El Chevere Cuban Restaurant San Rafael | Tasting Table San Francisco

Some of the best Cuban food we've eaten in California

There's no doubting Eucebio Maceo's commitment to Cuba.

"I've been back 33 times since 2010," he says. "I just love my country."

Most of the trips brought him back to Santiago, where his mother still lives. He's also been doing research for El Chevere, his San Rafael restaurant, which opened at the beginning of January. (El chevere means "the good/cool one.")

At the small restaurant, decorated with photos of old cars and trophy fish, Maceo is the head chef, assisted by a family member who arrived from the island nine months ago. Their brawny, homey food is as close in spirit to Cuba as we Californians can find.

This guy won't bite. We promise.

This is a kitchen with no fear of garlic–it's a more frequent presence on your plate than green vegetables, beginning with the herbed mayonnaise accompanying the cubes of fried bread you snack on while you wait for your order.

Main dishes, such as roast chicken ($13) or roast pork ($13), come with a choice of sides: excellent tostones ($5.50), plantain chips dotted with garlicky mojo; frijoles colorados ($4) stewed with tomatoes and ham; or arroz moro ($4), white rice cooked with black beans and aromatics.

Our waiter's favorite dish instantly became ours: the ropa vieja ($15), bombastically meaty shredded beef braised with onions, peppers, tomatoes and, yes, garlic.

It's not hard to imagine eating it 33 times over the next three years.