First Look

Havana Cafe in Casa Linda Plaza is Now Open

A new Cuban restaurant, Havana Café, has opened at 1152 Buckner Blvd. in the Casa Linda Plaza. This small, family run spot affords only enough space for about 10 tables, which is quite unfortunate considering the crowd they're already drawing. Amidst the downpour Saturday night, it was standing room only in a space that doesn't have a lot of standing room.

The menu is straight Cuban and doesn't seem to take any unnecessary liberties in dabbling in cuisines from other Caribbean cultures. They offer seven different sandwiches, including the basic Cuban with ham, along with chicken and pork variations. There is also "pan con croquetas," which are fried ham coquettes served on bread with Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard.

On Monday I spoke with owner Ernesto Velez, who also owns the Havana Social Club bar and cigar club in Victory Plaza, about his new spot. I wanted to know where he got his bread, and he told me it's shipped in from a bakery in Miami every two days, as is his criollo ham, but he didn't want to divulge specifics.

I mentioned to him that Dallas needs a Cuban restaurant. He agreed, but also said he never expected to be so busy, "We're slammed. We've already had to buy new equipment, bigger everything. We never expected this. It's great, but we hope people can understand that we weren't prepared to be this busy."

So much for soft openings, huh? Some people can't afford that luxury -- they just open.

I told Velez he's needs more space already, and he said he's already looked into the spot next door, but there's a city code issue with parking and he can't. Bummer.

Back to the food: Main dishes include bistec encebollado (top sirloin steak sautéed with onions); ropa vieja (shredded brisket stewed in sofrito sauce); picadillo a la criolla (minced ground beef in sofrito sauce); pollo estilo Havana café (slow-cooked chicken with potatoes and onions); and pollo frito a la criollo (chicken fried "to perfection" with mojo sauce). They also have one seafood dish, camarones al ajo (shrimp in a garlic sauce) and two pork dishes, one with sautéed with onions and the other with mojo sauce. The most expensive entree of the menu is $10.

Havana Café also offers traditional Cuban coffee -- an espresso shot with brown sugar. Plus, they have café carajillo, which is espresso served with dark rum.

For desserts they have "esquina coppelia," a Cuban style ice cream, in addition to flan and pastelitos.

Like Velez mentioned, they're not a well-oiled machine yet, but they're getting there. Havana Café is open everyday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., except for Sundays, when they close at 7 p.m.