Mckenzie Glynn
Pambiche and its sister restaurant Canita used to have a monopoly on the Cuban food market in Portland. But suddenly, the soulful sister restaurants have some competition; but then again, not much. Malanga, one of the newest additions to Portland's highbrow restaurants makes Cuban food of a different breed entirely.

At Pambiche you enjoy huge portions of slow-cooked stews that quite often include chunks of soft pork fat or a large piece of pigskin. Their plates arrive heaped with piles of rice and beans, and one meal keeps you full for six hours. Pambiche makes the food of the working class and Canita, on gritty downtown Burnside, makes the huge, gorgeous cocktails of the drinking class.

Malanga, on the other hand, is the white-collar businessman to Pambiche's blue collar construction worker. Their portions are modestly sized at eight to 16 dollars a plate, and you should plan on ordering an appetizer or salad so you don't leave hungry. Their specialty cocktails, while fairly well-crafted, run around eight dollars, and are not even served in a Big Gulp.

Price aside, however, Malanga's menu does have some wonderful items. The red snapper filet is exceptionally good, cooked in a clay pot, and bathed in a thin, delicious lime sauce. The fried Yuka that comes with it is light, tender, and cooked like a steak fry. Their beef picadillo--a ground/ shredded beef hash--has a savory sloppy joe flavor, but came served with black beans that should have spent a few hours longer on the stove.

And such is the case with Malanga. Maybe it's because they're relatively new, but while some of their items are executed perfectly, others fall flat. Malanga's marinated pork is incredible, tender, tangy, and fatless--a dish I would undoubtedly order again. Their vegetable stew, however, is like a mediocre corn chowder. Creamy, yet sour, the spiceless broth contains pieces of malanga (a tropical root something like a potato) and oddly, chunks of corn on the cob dropped right in. Their tomato salad is unremarkable, made up of plain sandwich slices of tomato, topped with a small pile of vinegared greens. The salt cod croquettes appetizer, however, is rich, creamy, and packed with fish.

Interestingly enough, just as Malanga's dishes (or even items in their dishes) range from superb to lackluster, so does their service. On my first visit, our hostess was borderline mean, and our server couldn't have been nicer. On my second visit, the hostess was extremely friendly while the server dismissed me as if I was a high school kid trying to buy beer. Maybe this fluctuation is due to Malanga's location in affluent Beaumont Village, and the fact the staff is used to serving rich 40 and 50-somethings, but regardless, it's very off-putting.

Overall, I think Malanga isn't bad--and notably, has a nice patio--but better suited to people in a higher tax bracket than myself. I'm not comfortable dropping $60 or $80 on a dinner that I'm not certain will be delicious, and I really don't want to be treated like I should be wearing a bib. For my money I'd rather have an eight dollar lunch at Pambiche, or catch Canita's incredible happy hour (4-6 pm) where I can eat great Cuban food, get drunk and full for under $10, and carouse with the youthful and underpaid.