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Lucy's Chamblee Cuban 

Little Cuba's lunch specials delight

The atmosphere at Little Cuba, the long-standing but little-known strip-mall restaurant in Chamblee, is a retro rendering of Cuban memories. Black-and-white photos depict pre-Castro Cuba and its people. Bongos hanging from the ceiling add a whimsical air. And the lunch specials will be particularly delightful to those with a love for vintage television.

Rerun food fun: You have to have a heart for a restaurant that names its lunch specials after characters from "I Love Lucy." "Lucy" is arroz mabelle, a precocious jerked-chicken and yellow-rice casserole with a candid and colorful rainbow salad. "Ricky," the beloved Cuban-American immigrant, is the classic combo of a half Cuban sandwich, black beans and yellow rice. "Ethel" changes -- she's the special of the day. "Fred" is the complicated chicken asado, and "Little Ricky" is the sweet stuff -- dessert.

Plantain by any name: The most consistent time to visit is lunch, when the aforementioned dishes promise a plentiful plate at $5.95. This is classic Cuban comfort cuisine, the Latin equivalent of Americana mom-made meat and potatoes. The food is mild but manly, featuring carefully marinated and slow-cooked pork, beef and chicken served with mounds of yellow rice, a sea of soupy black beans, garlicky yuca and green or sweet ripened plantains (tostones and maduros).

Start with Little Cuba's unique third version of plantains, the mariquitas ($2.25). This preparation turns the unripe side into a great appetizer. These bananalike chips are sliced paper thin, flash fried and served with a glass of citrusy dressing full of large garlic goodies for dipping (or diving) into.

There is, of course, the Cuban sandwich. The bread is crusty, fresh and well-pressed from fat to thin with roast pork, ham, mojo and pickle pancaked in. While well-rendered, there are better versions of this signature sandwich elsewhere in Atlanta. However, Little Cuba excels over some competing eateries by offering more than known, quick Cuban fare.

The exotic banana-leaf red snapper ($11.95) features two hearty fillets of fresh, delicately grilled fish. The frosbake booma chicken ($9.95) is cooked in an intriguing almond-and-walnut reduction. Lechón asado is a long-marinated pork steak. And there is the classic ropa vieja – "old clothes" – where flank steak is shredded until it resembles rags.

"Hey Lucy, I'm Home!" Don't forget "Little Ricky." Finish with a sweet treat. The well-displayed desserts alternate, but there is always a selection of classics such as flan, Italian tiramisu and more exotic tropical-fruit-flavored cheesecakes. Grab a mango batido, a light, fresh-fruit milk shake to go. Or for a pickup before returning to work or whatnot, drink a viscous thimble full of cranked-up Cuban coffee. You'll be fueled.

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