Sconces cast a soft glow on dinner tables draped in white linen. Green glass tiles glint in the light of fluted hanging lamps. Tea candles flicker next to plush, low lounge seating. The lighting inside Cubanu creates a romantic atmosphere before dates even dig into its menu of American-influenced Cuban dishes, such as empanadas stuffed with goat cheese and spinach. Patrons can also clink glasses of signature house-made sangria, or cap off long nights of filing joint tax returns by munching on late-night tapas dishes served on Friday and Saturday.
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.
With its simple blend of well-made Cuban cuisine and candlelit ambiance, Cafe Cortadito captures the Hemingway-esque romance of pre-revolution Havana. Clad in guayabera shirts, waitstaff bustle among the wooden bar, open kitchen counter, and candlelit tables. They load tables with classic dishes, such as braised oxtail in a red wine and tomato stew, or the picadillo cua cua—ground sirloin steak in a sweet stir fry of veggies, raisins, and olives, crowned with a golden fried egg. Tying everything together is a musical score that fits the mood. Tunes from the Buena Vista Social Club, and occasionally members of the popular group, burst out of the speakers. New York magazine says Café Cortadito has the "unpretentious, hospitable aura of a home kitchen, with the chef toiling away behind the counter and his wife greeting guests and taking orders."
The story of Sophie's Cuban Cuisine is not the story of a family of Cuban restaurateurs passing down recipes between generations. The road to the first Sophie's location and the ones that followed was longer and more unpredictable than that. Its founders—the Luna family—arrived in New York from Lima, Peru, and started out scratching together capital by selling Peruvian food from carts at New York City soccer fields. At the time, however, their native cuisine might have seemed a little too out of the ordinary for the city's palate, so the Lunas began to do some research: what kind of menu could form the ideal home for their love of hearty portions and fresh ingredients?
With the help of Havana-trained chef Eduardo Morgado, they found the answer. The Cuban recipes at the spot they opened up were wildly popular. Their reputation grew with each roast-pork-and-ham sandwich served, and by 2001 they were operating four different Sophie's locations. But then came September 11, which demolished two outposts near the World Trade Center. A third was gobbled up by a landlord who bought them out. In the face of these setbacks, the Lunas did what they'd always done: roll up their sleeves and keep working. Today, they've planted the seeds for a franchise they expect to populate the entire East Coast with the aroma of sizzling plantains.
Their Cuban sandwich is still a customer favorite, as are pernil sandwiches with roast pork, sweet plantains, and Sophie's signature green sauce (also available bottled, although the exact recipe is kept secret, hidden at the bottom of an enormous vat of oxtail stew). In a 2008 New York Times review, Pete Wells accordingly called Sophie's a destination for "authentic sandwich bliss," and for piquant roast turkey "worth eating far, far more often than once a year." Empanadas stuffed with beef, chicken, or guavas often precede entrees of chicken fricassee or oxtail stew. The batidos (milkshakes) conclude meals on a relatively healthy note, blended from tropical fruits such as mango, papaya, and passion fruit.
The sound of mojitos and caipirinhas clinking fades into the rhythm of salsa and merengue tunes at Havana Alma de Cuba every night. At the heart of the restaurant, the kitchen prepares a rich spread of Cuban, Latin, and Spanish dishes rated very good to excellent by Zagat and recommended by New York Magazine. Chef Gerardo Tlapa marinates fresh fish in citrus juices to create daily ceviche specials and prepares traditional entrees by braising shredded skirt steak in tomato and covering pork chops with a rich chorizo-tomatillo sauce. Flickering votive candles and a wall-size mural of Cuban streets and musicians playing conga drums create a lively atmosphere in the dining room. Beyond the bustle inside sits an outdoor patio with seating for private events including wedding rehearsals and staring contests.
Live music from Son, Mambo and Rumba serenades guests Thursday–Saturday nights. Tuesday and Wednesday nights bring a different sort of show. Special guest Jose Martinez crafts complimentary cigars for each diner, expertly rolling each one before their eyes. Martinez draws on 30 years of experience that began with his training in the Dominican Republic and continues in his current position as a cigar maker at La Rosa Cubana, which Ciagar Aficionado calls "the old grand dame of New York's mini cigar factories."