El Rey means “The King,” which is owner Manny Diaz’s nickname. If Manny is El Rey's king, then his grandmother is certainly its queen, as many of the menu's Cuban and Mexican staples come straight from her original recipes. These include a signature tortilla soup, cuban tacos topped with plantains, and ceviche marinated in lime juice and studded with mangoes. El Rey also serves breakfast tacos and desserts such as tres leches, which, when paired with a steaming cup of Cuban-style espresso, might convince morning roosters to crow in Spanish instead.
Waldo Castro was just a young boy in Peru when he began preparing street food for his family and friends, as explained by Javier A. Flores of the San Antonio Express-News. As time passed, and his passion for the culinary arts grew, he clawed the ranks of dishwasher, waiter, and line cook—often holding multiple positions at once—in pursuit of his true dream: to open his own Peruvian eatery, where guests feel like family.
Now the proud father of El Ceviche De Waldito and owner of Sabor a Mí Festival Internacional, Chef Waldo can look back on his journey to the top. In addition to training with the Iron Chef and Hell's Kitchen crew, he held eight executive chef positions at other people's restaurants before applying his passion to his own Peruvian menu. His team whips up several varieties of lime-marinated ceviche, along with traditional Peruvian aguadito with fish or chicken, homemade Cuban sandwiches, and an assortment of Puerto Rican dishes. While noshing on a Huancayo-style yucca or potato, patrons are invited to relax as if they are at home, but preferably wearing more than a robe, slippers, and backpack holding the TV remote.
Havana Social Club caters to smoke-savvy shoppers with a wide selection of fine cigars within an intimate, elegant lounge. Globe-traveling smokers can inhale their way through Latin America with rare stogies from Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic, browsing high-end brands such as Ashton, Padron, Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo, and Arturo Fuente ($10–$30) in search of the perfect tobacco tube. An in-house Cuban master cigar roller whips up fresh custom blends, and the knowledgeable staff aids puff-happy patrons in procuring their ideal smokable. Havana Social Club's Cuban lounge atmosphere encourages exhalation celebrations, and is peppered with leather-upholstered armchairs, dark wooden accents, private humidor lockers, and No Smoking signs.
Although Yasbel Flores emigrated from Cuba at the age of 18, her cooking remains firmly rooted in the flavors of her native culture. Yasbel and her husband, Ron, did their best to bring the flavors of Cuba to Austin by opening Habana Restaurant and Bar in 2001, with Yasbel basing the menu on a trove of family recipes she pored through with her mother. Ron, meanwhile, spent hours honing the mixology of the eatery’s Cuba-evoking cocktails, such as the Cuban daiquiri and the mojito with a decorative island floating in it.
In the eatery’s sunlit dining room or on its patio, patrons feast on meat marinated in Cuban spices—such as the pork steak with onions, the rib eye, and the fried chicken—or vegetarian dishes brimming with plantain chunks, okra, and other tropical vegetables. Alternatively, sandwich-powered lunches include traditional pairings such as roast pork, ham, swiss cheese, and pickle sandwiched between pressed bread or plantain slices. Monday through Friday happy hours, held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., foster a joyful mood by serving discounted appetizers and beers, rather than populating the bar with laughing hyenas.
Caribe Cafe's chefs describe their classic Cuban cooking style as a fusion technique, combining methods and recipes from Spain and Africa with the ingredients of the Caribbean. Nothing exemplifies this combination better than oxtails with white rice and beans, a staple of island diets for years. The chefs, though, particularly specialize in sandwich making, incorporating spiced chicken or slow-cooked pork into sandwiches layered with cooked onions and mojito sauce.
The tamales at Danals Mexican Restaurant are so popular that some regulars place bulk orders days in advance. But the tender, husk-wrapped snacks aren't the only reason to visit this 25-year-old Irving eatery. The restaurant's cooks are experts when it comes to crafting Michoacan-style carnitas, seafood ceviches, and other Mexican staples. Specialty margaritas and micheladas pair beautifully with each fresh, piquant dish, and desserts such as flan give folks a way to get rid of the bitter taste that comes from saying "Beetlejuice" three times. To nail down the authenticity, brightly colored walls and murals line the restaurant's interior, creating a colorful, happy ambience.