The chefs at Mojito Grill immerse the intimate dining area with the savory scents of classic Cuban fare. Employing a decades-old cooking method, they use traditional la caja china roasting boxes to prepare hearty cuts of pork, steak, poultry, and fish. These special ovens heat to extreme temperatures, but keep the flames from ever touching the succulent slabs. This seals in flavor and juices while creating a crispy exterior. Marinated churrasco skirt steak, grilled wild salmon in a guava glaze, and roasted pork highlight the menu alongside traditional Cuban sandwiches. Delectable flavors can be relished with a Cuban coffee and bookended by a Cuban flan.
It's been nearly two decades since Hard Grove Cafe opened, and in that time, the Cuban-themed restaurant has evolved into a place where locals gather to see art exhibits and dance to live music. Of course, the biggest draw is still the authentic Cuban cuisine. Diners can dig into seafood mofongo?roasted chicken glazed with guava-infused barbecue sauce?and tangy ropa vieja, amid other exotic dishes. Vegetarian-friendly alternatives are available, along with sandwiches and burgers for diners who are afraid to use forks. Bartenders whip up refreshing mojitos and cosmos for accompaniment. Sundays bring an extensive brunch with optional bottomless bloody marys and mimosas.
In 2002, entrepreneur Jeremy Merrin teamed with fellow restaurant mogul Arlene Spiegel and head chef Stanley Licairac to establish Havana Central, a family-friendly enterprise based on lively Latin music and the rich flavors of Cuban cuisine. The food of Cuba draws from disparate influences across the globe⎯Spanish, French, African, Chinese, and indigenous cultures⎯manifesting into tender skirt-steak ropa vieja, empanadas stuffed with savory meats and goat cheese, and salmon, chicken, and shrimp marinated in tangy citrus juices.
Though the restaurant's leafy palms and tropical cocktails hint at the freewheeling good times of 1950s Havana, the staff pairs their joie de vivre with social responsibility, specifically by donating to local charities and taking on numerous green initiatives. As guests sip mojitos and sangria and sup upon slow-roasted meats and chicken sofrito, a lineup of live entertainment keeps feet moving in rhythm. Interactive events include salsa-dance lessons, charanga bands, and reenactments of the charge up San Juan Hill.
“The big front windows were opened to the warm breezes, and as we watched the neighborhood passing by, listening to the shouts of schoolchildren, high school flirtations in Spanglish and other lively sounds of the city, we agreed that we could not possibly have anything better to do at that moment than sit there.” So wrote Eric Asimov in a 2004 New York Times review of Cafecito, which, in addition to the ambiance, praised the “very good” food, including a “fine, traditional Cubano sandwich.” Even when the windows are closed, the petite double storefront maintains a sunny feel with walls of buttercup yellow and warm raw brick hung with mirrors and art in exuberantly oversize frames. On one side sits a long counter where baristas steam café con latte and muddle mint for mojitos. On the other side, diners dig into shrimp with garlic and citrus or the Cuban-style stew of pulled flank steak and peppers known as ropa vieja, named after the Spanish phrase for “old clothes” for the recommended attire for slurping without fear of spills.
The year was 1969. In east and central Harlem, African-Americans and Puerto Ricans began to demand that their children’s schools address their cultural heritage in all its diversity. In response, the school district appointed artist and educator Raphael Montañez Ortiz to create educational materials. But instead of writing textbooks, Ortiz founded El Museo del Barrio New York, a nonprofit that originally showcased work that reflected the Puerto Rican diaspora throughout a series of brownstones and storefronts.
Today, El Museo del Barrio New York has a spacious permanent home and an expansive permanent collection of 6,500 pieces of Caribbean, Latino, and Latin American art. Of those, 1,500 capture the postwar struggles and triumphs of the Latino community through paintings, photographs, and mixed-media works mostly created by New-York-based artists. Other galleries showcase 20th- and 21st-century fine-art prints from Mexico and Puerto Rico, more than 80 Mexican and Guatemalan masks, and pan-Caribbean archeological objects such as Johnny Depp’s authentic pirate costume.
El Museo del Barrio New York honors the Latino community not only through art, but also through annual cultural celebrations such as the Day of the Dead and the Three Kings Day Parade. The museum also hosts talks with exhibiting artists, monthly screenings of new films from the Americas, and a monthly spoken-word series that features Latino poets.
For more than 20 years, Havana NY has served as an outpost of Cuba in Midtown. The menu bursts with Cuban and Caribbean ingredients such as oxtail, creole spices, tropical fruit, yellow rice, and plantains. In a 2000 New York Times review, Eric Asimov praised the "tasty, inexpensive food in pleasant surroundings," including fish that was "moist and subtly flavored, not the sort of dish that would succeed in an assembly-line kitchen." In addition to tilapia, catfish, and salmon, there is shrimp in tequila-mango sauce, marinated pork, grilled chicken, and ropa vieja, shredded beef simmered in creole sauce. Chefs labor over creative plate presentations, making unexpectedly pretty artwork from a cuisine known for its love of fried and stewed foods. Cuban musicians and dancers parade across paintings on the walls—and, sometimes, through the restaurant during live salsa performances. In the absence of special entertainment, low lighting, exposed brick walls, and candle-topped tables create a ruggedly romantic atmosphere that concentrates diners' attention on the food, the fruity margaritas, and their dining companions, or the empanadas they drew little guacamole faces on.