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).
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—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.
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).
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.