Ode: Ropa Vieja from Super Mega Bien
Updated: Feb 10, 2022
By Eric Elkins
Sure, I could wax all day about the goat or short rib from Work and Class. And the lamb barbacoa at Super Mega Bien, all steamy and wrapped up in a giant banana leaf, is a serious achievement. But the dish I’ll wake up in the night thinking about — a craving that starts deep in my stomach, a hunger that can only be sated by the real thing — is those savory shreds of seasoned beef, stewing in their own juices.
It’s an indulgent little dish, served in a small bowl with fried sweet plantains, each forkful wet and dripping and messy and piquant. It’s meant to be shared — to be enjoyed with the other small plates in a friendly fiesta — a taste of this, a scoop of that, a sip of something else. But whenever Loca’s ropa vieja arrives at the table, it’s all I can do not to put a proprietary arm around it like a prisoner guarding his cafeteria tray.
I’ve had ropa vieja in Cuba — where the dish was born. In fact, I chased it all over Havana, in restaurants, roadside stops, and even served on the street, trying to find something that came even close to the pure balance and richness of what Loca has wrought. All to no avail. Sure, it was always kind of tasty, especially when wrapped in the romance of the place — the ever-present salsa music, the honking of car horns in the street, the glassful of rum on ice and the promise of a cigar after dinner.
But every single time I ordered the dish. Every damn time I brought the fork of shredded beef to my mouth. A second to savor. A moment to mull it over. And then a shake of the head.
Not even close.