Boy, did Havana Grill take their sweet old time opening. I'm not sure what the roadblocks were, but I'd mentioned seeing their signage back in June. Still, I was intrigued to finally see them open about a month ago.
The shop is one of those "fast-casual" type places; you order at the counter, take number and have a seat. The restaurant was still in it's soft-opening phase when I visited, so I can understand the rather slow delivery of some of my orders and that some of the items; specifically the mojo was a bit different on my visits. I will say this; the staff is very friendly.
My adventures started with the Ropa Vieja - "old clothes", the classic Cuban shredded beef dish. Not cheap at $13.
This was probably the best version of this dish I've had in San Diego. The beef was perfectly toothsome, but not tough and overly stringy. The flavor was mellow, but the brininess of the capers and olives lifted the dish. The beef flavor was present and the sodium level low. Of all the items I had, it was the black beans that made an impression; sweet-salty-beany, cumin lurking in the background; the texture of the beans was nice, and it was neither too runny or too mushy. The really nice guy named Alex, told me that their recipe uses 17 ingredients. I bought a side order for the Missus who really enjoyed it.
The mojo had a bit too much oil and not enough citrus or garlic flavor for me.
The plantains....were plantains...... just being their sweet ol' selves.
During my meal, Alex told me that Havana Grill baked their own bread. So you know what I had to try, right?
On my next visit, I went with the El Cubano ($10), the hot pressed Cubano Sandwich. I was surprised at the amount of nicely fried plantain chips when I opened my container.
I actually enjoyed this sandwich....and the plantain chips.
The weak link to most Cubanos for me is the roast pork, which tends to be dry and tasteless....the "other white meat". The pork here had decent pork flavor. And combined with ham (salty-savory), the Swiss cheese (milky goodness), the pickles (crunch and a slight sweet-brine), and the mustard, this was pretty darn good. The bread didn't look like much, but actually had some nice flavor and held up fairly well after being pressed.
I had asked for a recommendation for my next visit when I ordered my sandwich and was told to try either the Bistec or the Havana Chicken Sandwich. I ended up getting both during my next two visits.
The Bistec ($14) is basically shredded beef and could have used a bit more of a sear to enhance the texture, it was also cold in the middle.
It was also quite mild in flavor, I'm used to Bistec Encebollado and expect some bold flavors; garlic, lime, black pepper...on pounded beef. This seemed the same cut as the ropa vieja.
The black beans were as good as on my previous visits. This time around; the mojo had some punchy garlic and perhaps a bit too much salt, but not enough citrus for my taste. Still it was needed to add some oomph to the beef.
On my most recent visit I tried the Havana Chicken Sandwich ($9).
On the good side; this wasn't a shrinking violet when it came to flavor, lots of garlic-citrus tomes and perhaps teetering on the edge of being too salty. The onions did quite well, but the sandwich also seemed a bit greasy. Also, the pounded chicken breast was a bit on the dry side. The menu said that the sandwich was dressed with watercress, but I found none. I think the crunch and slight bitter-peppery flavor would have been a nice addition to the sandwich. I like the roll, which seems simple, but reminds me of a good solid French style roll which is great for "dipping".
I enjoyed my visits to Havana Grill, the folks are very friendly, and the place seems like a work in progress. It seems that homestyle recipes are being adapted for restaurant use and systems are still being put in place. The fact that Havana Grill is close to work means that I'll keep visiting on those days when I need a change of pace. I hope they keep up the nice service and get their recipes and systems in line. There also seems to be items on the menu; the empanadas come to mind that really won't do well being cooked ahead and placed under heat lamps. Hopefully all of that will shake out in time. Oh, and I hope they dial in the mojo......
Havana Grill 5450 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92117 Open Daily 11am - 9pm
Thanks for stopping by to read mmm-yoso!!! This is a blog about food. Today, Cathy is writing because Kirk and Ed (from Yuma) are busy with things.
Azucar opened in Ocean Beach in 2008. Its owner, Vivian Hernandez-Jackson, is Cuban, classically trained in Europe and seven years ago realized her dream to open a Patisserie with a twist in Ocean Beach. Located on the Northwest corner of Newport at Sunset Cliffs (just across the street from Village Kitchen), the small storefront seems unassuming.Step inside and be prepared to be overwhelmed. The descriptions and selection of what is available that day are fascinating (as well as delicious).
A cup of coffee along with a cheese roll (pastelito de queso) and coconut-almond florentine (each $2) one day was a relaxing and enjoyable respite of flavors and textures. The delicate pastry surrounding the cream cheese filling topped with coarse bits of sugar is delightful and the chewiness of the coconut and crunchiness of the almonds is so satisfying. Many people order specialty coffees here, but I find those too sweet and interfering with the already natural sweetness of the pastries.There are also five sandwiches on the menu. Above, the Cubano ($8). Slow roasted pork, thin slices of ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles. Pressed and toasted on freshly baked organic bread and served with a side salad. This is the way a sandwich should be. Those items in the refrigerated section are larger and each is around $6. Always wanting coconut flavors, our selection one day was the Artemisa: coconut cake, coconut syrup, pineapple, rum, custard and whipped cream. Topped with toasted coconut shavings. Yes. Dense, deep flavors and wonderful.
There are breakfast items here (quiche, Spanish omelet, croquette) as well as a good selection of coffee based beverages. A nice place to stop on your way to or from the beach.
Azucar 4820 Newport Avenue Ocean Beach 92107 (619)523-2020 Open Mon-Sat 7-6 Sun 8-5 Website
You remember Pho Tu Do? I'm not why the folks there decided on changing over to a rather generic sushi joint. But they had a decent run of 8 years or so. I'm not sure if the rather unsavory named Twisted Sushi opening across the street had anything to do with things, but now the place is becoming Yakitori Ramen Kanpai Izakaya. I'm also not sure if this place is associated with Kanpai in Chula Vista, but I'm sure Eater or someone will have the scoops.
What struck me as interesting was the sign to check out Fish Attack? There's a story here somewhere.....
5430 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92117
Havana Grill Coming Soon:
At least that's what the sign leads you to believe.
Seems like a bit more work yet to be done.
This was the location of the ill fated Casa Medina. Which I think has relocated inside the Indian Market.
I was shopping at Baron's in Point Loma a few weeks ago and noticed this shop across the street.
I thought the name to be kind of strange until I looked over the menu.
From looking over the menu and the interior, it became quite clear that this was a "fast-casual" concept with a strong Cuban-Puerto Rican - Latin American slant....thus the reference to El Bloquero, which I did find somewhat strange in a way.
The prices are pretty much in line with Chipotle and other similar places; but of course the menu seemed a hundred times more interesting.
Service was kind of lax, but the woman who took my order and brought my food out to me was very nice and friendly. I went with the Cubano ($5.95), which wasn't actually a Cubano, but really a Medianoche, literally "midnight sandwich", obviously a reference to post bar/nightclub calorie bomb, late night eats.
The big difference between Cubano's that I've had and this sandwich is the use of pulled pork, in this case quite dry, served ice cold, and bland. I did love the bread, which was crisp, light, somewhat yeasty and nicely pressed. The ham and Swiss cheese really tasted good....like well, ham and cheese! The sandwich wasn't very large, though I did save half for the Missus who enjoyed it much more than I did. What I realy found amusing was that lump of pork piled on the side like a...well, not to mock it, but it really looked like a turd garnish.
The reason I was so full was due to the side dish I ordered; the Yuca Frita ($2.75).
As you know, I just can't resist this stuff. This one however, I will resist in the future. I love the crisp, yet light as air texture of well fried yucca....this one was kind of dense and not very crisp. I think it was fried at too low a temperature. The mojo criollo lacked balance, more oil than anything, lacking the citrus acid component making this seem greasy. There was enough garlic, but this seemed very appropriate for a "medianoche meal"......totally a grease bomb.
I thought my previous meal was worth another visit, so a couple of days later I returned. Same really friendly woman at the counter. I looked over the menu a bit more and noticed the variations of salads and create your own bowls. Still, I really enjoyed the bread the last time, so I decided on one of the most expensive items on the menu; the Churrasco Steak Sandwich, on a pan medianoche ($8.95).
This was a pretty decent sandwich. The steak, which appears to be flank had obviously been prepared ahead and was on the tough side. The flavoring was decent; I personally enjoy stronger flavors, but the combination of the chimichurri and the creamy aioli was satisfying if created "not to offend". I really like the rolls here for some reason. The portion of protein was not large, but this was fine by me.
While the portion sizes aren't for big eaters, I thought this was right for me. The service, though a bit slow, was very nice and friendly. It's not a place I'd go out of my way for; but if I worked or lived in the area I'd drop by every now and then. I'll probably visit again in the future if I'm nearby....give it a shot, it's a nice change of pace from Chipotle, Baja Fresh, etc, etc, etc.....
Embargo Grill 3960 W Point Loma Blvd San Diego, CA 92110 Hours: Mon-Thurs11am - 9pm Fri-Sat 11am - 10pm Sunday 11am - 9pm
After dropping the Missus off in the morning, I took a 4 hour "stroll" around the strip. Things looked pretty much the same on the strip since my last visit. I had to laugh when I passed the Bellagio.......
The last time I was here with the Missus, She was attending a class as well. The venue for the class was Imperial Palace (ick), and while I had Steak Frites at Mon Ami Gabi for lunch, overlooking the Lake at the Bellagio, the Missus was served Baloney Sandwiches (true story) for lunch! I'm not quite sure if She was exaggerating, but the Missus told me the baloney had a green tinge to it..... Luckily, this time the venue was a bit better.
By the time I hit the Wynn, I was starting to get hungry, so I headed back to my car. I had one lunch in Vegas, and there were many choices. But I knew what was ruled out....
No cheap drinks.....
And no buffet.....
And in keeping with our eating "theme", nothing on the strip.....
I had more than a few choices to consider. Perhaps some Filipino Food? Salo Salo Grill had been recommended, and good ol' Elena's Restaurant had set up shop in Vegas as well. There was Yun Nan Garden for Yunnan and Sichuan. But I thought some Cuban food sounded good. Way back in the days "BB" (before blogging) 'Jorge' had recommended two Cuban Restaurants in Las Vegas. One of them was Havana Grill , but that was a bit more of a drive than I wanted. Which is how I found myself driving North on Las Vegas Boulevard, past the Little White Chapel, "Where Joan Collins and Michael Jordan were married!" (Not to each other I hope) And farther out, past the shadows of the Stratosphere. An drove into a parking lot with some pretty colorful art work:
I parked, and walked past the Reggae Lifestyle store....
And the "Adult Superstore"......
And to my destination......
Rincon Criollo Cuban Restaurant:
When I arrived, the place was starting to get busy, an older woman stood, and pointed me to a table in the corner. Most of the customers there had the rapport and body language that told me they were regulars. Most of the conversations were in Spanish......
The menu here is located under the plate glass covering each table.
Jorge had recommended a couple of dishes to me......the two version of Puerco Fritas came highly recommended, but that would have wiped me out for the rest of the day. We still had dinner plans for Lotus of Siam, so I decided on something other than pork.
As I was reading over the menu, some bread, toasted in the "Plancha" (Cuban Sandwich Press) arrived.
I had decided on the Boliche Mechado ($9.99). Boliche is a Beef Roast (usually rump roast), stuffed with Chorizo sausages, simmered in a tomato based sauce. And when it arrived at the table, it looked just like photos I'd seen of the dish:
It's very hard to see in the photo above, but there are two chorizo sausages stuffed into the slices of beef roast. The beef was nice and moist, firm, but not tough. The sauce was quite nice, tangy, with a mild garlic flavor. My only complaint would be that it was served lukewarm. I'd have preferred it a bit hotter. It came with some plain, and very mild tasting black beans and rice. The chorizo added a bit more "zing" to the dish, but not much.
Of course it seemed like every other customer had ordered the Masas de Puerco Fritas (deep fried chunks of pork) or Chuletas de Puerco Fritas (pork chops), both of which looked wonderful. Talk about food envy. Still, this was a pretty good lunch.
Rincon Criollo 1145 South Las Vegas Blvd Las Vegas, NV 89104
Later that evening, the Missus wanted something "sweet" to freshen Her palate after dinner at Lotus of Siam. One of the really nice Servers recommended Luv It Frozen Custard, which is also located North of the strip, right off Las Vegas Boulevard. We arrived to a pretty crowded parking lot.
There are lots of locals that will give you advice here.....the gentleman in the photo told us he's been coming here for over 35 years...since 1973! When I first saw the sign saying "frozen custard", I warned the Missus. She is not a fan of "eggy" desserts. She ended up purchasing a combination Pina Colada/Raspberry cup.
This frozen custard was less "eggy" and lighter than the versions I tasted in Madison. The raspberry tended toward the sweeter side, and had almost an artificial flavor. The pina colada flavor was less sweet. We thought this was okay, but nothing we'd rush back for. In fact, for the rest of the evening, everytime I mentioned the place, the Missus would repeat, "it was ok.....but I didn't LUV IIIIIT!"
Luv-It Frozen Custard 505 E Oakey Blvd Las Vegas, NV 89104 (702) 384-6452
I'd recently heard about a new Cuban Restaurant that recently opened in La Mesa, from reader and frequent commenter Reynila and My good friend and frequent contributor to Chowhound, Gayla. During a quick call to Habana I found out that during Happy Hour(between 4-6 pm) all appetizers are half price, and specialty drinks are $2 off! A good deal. Needless to say, we had a bunch of appetizers. All appetizer prices in the post, are the "menu" prices. To calculate Happy Hour prices, divide by '2'.
We arrived at approximately 430pm, and found Habana empty. The large dining area goes for a tropical feel.
After looking over the "Tropical" drink menu......
The Missus tried a Habanatini($7 - $5 Happy Hour). Kind of on the weak side, but ok overall.
We looked over the menu and started ordering. We decided on 5 appetizers, and ordered one entree to share.
The first appetizer to arrive were the Chicken Croquetas($3.95):
The croquettes were moist and fairly light, though I really could not taste any chicken. As a whole fairly unremarkable.
Beef Empanada ($3.95).
The empananda was quite large, and the exterior was nicely fried and crisp. The filling was pretty dry and the flavor was on the mild side.
The Maduros (Fried Plantains - $4.25), fried well, with a nice sweetness that wasn't cloying. Overall, quite nicely done.
Yuca Frita (Fried yuca), served with a "mojo" ($4.50). The Yuca was crisp on the outside, and moist on the inside. There was a mild sweet flavor to go with the slightly dense stachy interior. The "mojo" was a flavorful concoction. The menu said the yuca was served with a garlic sauce, but we were sure that there was some meat in the sauce. Our suspicions were confirmed when we asked what was in the sauce, and the word "pork" was mentioned. No wonder it was so tasty!
The Yuca con Mojo - the best dish of the night ($3.95). The boiled Yuca was served with a lemon-olive oil-garlic sauce that bordered on addictive. The sauteed onions added an almost sweet flavor to the dish.
We also ordered one entree to share. The classic Cuban Dish, Ropa Vieja($11.50), we ordered Arroz Morro and Papa Dulce Roja(Yams) as our "sides".
The dish was a disappointment. The Arroz Morro, supposedly black beans and rice simmered in wine was flavorless. The black beans were also very hard. The yams were nothing special either. The Ropa Vieja was dry and tough, and very mild in flavor. Of the four version of Ropa Vieja I've had so far, this is ranked at a solid "number 4".
Would I recommend Habana? I'd say if you want to go for Happy Hour, I would say that the food is a fairly good value. How can you argue with $2 appetizers? We probably be back to Habana for the Yuca con Mojo, and maybe try another Entree. Out total bill for the evening, for 5 appetizers, two specialty drinks, and one entree was $37. Habana also offers a Sunday Brunch:
Tropical Star, another "strip mall treasure" is located right next to Noble Chef. This combination Market and Restaurant serves up a large variety of Latin American Cuisine. Over the years, I would usually just get a "Cuban" or "Bauru" (In this case Hot Ham and Cheese) sandwich($5.95). But recently we dropped by a few times and kind of "spread our wings" a bit.
This little market cafe serves up a large variety of food.
The Ropa Vieja(Cuban Braised Shredded Beef - $9.50):
The dish comes with Black Beans, sweet Fried Plantains, and Rice. The Ropa Vieja(shredded braised beef) was a bit on the "dryer" side then what I'm used to, though the flavors were very good. The plantains were nicely fried, both starchy and sweet, though not a cloyingly sweet as other versions I've had.
The Pastel Y Arroz Con Gandules($7.50):
These Puerto Rican style grated banana "tamale", is stuffed with pork, wrapped in a banana leaf and boiled. It is served with rice with "Gandules"(Pigeon Peas) and a green salad. The rice was nothing to write home about. The Missus loved the flavor of the pastel and was very happy to find out that you can order them at $3 a piece, or a dozen for $30.
The Bandeja Paisa($12.95), a carb and protein loaded plate in the style of the region of Paisa.
The plate consists of red beans(good - I sensed a slight "porky" flavor) come with a cornmeal cake(reminded me of a pupusa for some reason), sliced beef(terrible; tough, dry, bland), chicharron(thick cut, almost like pork belly - yum!), and sweet fried plantains.
And we mustn't forget the fried egg on rice.
I ordered the "Picada" Colombiana (Columbian Combination - $13.99):
Okay, are you ready? Chorizo, Morcilla(blood sausage), Chicharron, Patacones(Twice fried green plantain patties - fairly bland), Fried Yucca(crisp on the outside, starchy on the inside - carb-o-licious), Cornmeal Griddle Cake, and Papas Criollas(roasted yellow potatoes - more heavenly carbs). Whew!
The morcilla was the more flavorful and moist of the two sausages. The Chorizo was rather dry, and not much better, or worse then any I've had.
And of course, the missus's favorite. Tamal Colombiano($7.50):
A pork and chicken Colombian style tamale. Very moist, and full of flavor. You can watch the Missus dissect it for eating:
Interestingly enough, on the bottom of the tamale is a layer of those yellow potatoes, giving the tamale a nice starchy flavor and texture.
The Missus also discovered what looked and tasted like capers.
As you can tell, she really enjoyed this!
Notes on Tropical Star: This is a Mom and Pop operation, so there can be a wait for your food. The prices do seem to be a bit on the high side for a little market and take-out operation, but the food is pretty good. As with most restaurants that attempt a far ranging and diverse menu, not everything will be great. Overall, Tropical Star is worth a try.
Tropical Star 6163 Balboa Ave San Diego, CA 92111
Open Monday - Saturday 11am - 9pm, Closed on Sundays.
After passing Andre's Patio Restaurant on Morena Boulevard hundreds of times we finally decided to drop by during the past weekend to grab some Cuban Food for lunch:
The restaurant was fairly empty except for a family of 8 having a large lunch and another couple at a nearby table. After looking at the reasonably priced menu we ordered a few "standard" Cuban dishes to get our bearings.
We started with 1 Cheese ($1.50) and 1 Beef ($1.75) Empanada:
This was a rather inauspicious start, as the Empanadas were pretty soggy. The Cheese Empanada was especially bland. We soaked the empanadas in Habanero Hot Sauce in order to make them palatable, and didn't even finish the cheese empanada. I was starting to write this place off when the Yuca con Mojo arrived, and not a moment too soon:
This wonderfully flavored dish is delicious simplicity at it's best. Simmered Yuca is served with a slightly citrusy Garlic-Herb Olive Oil, very similar to Mojo Criollo(Spanish Garlic Sauce). If you've never had yuca, it will fool you the first time you eat it. As you initially bite into the yuca, the texture is like potato; but as you bite further you realize how really dense and starchy this tuber is. Dipped into the garlic oil, it is simply delici-yoso dense and starchy goodness.
The Missus ordered the standard Cuban beef dish Ropa Vieja ($8.95):
Literally translated as "old clothes" Ropa Vieja is beef that is stewed with onions and other herbs in a tomato based, wine "sauce", then shredded. The result here is a very tender, flavorful, and rich dish. Served with nice fragrant rice and velvety black beans, that were a bit too loose, almost like a bean soup, though the flavor was nice and mild. Altogether this is what I would consider to be a very pleasant home style meal. The portion size was excellent, and I enjoyed the "peas" as well.
I ordered the usual Cuban Sandwich ($6.95):
A classic " sandwich mixto" is a pressed roast pork, ham, swiss cheese, and dill pickle sandwich, served on "Cuban Bread", and "pressed". This process creates a very crisp crust, with a somewhat gooey interior. Though this sandwich did not really meet all the criteria, it was still good. The outer portion was crusty, and the combination of flavors were excellent. The funny thing with this sandwich is that if you remove the components and tasted each individually, you really wouldn't think much of it. It's the sum of all the ingredients that makes this sandwich, and creates a nice texture and taste. I don't think the "classic" Cuban Sandwich includes mustard, but it sure worked here.
Andre's food and atmosphere does create the relaxing impression that you are just enjoying a nice homemade meal. The service, though not very friendly, and a bit on the slow side, was adequate, and I think we will be back soon. It seems that Andre's is doing pretty good business, they are expanding into the space next door, creating a larger space that looks much more refined, though I think I enjoy the casual "patio" space.
Andre's Cuban Restaurant 1235 Morena Blvd San Diego, CA 92110