On a Bronx street lined with Italian restaurants, one fa?ade stands out?the one with a streetside bar under a shady awning, and a dense gathering of exotic plants and excited diners. This fa?ade belongs to Havana Cafe, which the 2013 and 2014 Michelin Guide honored with a Bib Gourmand award recognizing the inspectors? favorites for good value. PIX-11 confirmed the restaurant's status as a neighborhood staple during a 2011 Bronx Restaurant Week profile, noting that it?s ?become famous fast for serving great food in a welcoming atmosphere.?
Smells of Cuban and Latin-American cooking spill out from an intimate dining room, and, in the kitchen, a custom brick oven burns through shovelfuls of bricks under the direction of Chef Alex Garcia. Chef Alex designs modern interpretations of classic dishes, resulting in cultural collisions such as brick-oven pizza topped with beef picadillo and piquillo peppers. Straightforward renditions of Latin flavors abound as well, in the form of adobo-rubbed shrimp, churrasco-style grilled steaks, and sides and sauces made with tropical produce such as plantains, mango, and yuca.
When cool weather forces the french doors closed, groups snuggle up with their mojitos in leather-cushioned chairs beneath brick pillars and exposed rafters. Behind plush red banquettes, murals commemorate a hazy Cuban past lined with shiny classic cars and balconies leaning convivially over narrow city streets.
Fresh vegetables, meats, and Latin spices help capture the home-cooked flavors of authentic Latin cuisine at Caridad Restaurant. A bilingual staff pairs traditional entrees such as roasted chicken and oxtail stew with Latin ingredients such as ripe avocados and flan freshly sapped from a tropical custard tree.
Madera keeps things authentically Cuban, from the menu to the vases of fresh flowers to the classic American cars that the waiters drive from table to table. Open diplomatic relations with an appetizer of grilled sugarcane-skewered shrimp with rum glaze ($11) before moving on to a straight-outta-Havana sandwich Cubano (roasted pork, smoked ham, swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard, $10). Heavier appetites can savor the steakhouse offerings with a Madera-style steak, char-grilled to perfection in the Madera manner ($27), or a chimichurri-laden skirt steak ($20) paired with a side of yucca fries with garlic mojo ($5). Vegetarians can take their own skinny-dip in the Caribbean with a Creole salad—avocado, tomatoes, and red onions seasoned with light spice ($9).
Stepping into La Gloria, visitors suddenly find themselves immersed in a dramatic, red and orange lounge that seems to glow beneath its high ceilings. Plush leather seating, exposed brick walls, and ornate wood trim impresses eyes with design that's as sumptuous as the menu's flavorful entrees. Cuban and Dominican fare comprise the chefs' primary influences, with ceviche, grilled steak with yucca fries, and saffron paella satisfying taste buds, the way a replacing a basketball hoop with a hula hoop would satisfy Michael Jordan.
Like the Brazilian bands that play there on weekends, almost every dish at Sitio Samba & Sabor reflects Latin flair. Chefs craft housemade ceviche, wrap meats in strips of yucca, or grill up Cuban sandwiches. House specialties range from Peruvian-inspired steamed fish stew to ropa vieja, shredded beef stewed in a spice-heavy sauce. Meals wrap up with desserts such as banana flambé or Brazilian pudding piped in from remote pudding pools in the Amazon.
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.