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Posts from the ‘Cuban’ Category

Latin American Bayside Café

After our welcome to Miami mishap in finding the Latin American Cafeteria, we never made it back out to that part of the city. I’m not even sure what that part is even called. We passed through Coral Gables, that’s all I know. Sad, but we ended up settling for an offshoot, which may or may not be related to the original, wedged in a kind of horrific South Street Seaport conglomerate of shops called Bayside Marketplace.

Once again, I was so sweaty that I didn’t feel like eating (I began wondering if residents were somehow genetically inured to humidity because no one ever seemed to care, and even dared to dine al fresco, while I was perpetually hot and bothered, literally and idiomatically, even in air conditioned restaurants like this one. I was relieved to see one waitress moist-faced and fanning herself).

But I wasn’t going to come all the way to Miami and go cubano-less. A medianoche, which our waitress actually called a “midnight,” was the sensible solution. Sure, it’s on sweeter bread but it’s more manageable in size. I’m not actually sure why it’s named as such, though I can envision it as a suitable midnight snack.


There was definitely no NYC salami aberration occurring (which I actually like). And the most interesting thing I experienced and have heard is the norm, is no inclusion of condiments. The mustard I always assumed was standard, was offered in a foil packet, totally do-it-yourself. And definitely no mayonnaise, which is fine by me. The roast pork is so moist and naturally flavorful that it could actually stand as it’s served. I did try a few shakes of Frank’s Xtra Hot that was passed our way. Of course, the ham, swiss and pickle are included.

In a perfect world I could’ve conducted some form of taste test but that kind of determined eating requires more than an extended weekend.

Latin American Bayside Café * 401 Biscayne Blvd. # S102, Miami, FL

Habanos Cafe

A cubano at Latin American Cafeteria was first on my agenda, post-disembarkment. But it wasn’t meant to be. I’ve never experienced a two-plus hour wait for a rental car, and I’m still not sure if that was a uniquely Miami pain in the ass or a typical Labor Day weekend trauma. Not only was I starving by 4pm but also concerned that we were going to ruin our 9pm dinner appetites with hefty sandwiches (assuming we eventually got them).

Habanos_cafeWell, we followed the directions to the address I had looked up and there was no Latin American Cafeteria to be found (though we did pass one about twenty blocks before reaching our intended destination). Being exhausted, sweaty and defeated, we gave up and decided to eat at Habanos Café, the casual Cuban restaurant residing at the address. Driving back twenty blocks would've been too ennervating at this point. After taking a seat on the more formal side, which was hardly stuffy; it was simply tables and chairs rather than counter and stools, we discovered that cubanos weren’t on the menu. Argh. My first impressions of Miami were not stellar.

Fine. I was hungry enough to eat a full on meal anyway. And frankly, the food was considerably better than the frumpy décor and geriatric clientele belied. Not to say that old frumps necessarily have bad taste, but it’s hard to banish the cranky early bird special stereotypes.

Habanos_cafe_lechon_and_moros For me, keeping it light involved beans, rice, yuca and roast pork, just eschewing an appetizer for good measure. The moros had to have had pork fat in them because instead of dry graininess, they were soft and dare I say succulent (ok, I don’t dare—that word drives me crazy even when it involves plants). They weren’t like filler, the way I usually treat them, but could be a meal alone. The fried yuca was different that I was accustomed to, also. Usually, the starchiness requires a glass of water nearby. These were creamy inside rather than chewy and the exterior crackingly crisp. I was only going to eat half of my lechon, but that didn’t happen either; there wasn’t a dry strip in the pile or pork.

I attempted to revive myself with a cafecito and marveled at what tasty food could be found at unremarkable restaurants. Perhaps Miami could redeem itself.

Habanos Café * 9796 SW 24th St., Miami, FL


Cafecito_cubanoI’ve been having good sandwich luck lately. It’s really not that often that I’m like wow, that’s a sandwich. Cubanos can be dense and flavor-packed, but they’re not always ethereal. Frequently, they just taste like all of their parts, not one unified uber-snack.

Cafecito surprised me. I easily get burnt out on the Latin American rice, beans, meat trinity (plantains come in at close fourth). I also fear that cute, gentrified Cuban spots will all by like Cubana Café, but Ave. C isn’t Smith St. (yet) so the food hasn’t suffered total bland-izing.

Cafecito_choripan_con_quesoI ordered the cubano and James got the chorizo con queso, which is what it sounds like: a sliced chorizo and grilled onion mass pressed together with melted swiss cheese. We swapped halves for variety. I was also intrigued by the Elena Ruz with turkey, swiss, lime-cured onions and cranberry salsa on medianoche bread, though it felt a little too Thanksgiving-ish for the warm evening. Both sandwiches were just right in amount of filling, toastiness, gooeyness. The pork was amazing, not dried out and tough, but juicy with crispy skin. You can’t discern much from the photos because the sandwiches had been pressed pretty flat.

Cafecito_saborcito_de_cuba_2I stayed away from the entrees but I suspect they’re better than I’d given them credit for, if the roast pork used in the sandwich was any indication. The fritters were kind of boring, but fritters tend to be like that. The chicken empanada was average (I had cheesesteak and Hawaiian empanadas the other night at Empanada Mama, which were strangely tasty despite the weirdo fillings. I still think the best empanadas are at Empanadas del Parque in Corona, though).

Two for two kick ass sandwiches would be enough reason to return. It’s unfortunate that Avenue C is not really on my way to anything ever anymore.

Cafecito * 185 Ave. C, New York, NY


1/2 I spent the past five months working one block from Margon and yet I never made it over until my final day. It’s wasn’t a laziness issue (though I did find myself in the ground floor Au Bon Pain more than I’d like to admit—hey, I had a discount).  I just try to go easy calorically during the day (after 6pm I go nuts). If I had a guy metabolism I swear I’d eat a cubano at least weekly. It’s not like roast pork, ham, swiss cheese, Margon_cubano mustard and pickles should kill you. Oh yeah, and the salami, Margon’s wild card touch. I would’ve liked to have tried the tripe steam table special but it wasn’t on Wednesday’s list (that’s Monday or Thursday), plus the office was populated by culinary joykills (I suspect my new office contains more of the same—where are the coworkers who appreciate a fine spleen or somesuch?). It’s for the best that I’m no longer employed near midtown because now that I’ve given in I doubt I could resist the little lunch counter’s pull.

Funny, I just looked at Midtown Lunch and their person on the street interview jumped out because there aren’t many news librarians in the world. Then I realized the woman being questioned had listed my old intersection, the Newscorp building, but didn’t work at the New York Post. Ah yes, Fox News. Those freaks put me through three interviews, three months apart for a weekend freelance job. I lost interest about half way through the process because I like my Sundays more than I like extra spending money. I’m so done with news librarianship. For real. But now I’m in the Financial District—and I thought midtown was bleak food-wise…

Margon * 176 W. 46th St., New York, NY


Is it fair to be suspicious of a poorly named, industrial-chic Cuban restaurant abutting the desolate Navy Yard, on the same block as one of the city’s scariest bars (don’t just take my word for it)? My initial concern was mediocre food but I later became more consumed with trying to interpret the vaguely sketchy shenanigans taking place around me.

The food was surprisingly un-bad, reasonably priced (most entrees were under $12) and the $8 mojitos were generous in size and potency. I felt tipsy after two, which is a rarity (I’m not a cheap date) and totally messed up the photos I’d taken.

It was difficult to not plow through the complimentary plate of squished and toasted garlic bread with three dips but I was pretending to be healthy and ordered a salad instead of something weighted down with rice and beans. A giant pile of lettuce covered with avocados, mango, grilled dark meat chicken, white cheese and fried onions is hardly austere, though I was unusually careful about only eating half (though I couldn’t bear to just leave half even though salads are pretty soggy and foul after a few hours. The thrifty gene in me still asked our sweet but spacey waitress to wrap up the remainders. Just the day before at Yemen Café, as frequently happens without warrant, James got all freaked out that our leftover louyabia and fateh we’d requested to go had been tossed in the trash. This has never happened in my life, though I shouldn’t have said that aloud on Thursday because Friday at Mojito I was to never see the rest of my salad again. Jinxed.) I also split an order of two empanadas, one chicken, one cheese, both more than edible.

Being in proximity to Pratt, projects and luxury lofts (Mojito is on the ground floor of the Chocolate Factory, which sounds vaguely dirty to me), the clientele is a total mixed bag. The tables were filled with a wonderful melting pot of African-American families, scruffy college kids and the mandatory white guy/Asian girl couple.

I noticed a tiny white guy in moccasin boots, who looked like a scrawny version of George on Grey’s Anatomy (I had to look that name up—that show is painful to watch) had been propping up the bar for most of our meal. He had a messy haired, white studded leather belt friend with him. At some point George left and came back in a bathrobe like he was the Howard Hughes of Wallabout (the revitalization-hyped neighborhood name that I just learned last week). Ok, and then I was like that’s cool that the two 300-pound black men who ordered take out, then ate out of round aluminum containers at the bar while staring down fellow diners were palling around with the artsy gay guys. Ah, sweet diversity. “Is that a housecoat?” was my favorite exclamation (it reminded me of a girl who used to call shorts short pants). At some point they all skulked into a back room, which I suspect leads into the condo complex.

In high school, whenever you’d see rockers (I attended an extremely hesher-heavy institution) hanging out with popular kids you knew something was up. Only drugs (and perhaps, consequently, sex) could bring the two worlds together. Clearly, Mojito is totally the place to be if you want to expand your social circle.

Mojito * 82 Washington Ave., Brooklyn, NY


How do you end up eating chain Cuban at the South Street Seaport when you intended on hole in the wall Cuban in Chelsea? Well, thanks to the MTA's inability to deal with rain water, I was only able to access the 6 train Friday after work. Anything diverging too far from that line was out of the question during the downpour (though the Seaport isn’t that close to the Fulton St. station).

Cabana_tostonesI’ve never been to the Seaport in my eight years of NYC life. It’s not like I’ve ever had any reason to. Strangely, it’s quite the tourist attraction. Strangely, because essentially it’s a mall with chain stores you could find anywhere in the U.S. that happens to be on the East River. Maybe because of the oddball location, Cabana wasn’t crazy busy, which is always my fear on Friday nights. The vibe was very much girls night out with a few couple scattered around too.

What I hate about “fancy” Latin American food is the preponderance of boneless chicken breasts and absence of pork dishes. I eat boneless, skinless chicken breasts at home all the time, but that's weeknight health-ish cooking, courtesy of a Costco bag of Tyson’s poultry. I don't actually want to pay good money for that dry nonsense on the weekend when a supposed professional is cooking.

Cabana_chuletas I settled on one of the few porky entrees, chuletas, which came with yellow rice and black beans by default. Two pork chops strikes me as little excessive, though eating half of my food allowed for two genuine meals to be made of it. A mid-week leftover pork chop isn’t the worst thing. We tried tostones stuffed with ropa vieja and shrimp (you can choose from four fillings) as a starter, and they were better than I'd expected. The orange, garlicky dipping oil a nice unhealthy touch. A pitcher of sangria rounded out the meal.

Honestly, I would’ve been happier with a cubano or cheap rice, beans and meat combo. I don’t need all the fanfare (or bathroom attendant) that comes with the more upscale versions of Cuban cuisine, though the food was a perfectly acceptable rendition.

Cabana * 89 South St.  Seaport Pier 17, New York, NY

El Sitio

I was just about Cubano'd out at this point in my fake vs. real research. But El Sitio is a classic, I couldn't pass it up. Though I have physically passed by countless times and never stopped in. This is a perpetual problem with Roosevelt Ave.–too much choice and when it's a Latin-Asian toss-up, I almost always lean towards the Thai or Filipino options.

We sat in the restaurant half, which has personal jukeboxes at each table, fake ivy climbing the ceiling, and no cubano on the menu. Oops, I guess you're supposed to sit at the lunch counter for more casual fare. But I still got my sandwich, I had to. You get garlic bread while you wait and little croquettes the size of olives. Maybe you don't get those in the diner. James ordered a pork plate with yucca, and rice and beans, of course.

The sandwich was perfectly crisp with a soft melty interior. Swiss cheese, roast pork, ham, pickle and yellow mustard–all standard and all good. And very flat, it'd had the hell pressed out of it, which is a good thing. I hate it when everything's busting out.

El Sitio * 68-28 Roosevelt Ave., Woodside, NY

Son Cubano

I can honestly say that I practically tried everything on the menu. I can also honestly say that I probably wouldn't have visited Son Cubano of my own volition. It's interesting seeing restaurants from a journalistic (I use that term loosely) perspective versus a personal one. You might enjoy the food or respect the chef, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you'd pick the place for an impromptu Thursday night dinner. Clientele and location are also big factors for me, and well, the meatpacking district doesn't need any explaining, does it? I did dig the restaurant's location, smack against the increasingly out-of-place Western Beef.

The chef was beyond generous and wanted to give me a taste of everything Cuban. And I do mean everything. I just expected a couple quintessential dishes, so I could get schooled on what makes Cuban cuisine Cuban for a NY Post article not an encyclopedia entry. Not that I was complaning.

But during at least three points during the evening James and I cried culinary uncle and hoped the procession had come to an end. And then more plates would come out. Four or five appetizers including empanadas, fried pork, a mushy polenta thing with crab, croquettes, then three kinds of rice and beans, a roast pork leg, ropa vieja, boiled yucca, four desserts: a regular flan, a tiny super rich milkless flan, a crazy dulce de leche sweet made from curdling the caramel in lime juice and bread pudding. I know I'm missing a few items.

It was almost like a cruel joke or social experiment–how much free food will a person take before "oh no, I couldn't eat another bite" turns from politeness to terror. But I'm the type who can't bear to waste food, so it was painful to leave so much behind. We didn't pace ourselves in the beginning, not realizing this was a marathon.

I can say that I feel smarter about Cuban food, and that I might not have a craving for Cuban food any time in the near future.

Son Cubano * 405 W. 14th St., New York, NY

Cubana Cafe

Cute but cramped, and in a more claustrophobic way than most elbow-to-elbow NYC eateries. We bailed on our first attempt to dine here a few months ago. It was freezing and the only open tables were in the heated, but still off-putting front room addition. This time we managed to avoid the annex, but our table was one of three in a row that are barely bigger than barstools. Good for cocktails, not so good for dinner

The food, however, is reasonably priced, most entrees stay under $10. My empanadas were flavorful, the drinks were interesting, but the mains were kind of so-so. Not that they werent well prepared, its just my bias against this kind of rice, beans and a meat cuisine. I don't get enthusiastic over rice and beans, I've never understood the big deal. So, my inclination would be to return on a weeknight and get a Cuban sandwich, appetizers, sides, whatever, and split a pitcher of sangria. Maybe in another couple months.

Cubana Caf * 272 Smith St., Brooklyn, NY

Havana Central

Unremarkable. Same with "One Hour Photo," which we saw afterward. It was agreed that within a week we would have forgotten both the restaurant and movie. I have a hard time forgetting something I've told myself to forget, but you get the idea.

I ordered the undignified-sounding fried pork chunks hoping for something wonderfully crisp, fatty and flavorful like lechon or the fried pork with basil at Sripraphai. No such luck. The meat was dull and dry, likely a lean cut of pork to start with. It just doesn't work like that–you need the fat. If I was being respectful of my health, I wouldn't have ordered fried pork in the first place.

Barring the mojitos, the prices were reasonable and the portions were huge. I'm a fan of big and cheap, but mediocre? Not so much.

Havana Central * 74 17th St., New York, NY