dinner, with live music two nights a week. Even the Versailles chain, the standard for Cuban cuisine among Los Angeles residents, can’t boast a music schedule.

Pull into the parking area that buffers the one-story building from the street traffic and you get the idea that Mambo’s is a one-of-a-kind operation. The building, in fact, was originally a gas station called Marty’s Garage.

PHOTOS: Live music at Mambos Café

Sitting back significantly off the sidewalk gives Mambo’s the vague feeling of entering a roadhouse. Inside, it’s cozy, with a seating capacity of about 50. The staff is friendly and solicitous; they dote on the requests of the diners. You see a couple of families, a group of older adults, some young men meeting after work for a meal, and even a couple sharing a romantic meal.

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Raul Gonzalez was 21 when his parents opened Mambo’s in 1988. He helped his parents build the business and oversees the operation with the hawklike attention to detail that ensures repeat business.

The menu is moderately priced. Entrée platters are never more than $11. While diners review the menu, the waitress brings a complimentary basket of warm bread strips and sauce made with tomato, jalapeno, cilantro, garlic and salt— think tomatillo with tang and a kick.

Mambo’s chicken dinner is something of a flagship dish and is a good place to start. The hot plate carries a full chicken breast garlanded with onion rings. Unlike other Cuban eateries, the garlic in Mambo’s chicken won’t threaten to overwhelm the senses. Put a fork into the meat and it literally falls away from the bone. It’s moist and a small cup of Mambo’s sauce is thoughtfully provided. Past its soy base and garlic, the staff is mum on the rest of the ingredients. A mound of buttery white rice and a side dish of black beans are standard here, as they are in all Cuban restaurants. Maduros (that’s plantains, to you) ring the edge of the plate. But these don’t have the almost waxy exterior of the fried banana slices served elsewhere. No, Mambo’s maduros are sweet and melt in the mouth.

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