While Americans may start traveling to Cuba, only those who qualify in one of 12 categories can receive a license. Sadly, “tostones craving” isn’t one of them. But locals may get their Media Noche sandwich fix downtown without getting permission from the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control as soon as late August when Manny Rodriguez and his wife Lisbeth Hernandez open Cortaditos Cuban Cafe at 616 Meeting St.  

Rodriguez was born in Cuba, but his family left in 1966 at a time when the words Cuba and Missile Crisis were still synonymous. “Cuba was no longer a country where you had the right to freedom of speech,” recalls Rodriguez. “Freedom in general was no longer in existence. You could no longer be an owner of property, be it, owning real estate, homestead, or even own your personal vehicle. If the government chose to take it away from you just because someone in government wanted to live in your homestead, you had no choice but to give your home away. These where just a few of the reasons why my parents decided to leave Cuba.” 

But political exile didn’t diminish the family’s cultural identity and imparting the flavors of home to their young son kept Rodriguez’ connection to Cuba alive.

“Growing up as a kid, I began to take interest in how my parents prepared and cooked,” he says. “One day after school I decided to try on my own, just to try to impress my parents. I started to marinate the chicken and prepare the black beans and white rice. At the end, I was pretty much impressed with the flavors. My parents where convinced that my cooking was not bad after all,” he says. Now, some 30 years and a career in his family’s Miami drug store business later, he’ll find out if the public agrees. 

After moving to Charleston last year, Rodriguez says, he wanted to do something different. “Something kept telling me that a Cuban Cafe would not be a bad idea after all.” 

Cortidatos’ menu certainly looks like a good idea. A mix of traditional Cuban sandwiches, it includes items like Elena Ruz with turkey, cream cheese and strawberry preserves, classic Cubanos, and pan con lechon pork sandwiches, as well as empanadas, and Venezuelan pastries. “Lisbeth, being born in Venezuela, decided that we should add to our menu different types of Venezuelan pastries so we can offer Charleston something new that they’ve never tried,” he says. Tequeño guava and cheese, a cheese wrap made with queso blanco and guava preserves, is just one of the sweet items Cortaditos will offer.

The 20-seat restaurant will also serve traditional Cuban hot drinks like its namesake. “Cortadito signifies both the coffee and the milk in equal amounts, while Cafe con Leche, which is the Cafe Latte, is unequal in parts,” he says. “It’s just that we felt it had more of a significance to every thing that makes any type of coffee.” The restaurant will also sell smoothies and frappes. 

Cortaditos will offer dine in and take-out as well as delivery and will be open for breakfast and lunch from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mon. through Sat. 

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