On a Bronx street lined with Italian restaurants, one façade stands out—the one with a streetside bar under a shady awning, and a dense gathering of exotic plants and excited diners. This façade 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.
Though its dining room is in the heart of Yonkers, La Bella Havana's food transports diners straight to Cuba with the chefs' homestyle Caribbean cooking. Drawing equal inspiration from the land and sea, hearty comfort foods include sauteed chorizo with fried plantain chips, empanadas with a variety of fillings, and massive servings of paella that the New York Times hailed as "the real deal: stuffed with seafood, chorizo and chicken, full of flavor and cooked to perfection." The drink menu similarly embraces its Cuban roots with hand-blended mojitos and other potent tropical cocktails.
But Cuba's presence inside the restaurant also goes beyond the edibles to its island-inspired decor. The walls give the appearance of rustic, exposed brickwork peeking through plaster and a glance upward yields ceiling fans and their distinctively leaf-shaped blades. Even the bar area is shaded by a thatched straw canopy, which shields the bartenders from the imported Cuban sunshine.
Rebecca's menu renders grumbling bellies speechless with steak- and seafood-based entrees served in softly lit rooms that "whisper romance" according to Susan Leigh Sherrill of Dining 201. The eatery's unique take on Cuban and Caribbean fare shines through in a grilled double-cut pork chop slathered like a love note to a scarecrow with roasted corn salsa. The espresso crème brûlée, a delicacy crafted from the chef's personal recipe, embellishes white linens indoors or tables strewn about the garden. Patrons swish their own libations while a cherubim fountain gurgles rock ballads to the surrounding flora-laced stone face.
Amor Cubano captures the delicious essence of Cuban cuisine with sumptuous brunches, lunches and dinners of juicy steaks, tender stewed meats, and tasty cocktails. Plates of grilled chorizo, flavorful ropa vieja, and mouthwatering plantains invite taste buds to a sizzling culinary salsa dance, and fresh mussels, shrimp, and fish serenade palates with Spanish-language sea shanties. Throughout the restaurant, brick accents and artwork sate optic appetites, and regular live Latin music and dancing keep toes tapping to exotic rhythms.
Cienfuegos evokes the bayside Cuban city for which it's named with bright colors, traditional recipes, and an abundance of rum. An array of small plates, such as ham croquettes and octopus ceviche with coconut milk, complement sandwiches such as the classic Cubanitos with roasted pork, sliced ham, pickles, mustard, and two melted cheeses. Flights of rum introduce diners to new favorites, and cocktails showcase the spirit with such creations as the Dark & Stormy, which adds zest with house-made ginger syrup and lime. The dining room walls, awash in emerald green paint, offset the collection of white leather furniture, whose sleek lines span from armchairs to tufted banquettes. Brass candlesticks and wall-mounted shelves introduce other pops of color, such as fuchsia candles, glass objets d'art, and the end of a rainbow.