In the kitchen of Bella Cuba Restaurant, flames slowly sauté and season traditional Cuban dishes. Chefs season root vegetables with mojo—a sauce made from hot olive oil, lemon juice, raw onions, garlic, and cumin—before sautéing accompanying meats in citrus marinades. The smells of the sizzling pork steaks, meat pies, and yellow tail snapper sizzling in a coconut sauce infuse the whole restaurant with the smells of Cuba, helped along by the smoke of handcrafted cigars plucked from the dining room’s humidor. After a dessert of super-moist tres leches cake, guests can sip on Cuba libres and classic Cuban mojitos that, much like a splash in a neighbor’s bird bath, give relief on a balmy day.
Chefs at La Cocina pick fresh ingredients sourced from the surrounding area to build Mexican and Cuban plates as colorful as the eatery's bright orange walls or a firework-filled piñata. After rounds of fresh ceviche or ham croquetas, rustic wooden tabletops fill with made-to-order rice dishes such as the palomilla empanizada—thin-pounded top sirloin steak breaded and pan-fried—or stone mortars known as molcajete filled with chorizo or seafood and fresh cheese. For dessert, chefs hand-craft creamy flan or natural shakes made with mango or tropical mamey fruit. A tiled chair rail runs along the restaurant's tangerine walls, which are studded with Mexican-style art and framed photographs of famous burritos that have visited the restaurant.
Though Schooner at Sunset just came under new management, the staff isn't keen on state-of-the-art updates. Instead, they're inspired by the days when everyone in the neighborhood knew everyone else, and friends frequented each other's front porches as well as local taverns.? SAS is doing its best to bring back that vibe, starting with a quirky, nautical theme that turns visitors into regulars. There are surfboards hanging from the ceiling, sailing ropes strung up in the corners, and fish singing sea shanties in a tank by the hostess stand.
In contrast to the casual decor, however, the menu is delightfully sophisticated. Its elegant versions of comfort-food classics include the toadstool burger, topped with truffle oil and sauteed garlic, and tomato soup reimagined as an heirloom gazpacho. Even the melts have received an upgrade: they're built with the catch of the day, frisee, and grilled peppers. Both these meals and weekend brunch platters pair well with the bar's craft cocktails, ranging from the citrusy Aye Aye to the rummy Dark & Stormy.
Just a block west of Ocean Boulevard, there's a casual Cuban café, where Ropa Vieja sandwiches and fresh coconut smoothies saunter out onto a patio, finding a shady spot beneath a big umbrella. Above the open doors, the sign reads 'Tropicalata Cuban Café,' leading inside, where a menu of Cuban classics is served alongside authentic Cuban-style espresso, pastries, and the occasional under-the-table cigar.