Mambo Tea House’s combination of cuisine and teas stems from the cultural backgrounds of its married co-owners, who were profiled in (201) magazine. Louis Nuñez, who is of Dominican and Puerto Rican descent, supplied many of the restaurant's recipes and oversees Mambo's cuisine along with his head chef. Though the restaurant specializes in authentic Cuban food, its Latin-based eats—such as paella, skirt steak, and mofongo—borrow from traditional Argentinian, Puerto Rican, Spanish, and Dominican cooking.
Elsewhere in the eatery, CiCi Chan-Nuñez curates more than 40 loose-leaf teas imported from countries such as China, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan. The BYOB facility also supplies diners with mixes to convert their wines into sangria and mojitos.
Up to 60 guests can feast in the dining room, which includes bamboo-wood floors and Cuban-cigar wallpapers. Mambo Tea House hosts live Cuban music every other Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., so visitors can dance off dinner or recite their new poem without worrying that anyone will be able to hear them.
Bolts of sheer fabric dangle from the ceiling of Havana Dulce's dining room, filtering the soft lighting before it hits the burnt-orange walls and mimics the sight of a Caribbean sunset. Meanwhile, the aromas of fried plantains, lemon-marinated ceviche, and roast pork drift throughout the space and tempt diners with their combinations of sweet and savory flavors.
The nightlife at Havana Dulce revolves around the bar's refreshing cocktails and fruit-filled sangria, as well as the spirited dance floor. To help to keep feet stepping and hips swaying, the restaurant features live shows throughout the week, including DJ sets, band performances, and staged readings of colonial Virginia's first tax code.
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.
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.
New York food critics seem to have fallen in love with Calle Ocho—or at least in lust. Hai Rubenstein of New York magazine described the eatery as "uncalculatingly sexy," and the same publication's William Grimes once referred to Chef Alex Garcia as "a very sexy chef"—speaking of his food, of course.
Although Calle Ocho's softly lit environs simmer with sunset-colored booths and glazed terra-cotta mosaics, it is the menu of Latin American-fusion plates that keeps things hot. Under the direction of Consulting Chef Garcia and Executive Chef Rodney Mitchell, the kitchen staff drizzles saffron-pineapple sauce over lobster empanadas and mixes red snapper and thai chili into ceviche to create sharable plates for two people stuck in the same large sweater. For entrees, they top braised pork shank with pickled jalapeños and pair spice-rubbed salmon with lobster mash and mango chutney. Weekend brunches showcase such Latin-inspired plates as Costa Rican tacos with eggs and chorizo and Cuban-style burgers with chipotle ketchup.
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."