COPA, the country’s only farm-to-table Cuban restaurant has been open in Durham for about a year now and if you haven’t been yet, you are *seriously* missing out. Why? Because these guys grow the majority of their own produce on their Hillsborough farm, are bringing back the “lost dishes of Cuba” and pour the meanest prohibition-era cocktails this side of the century
Founded by the folks who brought the beloved Old Havana Sandwich Shop to Bull City (which shuttered its doors a while back—RIP), their latest venture was funded via Kickstarter and has totally transformed the former space, a 100-year-old building that was used as a department store back in the day. Outfitted with handmade tile, stained glass and metal work, the space is warm and casually refined. Custom art lines the walls, and a beautiful, full-service bar sits in the middle.
They feature exclusively small, shareable plates, made with local ingredients and 19th-century recipes—dishes that go beyond the standard Cuban fare to showcase the richness and diversity of a country influenced by cultures around the world, dishes you may not know about but are bound to love. Of course, they’re also still serving up the slow roasted pork and sandwiches that made Old Havana famous so you can rest easy if that’s more your speed. But with a Chef born and raised in central Cuba, you can expect this food to be super legit—so try something new, sip something different and experience the richness and diversity of Cuba’s historic cuisine.
Want to make the most of it? We've got all the pro-tips you need, right here. Keep reading.
[Psst! COPA is Offline Premium’s featured December partner, offering all Premium members $25 to spend at their downtown Durham location. Not Premium yet? Join the waitlist or ask one of your cool friends for an invite.]
...not that lunch is anything to sneeze at! Their lunch menu is full of those quintessential items that probably come to mind fastest when you think ‘Cuban food’: a long list of mouthwatering sandwiches (all served on housemade bread BTW) and plates overflowing with classic items like rice, roast pork and maduros. It’s also important to note that their weekday lunch offers beer and wine, but no cocktails.
So if you *really* want to see COPA do their thang, you’ve got to go for din. Here’s where they shine with those “forgotten dishes” featuring local ingredients, age-old recipes and unexpected ingredients.
Saladitos: small, light bites made to rev up your appetite
Cachitos: this portion of the menu is made of warm foods that are a little bigger and heartier than saladitos. In our opinion, these nibbles make the most excellent bar snacks.
Tapas: get ready for something smaller than a standard entree, but bigger than your average appetizers
And now to answer the eternal question: how much to order? Here’s our advice:
The tapas section is non-negotiable. You can’t come here and NOT order at least one tapa per person. Rules are rules. (Okay, this is not technically a rule but it does feel like a crime to miss out on some of these mouth-watering dishes—more on that in a minute.)
After you’ve picked your tapas, order one or two items from the saladitos and cachitos (remember, these guys are smaller and a touch more snackable than their heartier tapas counterpoints).
— Ropa Veja a la Americana ($16) is hands-down their best-selling dish; featuring beef (COPA's is, of course, super local and grass-fed) that’s stewed in red wine, tomato and mint, it’s no wonder it's considered one of the national dishes of Cuba.
— Butifara a lo Cubano ($9) marries Middle-Eastern and Cuban flavors by spicing pork sausage with cinnamon, anise and clove and serving it with a light, saffron yogurt sauce.
— Chuletas a lo Guajiro ($16) is a local and humanely raised pork chop that’s basically the sirloin of pork; it’s aged, dry-brined and unbelievably tender.
— Fricase de pato ($16) is PERFECT for winter: succulent duck braised with veggies and exotic spices gets served in its own broth. The duck just falls off the bone and the broth is sure to warm you up inside and out.
— It’s also worth noting that COPA serves plantains in all of their three stages of glory: green plantains become plantain chips while ripe ones become sweet, caramelized maduros ($4). Half-ripe plantains become Platanos Rellenos ($8), which are lightly sweet plantains stuffed with seasoned ground pork, capers, and raisins—and then deep fried. Served with black bean sauce and cayenne pepper, this is like the Latin American spring roll of your dreams.
Admittedly, COPA's got a very *meat-centric* menu—but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options as well. They’re all conveniently marked on the menu too and some of them happened to be among our fave dishes. Ensalada de Otoño ($6) is their fall salad which features uber-fresh produce harvested from their very own farm and the Tortilla a la Española ($6) is a classic Spanish-style omelet with onions and potatoes (it’s also one of the chef’s personal favorite dishes). Also, the Frijoles a la Isleña ($14) is the epitome of Cuban comfort food. Featuring black beans, root veggies and avocado served over grits-like cornmeal, this is a rich, stick-to-your-ribs dish you don’t want to miss.
Pre-prohibition era cocktails so badass and boozy, you’ll question (for the millionth time) why on earth anyone would’ve tried to ban these delish drinks. And with dry-January right around the corner, now’s def the time to lean in and get your cocktails in. All of their cocktails feature Cuba’s signature bright flavor and pay homage to the spirit of Prohibition-era mixology.
— If you want something classic: The iconic mint, lime and sugar Mojito ($10) is a no-brainer (especially since it features fresh mint from COPA's own garden)
— If you’ve got a party of 4 or more: The Floating Bowl ($48) is a winter punch bowl featuring juice from their house brandied cherries, Grand Marnier, black molasses and Jamaican rum, topped with sparkling wine and citrus-scented sugar. Served in a giant bowl with little cups, these punch bowls were once the center of many Cuban celebrations and “the downfall of many great men and women.” Raise a glass with your squad and say ‘salud’!
— If you want to taste Cuba in a cup (with a side of theatricality): You MUST order La Diosa Negra ($14). This drink pays homage to Cuba’s four greatest passions: rum, coffee, tobacco and the love of a strong woman. Made with Durham Distillery’s Damn Fine Coffee Liqueur, local rum, orange bitters and Haitian vanilla, this cocktail gets mixed up in one glass, while cigar smoke gets trapped in another. Tableside, the two get combined in a mesmerizing experience that results in a cocktail that’s as unique and vibrant as Cuba itself.
— If you don’t want to get too boozy: Honoring Cuba’s first female author (who was a majorly influential badass BTW) La Belle Creole ($9) features sherry, Carpano Antica, Grand Marnier and Amer Copa. Folks tend to get scared off by the sherry but, trust us, this cocktail is delish. And with a lighter ABV, you can enjoy a glass without regretting it in the morning.
— If you’d prefer to drink your dessert: Forgo the flan and take a look at their extensive after-dinner drink menu which features coffee and cocktails.
Not a liquor fan? They’ve also always got local brews on tap and a wine list that highlights unusual wines from South America and Spain. They’re committed to keeping their wine affordable, with all bottles under $50 and glasses ranging from $7-$12.
[Reminder: COPA is Offline Premium’s featured December partner, offering all Premium members $25 to spend at their downtown Durham location. Not Premium yet? Join the waitlist or ask one of your cool Premium friends for an invite to skip the wait.]