On a Bronx street lined with Italian restaurants, one façade stands out. Diners and exotic plants gather around a streetside bar under a shady awning. 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. At Havana Cafe, he 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. The 2013 Michelin Guide honored Havana Cafe with a Bib Gourmand award, which recognizes 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.”
When cool weather forces the french doors closed, groups snuggle up with their mojitos in leather-cushioned chairs below brick pillars and exposed rafters. Behind plush red banquettes, murals take diners into 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.
Like the Brazilian bands that play there on weekends, almost every dish at Sitio Samba & Sabor reflects Latin flair. Chefs craft housemade ceviche, wrap meats in strips of yucca, or grill up Cuban sandwiches. House specialties range from Peruvian-inspired steamed fish stew to ropa vieja, shredded beef stewed in a spice-heavy sauce. Meals wrap up with desserts such as banana flambé or Brazilian pudding piped in from remote pudding pools in the Amazon.
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.
Madera keeps things authentically Cuban, from the menu to the vases of fresh flowers to the classic American cars that the waiters drive from table to table. Open diplomatic relations with an appetizer of grilled sugarcane-skewered shrimp with rum glaze ($11) before moving on to a straight-outta-Havana sandwich Cubano (roasted pork, smoked ham, swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard, $10). Heavier appetites can savor the steakhouse offerings with a Madera-style steak, char-grilled to perfection in the Madera manner ($27), or a chimichurri-laden skirt steak ($20) paired with a side of yucca fries with garlic mojo ($5). Vegetarians can take their own skinny-dip in the Caribbean with a Creole salad—avocado, tomatoes, and red onions seasoned with light spice ($9).
The year was 1969. In east and central Harlem, African-Americans and Puerto Ricans began to demand that their children’s schools address their cultural heritage in all its diversity. In response, the school district appointed artist and educator Raphael Montañez Ortiz to create educational materials. But instead of writing textbooks, Ortiz founded El Museo del Barrio New York, a nonprofit that originally showcased work that reflected the Puerto Rican diaspora throughout a series of brownstones and storefronts.
Today, El Museo del Barrio New York has a spacious permanent home and an expansive permanent collection of 6,500 pieces of Caribbean, Latino, and Latin American art. Of those, 1,500 capture the postwar struggles and triumphs of the Latino community through paintings, photographs, and mixed-media works mostly created by New-York-based artists. Other galleries showcase 20th- and 21st-century fine-art prints from Mexico and Puerto Rico, more than 80 Mexican and Guatemalan masks, and pan-Caribbean archeological objects such as Johnny Depp’s authentic pirate costume.
El Museo del Barrio New York honors the Latino community not only through art, but also through annual cultural celebrations such as the Day of the Dead and the Three Kings Day Parade. The museum also hosts talks with exhibiting artists, monthly screenings of new films from the Americas, and a monthly spoken-word series that features Latino poets.
A visit to the Habana Room quickly warms diners up with the mysterious but convivial spirit of Cuban culture, arts, music, and delectable cuisine. Connoisseurs can treat themselves to the country's exotic flavors without having to fly their tongues through Canada with Chef Alex Garcia’s menu, which kicks off with piquant appetizers such as the spicy chorizo al vino (Spanish sausage in a Rioja wine reduction; $9). Stir up the senses with the ropa vieja—a traditional shredded-beef stew blended with caramelized onions and peppers ($16)—and chase it with a classically concocted mojito ($9) or homemade sangria, infused with tropical juices and a dash of vanilla and cinnamon ($9). Office refugees seeking an hour's asylum, meanwhile, can drop in for the lighter lunch menu and talk shop over the Cuban TBLT, a sandwich packed with ham croquettes and roasted turkey breast ($11). Habana Room's breakfast and brunch entrees treat sleepy mouths to the sensory equivalent of a swallowed alarm clock with the picadillo dish, which mingles savory beef, sweet plantain hash, and two eggs, then tops it all off with green chili sauce ($15).