Located on 1140 North State Street, Café Rumba may not seem like anything more than your average restaurant from the outside, but what’s waiting inside is a goldmine of flavor and culture. Walking in, our photographer Trevor Grimm and I were instantly greeted by mellow Peruvian music and a two-employee staff. The scent of food permeated the room, but in a way that was pleasant and not overbearing. Hung across the walls were framed paintings of Peruvian life – alpacas, quilts, the whole shebang.
In classic Bellingham fashion, the place is laid out casually with wooden chairs and tables strung around the room overlooked by a counter and kitchen. The menu, filled with many vegetarian and meat-based options, is drawn on a chalkboard. In the far left corner, events and specials are advertised.
At one my point, Grimm looked at me and said, “This place is really Bellingham.”
As a Californian with a strong connection with food from South and Mezzo-America I remained skeptical, reminding myself that you cannot judge a book by its cover.
A short wait passed. The food arrives.
Set in front of me is my pollo sandwich, a collection of rotisserie chicken, mixed summer greens, huacatay [an Andean herb] and salsa golf [a special South American sauce composed of vinegar, lemon, mustard and ketchup]. As a side dish I am given papas con aji, or steamed grilled potatoes. Out of ten, I would give it an eight. Fantastic and unique flavors combined with a summer flavor that hinted at the richness that’s usually apparent in European winter cooking.
The sandwich began with the richness of the chicken, gave a twang with the veggies and then finally finished with an explosive combination of both flavors with the salsa golf. As someone who is used to Western cooking, I know my ability to report on these flavors is limited, but my overall recommendation would be for you to try it for yourself.
Grimm ordered the choclo, a Peruvian side dish composed of massive corn kernels coated in citrus juices, cheese and onions. The dish cost $3.
As the meal parched our throats we turned to the Inca Cola – a beverage with unknown ingredients sub named “the Golden Cola.” What was it? We didn’t care too much to know, but its unique flavors reminded me of Natural Jones soda: refreshing, but not over the top.
Overhearing the conversation in the room, it was easy to hear other customers enjoying their meals almost as much as we were.
“This is some good food right here,” I heard an old man exclaim.
All in all, Café Rumba is definitely a place to hit up if you are in the greater Bellingham area. If you are interested in salsa dancing, the restaurant holds a weekly salsa night every Saturday.