After spending 25 years in advertising and corporate event production, Cristi Quesada-Costa's latest endeavor has brought her back to her roots. The owner of Dos Alas CubaRican Cafe is dishing up Cuban sandwiches, tortilla Española, stewed black beans, and sweet plantains for visitors and locals in Mammoth Lakes.
"I came from a foodie family,” she says. “I grew up eating great food. My grandmother was my favorite cook, and my dad was right there behind her, following her example.”
As a child, Quesada-Costa lived near the beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She moved to Florida to attend college, then headed west and eventually ran her own advertising agency in Southern California. But cooking was always her hobby, and friends kept suggesting that she open a restaurant.
"I put 'start a restaurant' on my bucket list," she says. A few years after moving to Mammoth Lakes with her husband, she took the plunge and opened Dos Alas CubaRican Cafe.
Her menu is a mixtape of cultures showcasing dishes from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Spain. "Our top-selling entree is our piñón pastelón, which is a sweet plantain and ground beef pie. We cut it and serve it like a piece of lasagna, and it's very filling," she says. "If you're not that hungry, then you should order the Cubano sandwich, which is filled with homemade baked ham, roasted garlic pork, Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles. People tell me all the time, 'That's the best sandwich I've ever had.' "
Even though Quesada-Costa spent most of her 58 years living near the beach, she says the mountainous region provides tremendous year-round fun. “I always tell summer visitors to put their bikes on the Lakes Basin Trolley and ride the shuttle up to Horseshoe Lake,” she says. “Then they can ride their bikes back to The Village at Mammoth on the Lakes Basin Path.
"I feel like we live in a postcard. First and foremost, I love the dramatic mountain views,” she says. “When you drive up US 395 and you see the Minaret Range, it's breathtaking. I love the four seasons, and I love our local community. Mammoth is a small town, and I've met so many locals who come to eat at my restaurant."
Mammoth has a surprisingly sophisticated dining scene, she says. "We have Brasserie, which is above the bowling alley. The chef is from France, and he's really talented. Brasserie is the only place in town that serves escargot."
She also recommends Skadi, a Nordic-themed restaurant run by chef Ian Algerøen. "It's a really nice fine-dining restaurant with only 10 tables. It gets amazing reviews—the service is excellent and every dish looks beautiful on the plate," she says.
For a special occasion, she suggests dinner reservations at The Restaurant at Convict Lake. Her tip: Take a walk along the lakeshore before you dine, and dine before it gets dark.
"Convict Lake has an absolutely majestic mountain backdrop, so visitors should go see that. It's just beautiful. There's a little beach with smooth river rocks where you can take photos. The water is so clear, it's almost turquoise. You might think you're in the Caribbean Islands instead of the mountains."
FIVE MORE FAVORITES
Fall colors: From a photography standpoint, fall is my favorite season. I love when all the trees turn golden yellow. My husband and I will drive around the June Lake Loop to see the fall colors. Or we'll go down to Bishop and drive up toward Sabrina Lake, where there are so many beautiful aspen groves. It's just breathtaking. In fall, Mammoth's weather is perfect—it's not too hot and not too cold.
Mountain brews: June Lake Brewing is my favorite brewery. I sell their beer at my restaurant and my customers are always happy to see that. My husband loves their beer, and I like drinking their Bang Sauce Hard Seltzer. They also make ginger beer and ginger ale. I also love going there because Ohanas 395 food truck is always parked outside the brewery. I love their ahi poke bowl.
Bike trail: I always tell summer visitors to put their bikes on the Lakes Basin Trolley and ride the shuttle up to Horseshoe Lake. Then they can ride their bikes back to The Village at Mammoth on the Lakes Basin Path. It's paved and mostly downhill all the way. Of course you can just ride the path in both directions, but if you don't want to go uphill, the shuttle makes it easy to go one-way. It's great for all ages.
Devils Postpile: Every visitor should get tickets for the shuttle bus to Devils Postpile National Monument. The geology is so different from anything else—the rock formation is just spectacular. After people go see the Devils Postpile and take pictures, they can hike down to Rainbow Falls. It's a big, beautiful waterfall. Some of the trees near it were struck by lightning and make amazing photos.
Photo opps: Whenever I have friends visiting, I take them to Minaret Vista, which has a great view of the Minarets, Mount Banner, and Mount Ritter. In the summer and fall, you can drive right up and have a picnic or take pictures. In the winter, you can hike or snowshoe in. I also love taking people to Mono Lake. It's breathtaking scenery. It doesn't matter what time of year or what time of day, you can always get amazing photos there. It's so unusual and beautiful. We usually start at the South Tufa Area and walk along the shoreline past the tufa towers and around to Navy Beach.