In the kitchen of Bella Cuba Restaurant, flames slowly sauté and season traditional Cuban dishes. Chefs season root vegetables with mojo—a sauce made from hot olive oil, lemon juice, raw onions, garlic, and cumin—before sautéing accompanying meats in citrus marinades. The smells of the sizzling pork steaks, meat pies, and yellow tail snapper sizzling in a coconut sauce infuse the whole restaurant with the smells of Cuba, helped along by the smoke of handcrafted cigars plucked from the dining room’s humidor. After a dessert of super-moist tres leches cake, guests can sip on Cuba libres and classic Cuban mojitos that, much like a splash in a neighbor’s bird bath, give relief on a balmy day.
Chefs at La Cocina pick fresh ingredients sourced from the surrounding area to build Mexican and Cuban plates as colorful as the eatery's bright orange walls or a firework-filled piñata. After rounds of fresh ceviche or ham croquetas, rustic wooden tabletops fill with made-to-order rice dishes such as the palomilla empanizada—thin-pounded top sirloin steak breaded and pan-fried—or stone mortars known as molcajete filled with chorizo or seafood and fresh cheese. For dessert, chefs hand-craft creamy flan or natural shakes made with mango or tropical mamey fruit. A tiled chair rail runs along the restaurant's tangerine walls, which are studded with Mexican-style art and framed photographs of famous burritos that have visited the restaurant.
El Criollo creolizes a menu of classic, authentic Cuban cuisine with a contemporary cast of flavorful influences. Test out the waters with a tamal cubano appetizer, a homemade yellow corn pork tamale delicately decorated with minced garlic and olive oil ($3.95). Exquisite Cuban entrees include the lengua guisada, beef tongue stewed in a fusion of fresh herbs and spices ($11.95), and the slow-roasted lecbón asado, a marinated pork leg cloaked in caramelized onions ($13.95). Diners can dive into the pescado sudado, boneless white fish steamed in a tomato-creole purée ($14.95), or the pollo en salsa de ajo, stewed chicken smoldered in a medley of garlic, white wine, olive oil, onion, and cilantro ($11.95). Wash down lingering spices with a glass of the house sangria ($6), or share a pitcher of beer ($16-$18) with a group of friends, Romans, and countrymen.
Just a block west of Ocean Boulevard, there's a casual Cuban café, where Ropa Vieja sandwiches and fresh coconut smoothies saunter out onto a patio, finding a shady spot beneath a big umbrella. Above the open doors, the sign reads 'Tropicalata Cuban Café,' leading inside, where a menu of Cuban classics is served alongside authentic Cuban-style espresso, pastries, and the occasional under-the-table cigar.
Chef Javier Prado personifies the American dream. In 1972, he traded the familiarity of his Mexican hometown for the bright lights and chatty celebrity wax statues of Los Angeles. He was initially without money, family, or friends, but soon landed a job working in the Beverly Hills Club restaurant. It was there that he met Chef Jon Bernadoux who took Javier under his wing, teaching him his craft until 1989 when Javier swung open the doors to Prado Restaurant.
At Prado, Javier fuses the flavors of his mother's Mexican cooking with classic Caribbean and New Orleans cuisine. The aromas of spicy black pepper sauces and Jamaican spices stretch out onto the quaint sidewalks of Larchmont Village, teasing the palates of frequent visitors and curious passersby alike. Inside, Javier makes good on the promises of those aromas, completing a spicy fusion menu underneath 18th century-style pastel ceilings painted in celestial scenes. Diners pair selections from the ample wine list with appetizers of jamaican tamales, entrees such as pollo negro—a grilled chicken breast slathered in a spicy black-pepper sauce beneath fresh gems of pineapple—and combination feasts such as the latin sampler platter, which grants tastes of the Caribbean-tinged carioca chicken, mesquite-grilled steak argentina, and spicy shrimp negros.
When Executive Chef Jose Angel was growing up in Cuba, his parents wanted him to study international relations, but Jose had no interest in politics?he loved cooking. At first, he approached his true calling quietly, studying for his license in nutrition. But Jose couldn't keep his endeavor secret forever, and eventually started working as a chef in Spain.
The guests at El Rincon Cubano Restaurant are lucky that Jose's talent is no longer under wraps. Between colorful murals of dancers and lush Cuban scenes, his authentic Cuban cuisine dazzles taste buds. The menu also features Mediterranean and Spanish culinary influences; an example of this fusion is found in the popular ropa vieja, a beef dish whose tomato-based sauce incorporates spices from around the world. Cuban roast pork, empanadas, and the signature picadillo covered in fried egg can be paired with authentically muddled mojitos and fresh sangria.