Che Guevara looks sad.
The revolutionary is looking down at us from a giant canvas at Cuban Revolution (1903 Ashland Ave.,  708-5184, thecubanrevolution.com), the-you guessed it-Cuban restaurant that opened earlier this year on the ground floor of the new condos opposite Johns Hopkins Hospital. He may be sad because his face is bedazzled and dusted with glitter. Or maybe seeing Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy, and Marilyn Monroe hanging nearby, also bedazzled, bums him out. Or maybe he's glum because the cause of Marxist revolution for which he fought and died has been turned into a capitalist theme park where one can order "Cuban Revolution Starters" and "Havana Blast Shakes" while gazing at a row of muted (and un-subtitled) '60s-era newsreels. It's hard to say.
Che Guevara may also just be confused. "Why are there vases of blue liquid in the middle of the tables?" he may be asking. "Is that what passes for a centerpiece in capitalist America in 2013?" He might also wonder why the long wooden banquettes have no cushions. "I thought the bourgeoisie valued these trivial comforts." (We do, Che!) At least Guevara, himself a trained physician, was joined by lots of people in scrubs from the hospital across the street, knocking back $3 happy-hour cervezas.
But if Guevara's eyes could roll, they probably would have when he saw what we got when we ordered "bottomless" chips and mango salsa ($3): a plastic basket filled with some of the more stale tortilla chips we've ever been served and two condiment cups of salsa. Even by looking at the chips and noting the lack of crunch when we ate them, the war hero might have mused, "We could have used those things as bullets when we were fighting Batista." He couldn't taste the mango salsa, which is too bad because it was pretty good, though almost certainly from a jar.
Che would probably want to support workers nearby and so likely would have been pleased at the beer list, which included lots of options from local brewers, including Evolution, DuClaw, Full Tilt, and National Premium. We used a Fat Tire to push down the shards of our chips, and it worked as a nice balance with the medium heat of the mango salsa, the refill of which, we were relieved to see, came in a soup cup.
I'd like to think the Argentina-born hero of the Cuban Revolution also smiled a little, at least inside, when he saw that we avoided the more Americanized options on the menu, like the extreme nachos and Caesar (Caesar!) salad. The spinach-and-cheese empanada ($5), which turned out to be the highlight of the night, had a surprisingly delicate, flaky crust and filling that was tasty, if a little bland.
The ropa vieja soup ($5) had a tangy, if hardly powerful, garlic flavor. At this point, a theme started to emerge: decent, basic Cuban flavors without much heat or variety. We imagined the cuisine might remind Che of his days on the front lines of revolutionary battles in Cuba, Bolivia, and Angola, where he no doubt chowed down on countless bland stews to tide him over during long stays in the field.
Maybe we also cheered Guevara up when we ordered lechon asado, a traditional entree from his adopted Cuban homeland. The pork, again, had gentle garlic and adobo flavors and filled exactly one quarter of the plain white plate, which it shared with equal quarters of white rice, black beans, and sweet maduras, which were pretty solid.
Burritos originated in Mexico, not Cuba, but our canvas-bound icon would still probably share our curiosity as to why the burrito-like things on the menu were called "wraps"-which certainly did not originate in Cuba either-rather than burritos, as they're called in modern Cuba. In any case, we tried out the "steak & bean wrap" ($7.50) which did not differ in any significant way from the so-called "steak burrito" at Chipotle, which is to say we liked it a lot but might choose next time to get ours to-go from a local Chipotle rather than spend another hour communing with Glitter Guevara.
We can imagine that Cuban Revolution, which has two other locations, in Providence, R.I., and Durham, N.C., was a welcome addition to the neighborhood for residents in the new condos upstairs and for the many employees at the hospital. It's a cheap place to hang out, drink some beers, and grab some filling, decent food. But the atmosphere is laughable and borderline offensive. Che Guevara and anyone else looking for remotely authentic Cuban experiences or cuisine should steer clear.
Open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight, Friday and Saturday, 11-2 a.m.