Though its dining room is in the heart of Yonkers, La Bella Havana's food transports diners straight to Cuba with the chefs' homestyle Caribbean cooking. Drawing equal inspiration from the land and sea, hearty comfort foods include sauteed chorizo with fried plantain chips, empanadas with a variety of fillings, and massive servings of paella that the New York Times hailed as "the real deal: stuffed with seafood, chorizo and chicken, full of flavor and cooked to perfection." The drink menu similarly embraces its Cuban roots with hand-blended mojitos and other potent tropical cocktails.
But Cuba's presence inside the restaurant also goes beyond the edibles to its island-inspired decor. The walls give the appearance of rustic, exposed brickwork peeking through plaster and a glance upward yields ceiling fans and their distinctively leaf-shaped blades. Even the bar area is shaded by a thatched straw canopy, which shields the bartenders from the imported Cuban sunshine.
Luis Parada is an unofficial ambassador for Cuban culture. A celebrated musician, he traveled the globe sharing the unique arts of his homeland. But he's also a master of traditional Cuban cooking, having tried his ladle at homestyle dishes that have been passed down through generations. Today, Luis and his fiancee Doris Fenton make it their mission to share the spirit of the island at the Cuban Flavor Cafe. That heritage informs every plate that passes out of the kitchen, whether its a classic Cuban sandwich with roasted pork, ham, and swiss cheese, or a grilled, marinated skirt steak proudly waving a tiny flag. And ears can feast on Cuban flavor as well—live music fills the cozy cafe on Friday and Saturday nights.
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.
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.
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.
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.