April 29 2015 12:00 AM
Now that international relations have warmed between the U.S. and Cuba (thanks, Obama — seriously), a good way for Metro Lansing diners to get acquainted with the Pearl of the Antilles might be to take a tour of the menu at La Cocina Cubana, a new food truck in Old Town featuring authentic Cuban cuisine.

Iliana Almaguer opened the truck in January. She said business has been good from the outset, but with the recent run of spring-like weather, customers have been flocking.

“Long lines were (sporadic) when we opened, but now that it’s getting nice out, more people have discovered we’re here and it’s getting very busy,” Almaguer said. She asked her husband, Tobia, to hold up a large saucepan.

“We used to use that to fry the plantains,” she says with a laugh, then points over to the two deep fryers in the corners. “We had to add a second one because we couldn’t keep up. People really love our food.”

Cuban food is similar to Mexican food, but with more Caribbean influence. La Cocina Cubana, Spanish for the Cuban Kitchen, started as a hobby for Almaguer, who’s lived in the capital area for about 11 years. When she worked at Sohn Linen, she catered a couple of company events and found the feedback encouraging.

“I was just using family recipes and cooked it the way we did at home,” Almaguer said. “But people really seemed to love it. It made me think about starting to do this professionally.”

Then she visited a friend who had three Cuban food trucks in Tawas City. The timing was good — he was looking to sell them.

“So we bought this, Tobia fixed it up himself, and we opened pretty quickly,” Almaguer said. “My boss gave me some time to start this, and then one day I saw him in line. He was behind 12 other people. He told me he understood if I didn’t come back.”

The menu consists of sandwiches (including the staple Cuban Sandwich, with roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, mayo and pickle), combo platters and sides. She said the biggest seller is the Ropa Vieja, a plate of shredded beef in tomato sauce with garlic, onion and sweet plantains. She said the Lechon Asado also does well —roast pork dish served with moros (a special rice-and-bean combo) and boiled yucca. And if business continues to do well, she’s already eyeing a spot on the west side.

“I’m considering buying at least one more (of my friend’s trucks),” Almaguer said. “I’d love to be near Horrocks. And I could see turning it into a restaurant someday. But this has all happened so fast, I just need to see if (business keeps up).”

American spirits
Lansing’s first ever liquor distillery opened its tasting room this week. American Fifth Spirits’ art deco-meetsindustrial space features its own vodka (coming soon: gin and white whiskey) mixed into custom drinks. Owner/distiller Rick Wyble said he hopes to build on the growing downtown “cocktail culture.”

“This is the next step in the evolution of the drinker,” he said.

La Cocina Cubana 536 E. Grand River Ave., Lansing (in the parking lot for Grand River Bait & Tackle) 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday- Friday; 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday (517) 894-3079 (check Facebook page for more info)

American Fifth Spirits 112 N. Larch St., Lansing 4 p.m.-midnight Monday- Friday; noon-midnight Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Sunday (517) 999-2631, americanfifthspirits.com