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.
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).
Stepping into La Gloria, visitors suddenly find themselves immersed in a dramatic, red and orange lounge that seems to glow beneath its high ceilings. Plush leather seating, exposed brick walls, and ornate wood trim impresses eyes with design that's as sumptuous as the menu's flavorful entrees. Cuban and Dominican fare comprise the chefs' primary influences, with ceviche, grilled steak with yucca fries, and saffron paella satisfying taste buds, the way a replacing a basketball hoop with a hula hoop would satisfy Michael Jordan.
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.
Today’s Groupon is muddled with tropical taste, splashed with foreign flavors, and garnished with Latin locomotion. For $20, you get $40 worth of scrumptious Cuban cuisine at Mojito, a fine-dining restaurant tucked inside the Hotel Midtown. Follow @Groupon_Says on Twitter.