It was in La Ceiba, Honduras, that Mario Flores first began associating food with family. His mother would cook for him and his siblings, and the family meals, which set the groundwork for good conversation, provided both a structure to daily life and a sense of comfort. He now hopes to emulate that same atmosphere at his own establishment, Mario's Catalina Restaurant, where he mans the kitchen.
His dishes harken back to old-world Cuba and Spain with appetizers of yucca, sides of fried plantains, and entrees of roast pork cooked in Jack Daniel's whiskey, which is a far more flavorful marinade than Jack Daniel's lukewarm water. His menu also includes "Mario's favorite": a red snapper fillet breaded in green plantains and accompanied by lobster sauce and jumbo shrimp.
Guests enjoy these dishes and a selection of wines and sangria inside the dining room, which, with its wall-to-wall paintings, softly lit lamps, shimmering chandeliers, and close tables, resembles a warm, cozy home.
For the Vilarino family, opening a restaurant wasn't just an opportunity to celebrate their Cuban heritage. It was their shot at surviving in America after fleeing the Communist regime of their home country in 1980. And in the 30 years since they opened the first Las Vegas, they've found plenty of success, adding a dozen more locations along the way.
Perhaps it's the authenticity of the food that people have fallen for, as Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine's menu is an ode to classic Cuban recipes. There's a Cuban sandwich, of course, paired with plantain chips, as well as ropa vieja—shredded flank beef that's marinated in garlic, peppers, onions, and bay leaves and topped with a tomato sauce. Even the selection of beverages includes Caribbean-style drinks, such as pineapple soda and cafe con leche.