El Oriental de Cuba

416 Centre St Boston

A Day in Jamaica Plain/El Oriental de Cuba
City of Boston Arts
Written By City of Boston Arts

The Mayor's Office of Arts + Culture for Boston. We foster the growth of the cultural community in Boston and promote participation in the arts.

El Oriental de Cuba (named for the eastern region of Cuba) is a JP landmark and Boston’s most popular Cuban restaurant. If you haven’t had Cuban food, this is the place to try it, and if you are familiar, this is the place to find out what Boston has to offer. 

For a compact but hardy lunch, you can’t beat the Cuban sandwich, which traditionally contains roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, yellow mustard, and pickles on French bread grilled in a press. Favorite entrees include fricassee de pollo (braised chicken) and ropa vieja (braised beef, literally “old clothes”.) When you order an entree, be prepared to answer two questions about your side: maduros (sweet fried plantains) vs. tostones (starchy fried plantains) and black beans served with white rice on the side vs. red beans and yellow rice served together. You can't go wrong with either.

Since 1996, El Oriental has been an important gathering place for the local Cuban community.  In 2005, it was destroyed by an arsonist, and but rose from the ashes thanks to contributions from local supporters and the city of Boston. Mayor Tom Menino cut the ribbon at the reopening ceremony, saying “This is much more than a reopening. It’s an occasion to highlight the great people and community spirit that make Jamaica Plain a vibrant community." 

When the restaurant reopened after the resulting publicity, many new customers were eager to try the Cuban community landmark, which now attracts a very diverse crowd. The fire is believed to have been set by a serial arsonist who was convicted of burning down several other businesses in the area, apparently motivated by petty grievances against their owners. 

This area of JP, known as Hyde Square, has traditionally been home to some interesting restaurants and other small businesses. It is not quite as vibrant as it once was, in part because one of its large retail buildings is vacant due to disputes between the landlord and tenants.  However, it is still home to the Brendan Behan Pub, the favorite drinking spot for locals, who simply call it "The Behan" (pronounced like "bean"). 

Cover photo credit: Josh Kastorf

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A Day in Jamaica Plain

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