You’ve probably seen the cheerful Ay Arepa! food trucks around New Haven. But it’s easy to miss their home base: Rubamba on High Street. A tiny restaurant easy to overlook if you sneezed as you walked by, but the bustle in the doorway is a dead giveaway that delicious food can be found within.
Owner and chef Ernesto Garcia is all of 26 years old and has only been cooking for nine years, but he’s mastered cuisines from all over Latin America. Originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, Garcia came to the U.S. in 2003. He started school and worked part time in New Haven restaurants: six years with Latin cuisine, and one more at a French restaurant. Then he and two partners struck out on their own in 2009, opening Ay Salsa! at the High Street location.
In 2010 they launched their first Ay Arepa! cart, because they found arepas were the most popular item on their menu. You can now find Ay Arepa! carts in three locations: Cedar Street, York and Elm streets, and Hillhouse Avenue at Sachem Street.
Over at Ay Salsa! one partner bowed out, which led Garcia to rename and reshape the restaurant to Rubamba in 2012. He serves up a broad array of Latin American dishes – rice and gandules from Puerto Rico, ceviche from Mexico, empanadas from South America, and the ever popular arepas from Colombia. Garcia says about the arepas, “You have so many choices: chicken, pork, beef, fish, portobello mushrooms. When people try it they love it.”
They do a brisk takeout business just in case you miss the cozy inside, with tables enough to seat 22. Either way, make sure to squeeze this tiny spot into your dining plans.
Restaurant Website: http://www.rubamba.com/rubamba/site/
• The Detes: 25 High St., New Haven. 203-773-0032. Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Sunday.
• Price Range: Appetizers $4.95-7.95, empanadas, burritos, tortas, quesadillas $7.95-10.95, arepas $8.50-12.95.
• Style of Food: Central and South American
• Favorite dishes: arepas, ceviche, coconut shrimp.
• Drinks: homemade Mexican specialties, sodas including Jarritos (a Mexican soda that uses sugar and not corn syrup)
• Vegetarian/Gluten-free available: yes
• Outdoor seating: no
• Catering: yes