Before you associate the Bumby Cafeteria with meatloaf and chocolate cream pie, we should clarify that Bumby Cafeteria is a full-service Latin restaurant, albeit a hole in the wall. About six months ago, it joined the ranks in downtown's closest claim to a Latin quarter the stretch of Bumby Avenue between Colonial Drive and South Street. While the area doesn't qualify as Little Havana, it does have Medina's Restaurant (Cuban) and Rica Arepa Cafe (Venezuelan).
Bumby Cafeteria barely seats a dozen customers, and that includes the picnic table out front. The dress code is comfortable, and the food is served on mismatched china, usually with a friendly greeting.
Co-owners Hector and Blanquita Mata hail from Venezuela and Colombia, respectively; manager Pablo Quinones originates from Puerto Rico. Thus the melange of influences, from Cuban sandwiches and black beans heaped with chopped onions, to Venezuelan arepas (cornmeal patties stuffed with ham and cheese), to Spanish pork dinners with rice. Nothing sets you back more than $5.99.
Although this is a mom-and-pop operation, service is speedy, making Bumby Cafeteria excellent for takeout. On one visit, pabellon ($5.99) was ready in just under four minutes, featuring shredded beef spiced with tomatoes, peppers and garlic, served with rice and a choice of red or black beans. The red beans, loaded with peppers and onions, were the winner. The Wednesday lunch special ($5.49) was a sturdy chicken breast served in a spicy sauce with a trace of tomatoes. It came with more rice and beans, and a basket of toasted Cuban bread.
Tamales ($4.50) are cooked to order, so there's a 15-minute wait. But slice into the corn-husk jacket and you'll find a moist, sweet, filling meal. Better yet, add a jolt of house hot sauce, made with marinated chilis and peppers.
Don't miss the homestyle coconut ice cream ($2.50), served in a scooped-out coconut shell. And a creamy block of flan goes for just $1.
As a potential extra treat, the spokesman for Bumby Cafeteria told me that they're planning on expanding to a 24-hour schedule at some point. After midnight, dining options dwindle, and downtown in particular is ready for an alternative to Denny's, I-Hop, Krystal and the hot-dog grill at 7-Eleven. If and when that comes to pass, it will create some welcomed wee-hours competition.