Typically Cuban: oxtail in tomato sauce with rice, black beans and boiled yucca. NELE KIRT/Keys Weekly

With her playful smile, slim body and quick movements Kenia Montes De Oca is a living whirlwind. She came to Marathon about 14 years ago to join her husband, Dago, a commercial lobster and crab fisherman.

“I worked for a Mediterranean restaurant first, then eight years in here in the ‘Cuban Café’ as a cashier, waitress, hostess — whatever had to be done. The former owners were close family friends and a year ago they sold the restaurant to me,” Kenia said.

For the Weekly interview, Kenia’s 15-year-old son served as interpreter, but when asked about the food, Kenia needed no help.  She knows her cuisine and has perfected the English vocabulary connected to it.  She effortlessly explained all the ins and outs of typical Cuban food at Juice Paradise. 

I quickly find out that there’s a lot of beans, rice and pork involved. For example:

Congri is Cuban black beans and rice served with roast pork. 

Cuban mojo, which is made with garlic, onions, tomato sauce and ox tail, tastes like stew. 

Churrasco is a beef steak served with rice and yucca and Palomilla is a skinny steak with plantain and rice. 

About 95% of Juice Paradise’s customers are tourists who come here for authentic Cuban food or the served-all-day very American breakfast.

What is Cuban breakfast like? “We typically have an omelet on Cuban bread,” explained Kenia and jumped up to return with a long, good size loaf of white bread. “Baked here. Try it!” 

The soft, traditional staple of the Cuban diet is the very opposite of a Cuban colada — coffee served in tiny cups the size of a thimble. It’s strong and aromatic and should be sipped carefully.

Juice Paradise also specializes in freshly squeezed juices. Choose from the restaurant’s chart which also explains the health benefits. (For example, orange juice is said to slow aging, while the chart claims papaya reduces the risk of cancer. Oh, and soursop boosts good cholesterol, tamarind promotes a healthy heart. “They are good for you!” Kenia said, smiling. 

I left Juice Paradise with a few flaky guava pastries and chicken empanadas to go. I will definitely come back. Espérame, vuelvo enseguida! Gracias!

Cuban Café and Juice Paradise
2603 Overseas Hwy., Marathon
Open Monday to Saturday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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