Tag Archives: cuban

Zaza New Cuban Diner (Orlando, FL)

Much of my recent business travel has been to Florida, and that generally gives me a chance to get one of my favorite cuisines: Cuban food. However, while Orlando is a relatively short drive from Miami (which is loaded up with Cuban places), it only has a smattering of Cuban places itself, but there’s at least one small, local chain (~3 restaurants) that’s attempting to remedy that… enter Zaza New Cuban Diner.

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Cafecito (Chicago, IL)

There are those times when you’re in a bit of a hurry. You’ve got only a limited amount of time to eat lunch before heading off to your next destination, and you can’t be spending a lot of time with an elaborate meal. This is exactly where the sandwich comes in. Sandwiches are quick. They are generally self-contained and not too messy (although I can think of some particular exceptions, like the French dip and the Italian beef). And the the world of sandwiches has a lot of options. To me, two of the best options for a quick sandwich on the fly are the Cuban sandwich (or simply, a “Cubano”), and the Vietnamese Banh Mi. In this case, I was in the mood for a Cubano. Roasted pork and ham served on a Cuban-style French roll (slightly more airy and less crusty than a traditional French baquette), with cheese and pickle, all pressed and toasted to perfection. I always like a good Cuban sandwich, although my travels don’t often take me to a place where I can indulge (a quick check of the blog shows my last review on a place featuring Cuban sandwiches was Puerto Sagua back in 2008…). But on this particular trip to Chicago, my hotel was kitty corner from one of the better-rated Cuban sandwich joints in downtown Chicago: Cafecito.

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Cafe Habana (Royal Oak, MI)

While visiting Carol’s relatives in Michigan, we decided to meet up with my college friend Ben up in Royal Oak. He recommended Cafe Habana, which is one of the older Cuban places in Royal Oak (with other locations in Ann Arbor and Traverse City). Cafe Habana has quite the nice Cuban-decorated interior, with a heavy emphasis on the chandeliers and Cuban-themed travel posted. However, the menu is less Cuban than “Latin American”, with Tacos Pastors and Beef Chimichurri alongside the Ropa Vieja and Cuban Sandwiches. Don’t get me wrong, I like Argentinian food and Mexican food, but they are both very, very different in their ingredients, flavors, and cooking techniques. Indeed, a major strike against Cafe Habana is that they’ve gone and reinforced the “Cuban food must be like Mexican food since they both speak Spanish” stereotype that I’m all too familiar with. Sorry, that’s been a long-standing gripe of mine. I’ll get off my soapbox…

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Versailles Cuban Restaurant (Miami, FL)

If there’s one good piece of advice about dining in the greater Miami area, it’s “you can’t have too much Cuban food.” While previously dining on Cuban food twice this trip at Latin American Bayside Cafe and Puerto Sagua, I was still craving one of the classic Cuban dishes: Vaca Frita (literally “fried cow”, it’s a shredded twice-cooked flank steak heavily marinated with citrus and cooked to a crisp). However, one of the better places for a good vaca frita is Versailles Cuban, on 8th Street (Calle Ocho) in Little Habana, which was, unfortunately, a bit of a haul from our hotel in Miami Beach. Luckily, TivoCommunity.com’s EddyJ (a genuine Cuban!) and Hot4Bo agreed that this was a great excuse for a mini-gathering, and EddyJ graciously offered to drive us to Versailles.

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Puerto Sagua (Miami Beach, FL)

Cuban food has several signature dishes. In addition to the previously discussed Ropa Vieja, plantains, puerco, and such that we had at Latin American Bayside cafe, both roasted pork and ham served on a Cuban-style French roll (slightly more airy and less crusty than a traditional French baquette), served with cheese and, most importantly, pickle, all pressed and toasted to perfection. Unfortunately, while South Beach used to be a pretty good area for Cuban Sandwiches, most of the Cuban places I used to frequent in the early 90s are gone. However, Puerto Sagua is still there, and still good, so while enjoying the sites and sounds of a friday night in South Beach, we stopped by Puerto Sagua for a late-night snack…

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Latin American Bayside Cuban Cafe (Miami, FL)

One of the highlights of a trip to southern Florida is the ability to get some good Cuban food. Up here in cold New England, Cuban food is so far off the culinary radar (Boston proper doesn’t even have a vaguely authentic Cuban restaurant for example) that most people up here are of the mistaken impression that Cuban food is like Mexican food, which is really unfortunate, since Cuban food is very distinctive, and very delicious in it’s own right. Indeed, if I had to characterize Cuban food in terms of other cuisines, it’s basically a fusion of Spanish, French, African and Caribbean cuisines, drawing many distinctive flavors from each of these, with heavy influences of garlic, citrus, and sugar cane. Unfortunately, the downtown tourist areas (Port of Miami, Bayside, etc) are definitely not the center of Cuban cuisine in Miami, for that sort of action, you’re best heading to Calle Ocho and Little Habana. But in Bayside Marketplace (the big outdoor mall right on the Bay) is one little gem of a Cuban place, Latin American Bayside Cuban Cafe.

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