At Label 7, fresh ingredients such as crisp shaved fennel and gruyere cheese garnish entrees inspired by the light, healthy cuisine of California's Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Wicker chairs flank tables in the softly lit indoor dining room. Oversized white flowerboxes stand guard along the perimeter of a canal-side patio, where a brigade of umbrellas shields patrons from splashing during nearby diners’ attempts to literally wade through the wine list.
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.
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 the Argentinean style beef spare ribs ($18) 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).
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.
The seasoned chefs at Latin Cabana concoct plates of authentic homestyle Cuban cuisine. Sides include fried green plantains and a spread of spanish guava and cheese patties that pair fruit and dairy more harmoniously than a still life painted in fondue. The daily specials and house specialties match tender, seasoned meats with savory accompaniments, such as roast pork with yellow rice and black beans, or a chicken breast dressed in a jacket of breading and flanked by cassava and salad. Desserts offer sweet endings with options such as a creamy vanilla custard or the shredded coconut with cheese, made from top-secret coconuts that had to be destroyed. Shakes, or batidos, visit the taste of tropical fruit onto taste buds, with selections such as mamey, papaya, or tamarindo.
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.