January 27, 2013
Snowflakes in Cuba?
But between the clothing racks and expensive labels, there’s actually a lot of really tasty (and surprisingly hearty) food in Soho. Café Habana, a little Mexican-Cuban diner on the corner of Prince and Elizabeth, is the perfect example of this.
A. and I walked in on a Sunday night for what we thought would be a quiet, lazy dinner. But far from peaceful, we were surprised to find the small restaurant filled with people, sitting bunched together and in awkward spaces. The whole scene looked too cramped to be comfortable but the diners were clearly enjoying their meals and the merry atmosphere. Seeing this, we couldn't help but be pulled in - smiling faces and candid laughs can often be the best testament to a restaurant's food quality.
A packed house.As for what to order, A. went for Mexican and I wanted Cuban.
Pork!!!Going with the classic Cuban protein of choice, I ordered a plate of roast pork, yellow rice and a substitution of garlicky spinach (it originally comes with beans). The pork was slow-cooked and very juicy, falling apart as I dug in. The meat had a wonderful balance, showcasing not only the rich, savory qualities of Latin-Caribbean cooking but also bold, citrusy influences from Mexico.
The rice and spinach weren't just mundane sides either. I usually don't like Latin-style rice because it can often be a mushy, clumped or oily filler on meat-centric plates. However, Café Habana's rice was fluffy and light. Each bite had a comforting sweetness and the buttery grains held up well when I used it to sop up residual sauce from the rest of the dish. The spinach was well-cooked, too. Not overly wilted, the greens packed a noticeable punch of fresh garlic taste and had a velvety smooth texture. My only critique is that it could have been more generously salted.
Secret enchiladas...Meanwhile on the other side of the table, A. was busy wolfing down his Enchiladas con Mole. A. has always been a big fan of this traditional Mexican sauce and was quite impressed with Café Habana's rendition. Full-bodied and filled with aromatic spices, the smoky Mole draped the entire plate in a blanket of lush earthiness. A. had to stop himself from licking the plate clean.
By the end of our meal, I was so full that I couldn't even think about dessert. I know it wouldn't be true Latin hospitality if our plates weren't brimming with ample portions but I would have liked having the flexibility to try a couple other items without feeling wasteful or bringing home leftovers. Next time, I think I'll rely on the tacos and appetizers for more variety (Cotija grilled corn - I've got my eye on you!).
Overall, Café Habana is a warm and lighthearted place to have a filling meal. The service is friendly, the music is boisterous and most importantly, the food is delicious.
Keep an eye out - it's quite easy to miss!Cafe Habana
17 Prince Street
New York, NY 10012