For the Vilarino family, opening a restaurant wasn't just an opportunity to celebrate their Cuban heritage. It was their shot at surviving in America after fleeing the Communist regime of their home country in 1980. And in the 30 years since they opened the first Las Vegas, they've found plenty of success, adding a dozen more locations along the way.
Perhaps it's the authenticity of the food that people have fallen for, as Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine's menu is an ode to classic Cuban recipes. There's a Cuban sandwich, of course, paired with plantain chips, as well as ropa vieja—shredded flank beef that's marinated in garlic, peppers, onions, and bay leaves and topped with a tomato sauce. Even the selection of beverages includes Caribbean-style drinks, such as pineapple soda and cafe con leche.
As evidenced by the colorful paintings of cigar smokers, disco dancers, and drummers adorning its walls, Laura's Cuban Restaurant fully embraces the festive spirit of its namesake Caribbean island. The eatery is home to a menu of traditional Cuban comfort food, such as roast pork, shrimp in garlic sauce, or ox tail cooked in red wine. In addition its international selection of wines, beers, and tap waters, Laura's Cuban Restaurant also doles out steaming cups of Cuban-style coffee as well as tropically inspired milkshakes made with everything from papaya to banana.
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.
Israel "Izzy" Valdes opened his namesake restaurant to help groups of diners avoid the age-old frustrations of settling for just one type of cuisine. By offering two popular fares in one location, Izzy's acts like a giant dove puffing on a peace pipe, healing the food-fueled rifts between bickering families and nagging couples. The ever-evolving menu is clearly demarcated according to cuisine, and two different chefs man the kitchen to ensure each half of the menu is expertly executed. The menu's Cuban region includes such delicacies as grilled chicken breast draped in equally grilled onions ($8.95) and the cubano sandwich, made with ham, roasted pork, swiss cheese, and pickles, all nestled on a Cuban-style roll ($7.95). The Thai portion features well-spiced staples such as pad thai, myriad vegetarian options, and curries of every color ($4–$13). Most of Izzy's sensational dinner entrees and specials fall within the $10–$20 range.
Though Chef Douglas Rodriguez's take on Latin cuisine is contemporary, he's no newcomer to the restaurant scene. SunPost Weekly credits him with propelling award-winning eateries including Wet Paint Cafe, the original Yuca, and Patria in New York to star status. At De Rodriguez Cuba, adjacent to the five-star Hilton's Bentley Beach Club, the executive chef channels his decorated career into a menu of Havana-inspired dishes and signature ceviches crafted from sustainable seafood. He steeps lobster, shrimp, and crab in the tangy notes of coconut milk, lime, and ginger for the thai coconut seafood ceviche and tops the popular vaca frita entree with avocado and tomato chimichurri. Complemented by Cuban cocktails or a sip from the large wine list, the dishes evoke images of the islands.
The eatery's decor also contributes Caribbean character, stealing the spotlight in a Miami Beach magazine piece. According to the article, "guests can sit poolside or in the lovely dining salon facing the sea," or they can set up shop at the 25-foot ceviche bar in a space "that's all dark woods and serene white curtains." Scattered palm trees and large green lounge chairs border one side of the pool, the other bank crowded with crimson-trimmed tan couches that melt seamlessly into the open dining room. The sweet notes of live music fill the age-worn slats above the bar, beside which an aquarium teems with fish like the fridge of a hibernating bear.
Bongos Cuban Café is known for its delectable food—the eatery won the Pat LaFrieda award for Best Lechon at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival Swine & Wine Event in 2013. It's also known for its famous mojitos made with fresh mint and sugarcane. At Bongos Cuban Café, the energy of Old Havana pulses through the air with Latin music and aromas of authentic Cuban dishes. Vaca Frita with grilled onions, Ropa Vieja, Arroz con pollo, and Paella with fresh scallops, lobster, chorizo, chicken, and mussels are a few specialties.