You searched for:

Start over

Search for…

Narrow Search

14 results

Don't expect to hear the latest pop tune being pumped over the speakers at Adita's Cuban Bakery on University Boulevard. The music that fills the tiny space is pure, classic salsa, and the food is pure, classic Cuban.

Forget those pressed sandwiches with pork so finely shredded it resembles pate;. Adita's medianoche sandwich ($5.99) is overflowing with full-fledged hunks of marinated pork, pressed just enough that the cheese overflows the sides of the sweet bread. Don't be tempted by the croquetas ($2 for two), though. The finger-sized fried pork bits and cornmeal are gummy and end up fixed stubbornly to the roof of your mouth. If you must have a side, the papas rellenas ($1.50) are a go-to treat.

Along with that medianoche to die for and the transcendental empanadas – full of spicy chicken and peppers in a fluffy crust – lunch specials ($4.99), served in gargantuan portions, change daily. For a true taste of the Caribbean, try a Coco Loto ($1), subtly sweet green-coconut juice with coconut shreds suspended in the viscous liquid. It goes down a little awkwardly the first time, so if adventure isn’t on the menu, try a Coco Rico soda ($1) instead.

The pastries are exuberant concoctions screaming with flavor. Strawberry cake ($2) is moist and with a thin layer of tangy lemon icing, it’s perfect for summer. Each flaky morsel of the pastelitos ($1) is packed with cheese, guava or strawberry, and they pair perfectly with a café con leche straight from the old-school espresso machines that face the counter.

The bakery is tucked away in an unassuming back corner of the shopping plaza, so finding it may be as much of a chore as battling the engineers from Siemens that flood the place around noontime. But it will be worth it.

While some other Cuban kitchens tag onto the pan-Latin craze and expand their menus to include influences from Central and South America, the humble Black Bean Deli in Winter Park remains doggedly devoted to homespun Cuban food. After 18 years, it's still a prime choice for sturdy, soul-warming lunches and dinners.

As soon as you step inside, you barely have to close the door before you're at the front counter, facing a menu board and kitchen team. If you don't know what you want, ask for help, and they'll steer you in the right direction, with a hot meal usually ready within minutes, generally in the $4 to $5 ballpark.

As soon as you step inside, you barely have to close the door before you're at the front counter, facing a menu board and kitchen team. If you don't know what you want, ask for help, and they'll steer you in the right direction, with a hot meal usually ready within minutes, generally in the $4 to $5 ballpark.

For dining in, there's but a cluster of bar stools lined up at the window overlooking traffic on U.S. Highway 17-92. But the Black Bean Deli is better known as a dependable takeout joint. Although it's a sweet, cozy setup, don't expect any overly friendly schmoozing from behind the counter – they're just too busy. We stopped by at 7 p.m. one recent evening, about an hour before they closed. "There are no more Cuban sandwiches today, and we're all out of empanadas," we were told by a poker-faced guy wearing an apron and a tired expression. Mindful of a new wave of customers who had come in behind us, we quickly chose from the other dinner options – and there were plenty.

For dining in, there's but a cluster of bar stools lined up at the window overlooking traffic on U.S. Highway 17-92. But the Black Bean Deli is better known as a dependable takeout joint. Although it's a sweet, cozy setup, don't expect any overly friendly schmoozing from behind the counter – they're just too busy. We stopped by at 7 p.m. one recent evening, about an hour before they closed. "There are no more Cuban sandwiches today, and we're all out of empanadas," we were told by a poker-faced guy wearing an apron and a tired expression. Mindful of a new wave of customers who had come in behind us, we quickly chose from the other dinner options – and there were plenty.

Side orders are an excellent place to start. Papas rellenas (two for $2.50) are mashed-potato fritters, rolled up almost as big as baseballs and fried into a kind of finger food. Inside are pockets of spicy ground beef, but I would have liked them better if there were more meat. Cuban tamales ($1.85) are classic renditions. The cornmeal is silky, sweet and highly filling, topped with a dab of pimento and a spoonful of peas. It gets better with a splash of hot sauce from the bar.

Side orders are an excellent place to start. Papas rellenas (two for $2.50) are mashed-potato fritters, rolled up almost as big as baseballs and fried into a kind of finger food. Inside are pockets of spicy ground beef, but I would have liked them better if there were more meat. Cuban tamales ($1.85) are classic renditions. The cornmeal is silky, sweet and highly filling, topped with a dab of pimento and a spoonful of peas. It gets better with a splash of hot sauce from the bar.

Sandwiches are long and flat, wrapped in wax paper and generally served warm. In lieu of the in-demand Cuban sandwich (sweet ham, roast pork and Swiss cheese pressed into a slice of Cuban bread), we chose the "media noche" (midnight) ($3.95), which is basically the same sandwich, only it's presented on a soft, yellow, toasted sweet roll.

Sandwiches are long and flat, wrapped in wax paper and generally served warm. In lieu of the in-demand Cuban sandwich (sweet ham, roast pork and Swiss cheese pressed into a slice of Cuban bread), we chose the "media noche" (midnight) ($3.95), which is basically the same sandwich, only it's presented on a soft, yellow, toasted sweet roll.

Among the dinner specials, we found a spicy pan con lechon shredded-pork entree, drizzled with "mojo" garlic sauce. At $7.25, it was a couple of dollars more expensive than some of the other platters, but it did come with ample trimmings of sweet fried plantains, salad and, best of all, the diner's signature black beans and rice, which was thick, savory and buttery tender.

Among the dinner specials, we found a spicy pan con lechon shredded-pork entree, drizzled with "mojo" garlic sauce. At $7.25, it was a couple of dollars more expensive than some of the other platters, but it did come with ample trimmings of sweet fried plantains, salad and, best of all, the diner's signature black beans and rice, which was thick, savory and buttery tender.

Flan de queso ($1.75) ended our dinner on a rich note. Black Bean's sinful version of the classic egg custard is sweetened up with melted cheese and caramel sauce.

Flan de queso ($1.75) ended our dinner on a rich note. Black Bean's sinful version of the classic egg custard is sweetened up with melted cheese and caramel sauce.

Years ago the Black Bean Deli might have been open one Saturday and closed the next, or open one weeknight until 7 p.m. and closed the next night by 5 p.m. These days the deli is consistently open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

When I walked into the giant pineapple housing Bongos Cuban Café, I wasn't sure what to expect. As we are all aware, the 470-seat restaurant at Downtown Disney is the brainchild of singer Gloria Estefan (there's another one in Miami), and the combination of the Mouse and the Diva made me wary.

I went early to avoid the inevitable theme park rush, and was seated at the only table actually under the winding concrete staircase that leads up to the second-floor lounge and live music area in the light, pineapple-themed – and at this point, nearly empty – room. I changed tables immediately, and waited for the expected disappointing meal. I waited in vain.

I went early to avoid the inevitable theme park rush, and was seated at the only table actually under the winding concrete staircase that leads up to the second-floor lounge and live music area in the light, pineapple-themed – and at this point, nearly empty – room. I changed tables immediately, and waited for the expected disappointing meal. I waited in vain.

To put it succinctly, dinner at Bongos is superb. Chef Quintin Larios is, if anything, conservative when it comes to his takes on Cuban cuisine. For instance, the appetizer Tostones Rellenos con Camarones ($9.50), tiny shrimp or beef in a thick and tomatoey creole sauce, presented in deep-fried cups made from green plantain. The plantain, more like potato than banana, gives a pleasant earthy taste to the mild dish. Ask for extra creole on the plate and Bongos own hot sauce to add some needed kick. For more authentic starters, order the Tamal en Hoja ($6.75), polenta with seasoned pork and wrapped in a corn husk, or ham croquettes (Croquetas de Jamon; $5.25)

To put it succinctly, dinner at Bongos is superb. Chef Quintin Larios is, if anything, conservative when it comes to his takes on Cuban cuisine. For instance, the appetizer Tostones Rellenos con Camarones ($9.50), tiny shrimp or beef in a thick and tomatoey creole sauce, presented in deep-fried cups made from green plantain. The plantain, more like potato than banana, gives a pleasant earthy taste to the mild dish. Ask for extra creole on the plate and Bongos own hot sauce to add some needed kick. For more authentic starters, order the Tamal en Hoja ($6.75), polenta with seasoned pork and wrapped in a corn husk, or ham croquettes (Croquetas de Jamon; $5.25)

Main courses affirm the talent in the kitchen. Mariscos Salteados ($26.95) is a simple combination of seafood in a garlic, butter and wine sauce. It had me eating with eyes closed to savor the perfectly prepared baby scallops, green mussels, mild white fish, tender calamari, grilled shrimp and a toothsome lobster tail that easily lifted out of its half-shell and was eagerly devoured. Pollo Asado ($14.95) was a tender marinated half-chicken, served with a slightly different version of the creole sauce from the appetizer – here it was more piquant and nicely set off the very juicy grilled chicken, virtually falling off the bone. Entrees come with green or sweet plantains, and the choice of rice and black beans is a good one, tasty without inauthentic seasonings and not the least bit dry, as Frijoles Negros can be at times.

Main courses affirm the talent in the kitchen. Mariscos Salteados ($26.95) is a simple combination of seafood in a garlic, butter and wine sauce. It had me eating with eyes closed to savor the perfectly prepared baby scallops, green mussels, mild white fish, tender calamari, grilled shrimp and a toothsome lobster tail that easily lifted out of its half-shell and was eagerly devoured. Pollo Asado ($14.95) was a tender marinated half-chicken, served with a slightly different version of the creole sauce from the appetizer – here it was more piquant and nicely set off the very juicy grilled chicken, virtually falling off the bone. Entrees come with green or sweet plantains, and the choice of rice and black beans is a good one, tasty without inauthentic seasonings and not the least bit dry, as Frijoles Negros can be at times.

There's live music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from 7 to 10:30, featuring Latin bands that will make it hard to sit still. Even Desi Arnaz Jr. has played there.

There's live music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from 7 to 10:30, featuring Latin bands that will make it hard to sit still. Even Desi Arnaz Jr. has played there.

My waiter was an attentive and helpful chap who knew the menu, checked on me at all the proper intervals, and made good suggestions, like dessert of a cortadito – a small Cuban version of espresso – and Flan de Leche. Pumpkin-pie colored and covered in sweet caramel sauce, the creamy texture of this simple custard is a delight to the mouth and one of life's simple pleasures.

My waiter was an attentive and helpful chap who knew the menu, checked on me at all the proper intervals, and made good suggestions, like dessert of a cortadito – a small Cuban version of espresso – and Flan de Leche. Pumpkin-pie colored and covered in sweet caramel sauce, the creamy texture of this simple custard is a delight to the mouth and one of life's simple pleasures.

Oh, and one more thing: Babaloo!

Mildred Perez heard the lament often: There just weren't enough Puerto Rican restaurants in Orlando. Finally the island's descendant decided to take her friends' advice and do something about it. Not long ago Perez debuted Brisas del Caribe on Curry Ford Road, where she has enjoyed a steady flow of traffic ever since.

Her homespun menu shares similarities with Cuban fare in the roast pork, chicken and fried-plantain staples. The difference between the two becomes clear in the flavorings, such as the extra garlic and cilantro that are rubbed into meats.

Her homespun menu shares similarities with Cuban fare in the roast pork, chicken and fried-plantain staples. The difference between the two becomes clear in the flavorings, such as the extra garlic and cilantro that are rubbed into meats.

And as for soups, rather than a traditional black bean, Perez favors richer stews fortified with plump, silky red-kidney beans.

And as for soups, rather than a traditional black bean, Perez favors richer stews fortified with plump, silky red-kidney beans.

"Puerto Rican is more European in its influence. We don't use so many hot spices, but we do use a lot of seasonings: garlic, olive oil, oregano and vinegar," explains Perez. "The island is so small that we also use a lot of seafood – it's one of our specialties."

"Puerto Rican is more European in its influence. We don't use so many hot spices, but we do use a lot of seasonings: garlic, olive oil, oregano and vinegar," explains Perez. "The island is so small that we also use a lot of seafood – it's one of our specialties."

Because Puerto Rican dinners are usually served in heaping portions, it's not necessary to start with appetizers at Brisas del Caribe. Many of them are included with entrees anyway. But we liked "yucca al mojo," a boiled, starchy vegetable that's fibrous like squash. All of the yucca's sweetness was brought out by a sticky garlic glaze, and it gained an entirely new character when dipped in a snappy red "mojo" sauce. It was a steal at $1.75.

Because Puerto Rican dinners are usually served in heaping portions, it's not necessary to start with appetizers at Brisas del Caribe. Many of them are included with entrees anyway. But we liked "yucca al mojo," a boiled, starchy vegetable that's fibrous like squash. All of the yucca's sweetness was brought out by a sticky garlic glaze, and it gained an entirely new character when dipped in a snappy red "mojo" sauce. It was a steal at $1.75.

Among entrees, my guest loved the bold freshness of pechuga al ajillo ($9.99), a boneless chicken breast that was sizzled on a grill, then smothered in a deeply flavored garlic sauce. The dish was served with red beans and rice, and fried green plantains that were golden on the edges, yet still moist and flavorful within.

Among entrees, my guest loved the bold freshness of pechuga al ajillo ($9.99), a boneless chicken breast that was sizzled on a grill, then smothered in a deeply flavored garlic sauce. The dish was served with red beans and rice, and fried green plantains that were golden on the edges, yet still moist and flavorful within.

Another fine choice was tripleta de mariscos ($15.99), a trio of conch, octopus and shrimp sautéed with a clean-tasting, vinegary sauce. The seafood creation had a delicate lightness that nicely contrasted against the heaviness of the fried plantains that were served on the side.

Another fine choice was tripleta de mariscos ($15.99), a trio of conch, octopus and shrimp sautéed with a clean-tasting, vinegary sauce. The seafood creation had a delicate lightness that nicely contrasted against the heaviness of the fried plantains that were served on the side.

As for dessert, we loved the luscious tres leches (three milk) cake ($1.75), a plain, blondish concoction served in a cup and masked by meringue. We prodded into it with a spoon, and three kinds of sweet milk spread luxuriantly over the cake, soaking into every crevice.

As for dessert, we loved the luscious tres leches (three milk) cake ($1.75), a plain, blondish concoction served in a cup and masked by meringue. We prodded into it with a spoon, and three kinds of sweet milk spread luxuriantly over the cake, soaking into every crevice.

Though Brisas del Caribe is too rambling and brightly lit to afford a sense of intimacy, after hours Thursday through Sunday the restaurant morphs nicely into a salsa/merengue club.

Though Brisas del Caribe is too rambling and brightly lit to afford a sense of intimacy, after hours Thursday through Sunday the restaurant morphs nicely into a salsa/merengue club.

Waiters take great pains to welcome newcomers, and the Perez's food is as warm and inviting as a home-cooked meal. Although dishes such as roast chicken and pork are not likely to win awards for innovation, count on leaving happy and stuffed.

Twenty-five years in the restaurant biz does an institution make, especially in this city, where longevity is usually the domain of chains and eateries catering to diners who are long in the tooth and short on taste. OK, maybe that's a little harsh, but it doesn't take away from the fact that Café Madrid, a humble family-run restaurant, has quietly evolved into a downtown dining institution. What Johnson's Diner has done for Orlando's African-Americans, Café Madrid has done for the city's Hispanics ' it's a community gathering ground where citizens come together to enjoy food and engage in a little social, political and cultural discourse under the whir of ceiling fans.

In fact, many a campaign trail has stopped through Manny Genao's Conway Plaza café, a tropically dated, down-home joint that started off as a Spanish restaurant, but has since morphed into a pan-Latin eatery. A handful of Iberian specialties were retained, including a seafood- and meat-laden paella Valenciana ($50.95) for two, an ideal dish over which to chew some political fat. The rest of the menu comprises a hodgepodge of Cuban and Puerto Rican dishes, not least of which was a bowl of sopa de frijoles rojas ($3.95), a filling mélange of white rice layered with a thick broth of red kidney beans and topped with chopped onions. Enjoying it with buttery slices of Cuban bread makes it a meal in itself. A cup of sopa de pollo ($3.50) proved too salty to enjoy, though carrots, potatoes, vermicelli and wee morsels of chicken gave it elements of comfort food.

A healthy selection of mains ensures something for everyone ' that is, unless you're a vegetarian, in which case you're better off going to the strip-mall Chinese restaurant a few doors down. Otherwise, sharpen your canines and sink 'em into the multitude of beef, chicken, pork and seafood dishes on hand, like the pescado Catalana ($10.95), a sizable slab of grouper lolling in a rich creole sauce with red and yellow peppers, onions and tangy green olives. The dish is served with a heap of fat maduros and a mound of yellow rice dotted with peas, both excellent, but it's the baked fish ' tender, fleshy, flavorful ' that makes it worth ordering. Not as gratifying was the unctuous, over-salted filete salteado ($10.95), slices of steak sautéed in Spanish wine along with peppers, mushrooms, garlic and olive oil. (And before you wonder what I expected of a dish described as 'salteado,â?� that's Spanish for sauteed, not salted.) On previous lunch visits, I thoroughly enjoyed their Cuban steak-and-onion sandwich, as well as the arroz con pollo ($6.95), a couple of well-executed staples sure to console homesick expats.

Milky, not-too-filling tres leches ($2.50) served in a sundae glass tapers off the meal quite nicely, as does the burnt-orange goodness of a beautifully caramelized flan ($1.95). At the prices for which they're offered, both are a steal. Pair one or both with a café con leche ($1.75) and you've got yourself a meal-capper of great value.

The service is deliberate but friendly, and waitresses are always keen to make recommendations. Then again, it's not so much the food or service that has kept Café Madrid in business for a quarter-century, but its patronage and the convivial atmosphere Genao has fostered inside his humble eatery. Here's to another 25.

In William Least Heat-Moon's travel journal, Blue Highways, he says the best indicator of good diner food is how many calendars there are on the walls. I stipulate that the indicator of a worthwhile Cuban cafe is how long the smell stays on your clothes. And after a visit to Cindy's Tropical Cafe, the aroma of pressed Cuban sandwiches and fried plantains hung on my shirt for a solid 10 hours. Anything longer than six hours deserves a hats-off in my book.

Cindy's "Daily Good Deals" are a welcome rendition of home-cooked comfort food. She offers a choice of thinly sliced pork, steak or chicken, white rice and black or pinto beans, fried sweet or green plantains, and a salad for a measly $5.99 -- and that's the high end of the menu.

There's a wide array of small and large subs (meatball, "Midnight," Cuban and vegetarian), that cost from $2.99 to $6.59, all of which can be pressed. And Cindy's is open for breakfast, too. The only thing missing is picadillo, but there is a great "relleno de papa" ($1.25) that satisfies the spiced-ground-beef craving.

Overall, Cindy's serves excellent no-frills food that's extremely light on the wallet. Stop in for deliciously aromatic Cuban dishes, and look elsewhere for your motor oil and TP.

When the pair of cordial thick-necked bruisers requested I remove my hat before entering this brassy two-story behemoth of a restaurant, I'll admit I was a little nonplussed. Would they rather I dine in their establishment with a severe case of hat-head? I mean, this is Pointe Orlando, not Park Avenue, and the restaurant, with all its kitschy details, seems like it could've been Epcot's lost Cuban pavilion. Not to mention the fact that in all my culinary travels in Cuba, not once was I ever asked to remove any headwear. So I found it somewhat ironic and a little pretentious that a restaurant named 'Cuba Libreâ?� would bar me from entering their establishment for not removing my hat. Free Cuba? Whatever.

I made sure my cabeza was free of any gorras on my second visit, and irony of ironies, they sat me outside. Yes, the ghost of Fulgencio Batista was undoubtedly chuckling from beyond the grave, yet after sampling an overly diluted mojito ($8.50) and cuba libre ($9.50), I got a few laughs in myself (unfortunately they were of the snickering variety). But after being seated by my blasé hostess, things got remarkably better thanks in large part to former James Beard award-winner Guillermo Pernot ' the chain's concept chef and a maestro of Nuevo Latino cuisine. I knew restitution was at hand after sampling the subtly crunchy papas rellenas ($9.50). The deceptively light potato croquettes came filled with luscious beef picadillo laced with a smoky guajillo pepper sauce, and each subsequent dish maintained the same level of quality. Heavenly cuts of pulled braised duck inside the cool, crisp and refreshing pato roll ($11) made double-dipping into peanut and ponzu sauces a delight. The spring roll was equally herbaceous and sweet, thanks to watercress, cilantro, candied papaya and mango.

An inordinate amount of time passed before our entrees arrived ' despite a phalanx of waiters and ear-pieced managers patrolling the 20,000 square-foot space, efficiency seemed to be compromised. No matter, I was giddy at the sight of the sea bass a la plancha ($25) when it finally arrived, and not one flaky bit of that chile/citrus/sesame-brushed fish failed to rouse. A nod to Havana's bustling Chinatown came in the form of a side of glistening 'Chino-Cubanoâ?� rice, colored with red peppers, okra, baby cauliflower, peas and carrots. Moros y Cristianos (literally 'Moors and Christiansâ?�), a blend of white rice and black beans, was the centerpiece in the plato cuba libre ($29.50), a platter of standard ropa vieja, succulent churrasco and an outstanding chicken infused with guajillo peppers. The trio of signature dishes in the platter changes nightly, but you're sure to get a representative sampling of traditional Cuban fare no matter what the night.

You'd expect desserts to have tropical leanings and, sure enough, all comprise a fruity component. Tres leches de banana ($8) was wonderfully milky ' being soaked in three banana-flavored milks will do that, though I didn't know three banana-flavored milks even existed. Roasted pineapple accompanies the warm soufflé torte ($8), a pleasing capper layered with dulce de leche and served with dulce de leche gelato.

Like the neighboring Capital Grille and Oceanaire Seafood Room, prices here aren't exactly recession-friendly. Passing the cost of running a grand establishment to the consumer isn't a novel tactic, but at least diners at Cuba Libre are treated to dishes of worth.

And for that, I offer a tip of my forbidden cap.

On a trip to Medina's Restaurant I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Arthur Hoppe, longtime columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle: "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story." The corollary to that is: "Never let the restaurant get in the way of a good dinner."

I enjoyed Medina's, and so do many others who frequent this local landmark. Medina's specializes in hearty Cuban and Puerto Rican home-cooking, and that alone brings 'em back for more -- from businessmen on cell phones to college couples in jeans and flip-flops.

I enjoyed Medina's, and so do many others who frequent this local landmark. Medina's specializes in hearty Cuban and Puerto Rican home-cooking, and that alone brings 'em back for more -- from businessmen on cell phones to college couples in jeans and flip-flops.

But Medina's counters its word-of-mouth popularity with spotty service. The pace was glacial on a recent evening, but nobody appeared to mind, maybe because it's such a humble setting. The dining area is festooned with homey touches, almost like it's set up for a birthday party. Murals of Latin beaches are framed by twinkling Christmas lights. Crêpe streamers are twirled across the ceiling. A board lists "especialidades de dia."

But Medina's counters its word-of-mouth popularity with spotty service. The pace was glacial on a recent evening, but nobody appeared to mind, maybe because it's such a humble setting. The dining area is festooned with homey touches, almost like it's set up for a birthday party. Murals of Latin beaches are framed by twinkling Christmas lights. Crêpe streamers are twirled across the ceiling. A board lists "especialidades de dia."

An array of side-orders make good appetizers, like the empanada (99 cents), a succulent meat turnover, the pastry neatly crimped and fried until crispy and dry. Tamal preparado ($2.39) was a variation on the traditional tamale, with soft, sweet corn dough topped with thin-sliced roast pork and melted white cheese. Even better was the croquetta ($2.39), a tubular roll of minced, seasoned ham, breaded and deep fried.

An array of side-orders make good appetizers, like the empanada (99 cents), a succulent meat turnover, the pastry neatly crimped and fried until crispy and dry. Tamal preparado ($2.39) was a variation on the traditional tamale, with soft, sweet corn dough topped with thin-sliced roast pork and melted white cheese. Even better was the croquetta ($2.39), a tubular roll of minced, seasoned ham, breaded and deep fried.

While waiting -- and waiting -- for our entrees, we dallied over bottles of Polar Beer ($2.39), a South American import that tastes a lot like Old Milwaukee. Finally the waitress returned with a delicious plate of bistec de palomilla, steak Cuban-style ($4.89), a simple cut of beef pounded thin, lightly seasoned and slightly charred. Arroz blanco was proof that white rice never need be bland. The grains were pearly and plump, glistening with a bit of oil. Black beans were stewed until tender in a thick, natural gravy. My friend's lechon adado, or roast pork ($5.89), was a lean cut of meat, yet juicy. He had more of the beans and rice, and sweet, firm platanos maduros, or ripened plantains (99 cents).

While waiting -- and waiting -- for our entrees, we dallied over bottles of Polar Beer ($2.39), a South American import that tastes a lot like Old Milwaukee. Finally the waitress returned with a delicious plate of bistec de palomilla, steak Cuban-style ($4.89), a simple cut of beef pounded thin, lightly seasoned and slightly charred. Arroz blanco was proof that white rice never need be bland. The grains were pearly and plump, glistening with a bit of oil. Black beans were stewed until tender in a thick, natural gravy. My friend's lechon adado, or roast pork ($5.89), was a lean cut of meat, yet juicy. He had more of the beans and rice, and sweet, firm platanos maduros, or ripened plantains (99 cents).

We were there about 45 minutes longer than necessary, but it was a pleasant stay. We might have been there even longer, except my friend ventured past the door that warned "Waitress Only" to ask for dessert and the check. But I did enjoy the flan con coco ($1.39), a rich custard with sweet coconut meat.

Among the glut of fast-food joints and chain restaurants of every conceivable category littering the thoroughfares of the attractions area, there’s a smattering of mom-and-pop eateries freeing jaded locals (and quite a few perspicacious tourists) from the bonds of culinary mediocrity. Case in point: Nacho’s Grill. The outlet mall–area venue is attracting a loyal patronage for its pan-Latin delicacies, the majority of which fall in the categories of Cuban and Mexican cuisine. It may not be in the most prominent locale (look for the end unit of a small strip mall next to the Outback Steakhouse), but that just brings it all the closer to hidden-gem status.

Application of the keep-it-simple principle is always a beneficial trait, and owner Gerardo Muñoz’s uncluttered menu allows his able all-Mexican kitchen staff to execute dishes with skill and alacrity. No sooner had I ordered the maduro relleno ($4.99) than a plate of sweet caramelized plantains atop Creole-sauced ground sirloin had me chowing down. Sopa de pollo ($5.99) had all the properties of a comforting soup – invigorating broth, morsels of flaky chicken breast, potatoes, pasta, cilantro and fresh onion – it almost seemed a shame I wasn’t feeling under the weather. Also good was the empanada ($1.99); the seasoned beef turnover with a thick crust resembled a Jamaican beef patty more than it did its South American cousin. Be sure to ask for the house hot sauce made with fiery “Japanese” peppers, or so they’re known in Chihuahua.

In the “Puerto Vallarta” ($12.99), a liberal dose of that hot sauce is a must. The combo dinner comprises a gooey cheese enchilada, chicken taco and beef tostada, along with a heap of pinto beans and yellow rice flecked with corn, peas and green beans. The taco started off crispy but quickly disintegrated into a soggy mush. The tostada held up to the meaty heft and was by far the best of the three.

Miamians in town hitting the theme parks will appreciate the tang of the bistec de palomilla ($12.99), a top-round cut pounded flat, marinated in citrus and slathered with grilled onions and cilantro. The beef was juicy and tender, but finishing the immense portion tests intake abilities. No matter – take the leftovers home and make a sandwich.

The kitchen also will prepare seafood paella for two ($44.99) – just enjoy a good 20 minutes of conversation over a carafe of sangria ($22) while you wait. And you can be sure that Muñoz and his wife, Adela, will come by to tend to any needs – they’re a pleasant pair and know the importance of customer service.

Muñoz prepares the two house desserts from scratch, and while the slab of creamy tres leches ($5.99) proved too sweet for my tooth, the flan ($4.99), with plenty of sugary nectar to soak every bite, was outstanding. In fact, the custard was so completely infused with caramel that it took on a burnt orange-brown hue.

Just as colorful are the restaurant’s digs. Papaya- and teal-colored walls mix with an equally vibrant display of caricatures, celeb photographs, travel posters and some truly surreal paintings. Then again, when the food is this dreamy, that’s hardly a surprise.

It's a generally accepted fact that the best Cuban food is found in South Florida, not Havana, so when one of Broward County's most well-received franchises expands into Orlando, Central Floridians have cause to rejoice.

Mario and Nayade 'Cookieâ?� Padrino carry on a tradition that began in Pinar del Rio, the westernmost province in Cuba, where Diosdado Padrino ran a small market and winery. Fast-forward a few decades to the present and the Padrino clan has four restaurants in Boca Raton, Plantation, the flagship locale in Hallandale and now Hunter's Creek, all of them inspired by family matriarch Rosa Padrino's recipes. The handsome bistro, according to Cookie, is a notch above the others in terms of interior design, and the subdued tropical motif creates an air of comfort, while the faceless, 'hands-freeâ?� paintings by Dixie Miguez add a little color (and political commentary) to the dining room.

Having graduated from culinary school, Cookie oversees menu development, and the creations coming out of the kitchen are a testament to her guidance. The varied selection of criollo standards and signature dishes are remarkably consistent, if not exceptional.

Take the finely minced picadillo empanadas ($6.99), for example. Two ground-beef pastries, halved and crowned with a guava chutney, are superbly seasoned and crisp, and undoubtedly would be a top-tier tapas item anywhere in the city. Black bean soup ($2.99), a true gauge of any Cuban kitchen's worth, strikes a delicate balance of cumin to garlic, with subtle flavoring from bay leaves. Only the fiesta tostones ($7.99) failed to arouse: Pressed green plantains topped with a lackluster mishmash of cheese, chorizo sausage and a cilantro-tomato salsa resembled a gooey cross between nachos and pizza. A glass of sangria ($4.50) helped offset the parching effects of the appetizer.

For mains, I chose a traditional and a signature plate, both of which underscored the kitchen's competence and proficiency. Ropa vieja ($12.99), a Cuban staple, was simple, succulent and savory ' delightful strands of flank steak stewed in a zesty tomato sauce and served with rice, beans and caramelized plantains. Comparatively speaking, blackened mahi mahi ($15.99) was a more sophisticated offering, fusing Creole spices with a refreshing mango-pineapple chutney. The flaky fillet was served over so-so sweet-potato mash; crispy yuca fries with garlicky mojo made for a more harmonious starch.

Custards dominate the dessert menu, and when that eggy goodness is involved, trust a Cuban kitchen to get it right. Rum-chocolate crème brûlée ($5.99) was expertly prepared ' a crusty layer, a rich custard base and a nice infusion of rum. A dense wedge of flan de queso ($4.99) was enormous and filling enough to feed a family, but that still didn't preclude me from ordering a sweet, dark shot of café cubano ($2), a perfect finish to any meal.

Those lucky enough to work in the Hunter's Creek area will find some bargain lunch options, with dishes ranging from $7.49 to $11.99. And if you're bemoaning the drive to south Orlando, consider this ' Padrino's refined Cuban dishes negate the need for a three-hour trip to South Florida for the real deal.

 

Down-home Cuban cooking awaits those who take the drive down Forsyth Road's forlorn drag; Maria Alfonso brings her diner to life with a welcoming exuberance. Empanadas are a must (if they haven’t sold out); meat-lovers will revel in the steak palomilla, churrasco and pork-topped mofongo. Breakfast and lunch only; closed Sundays. 


Teaser: Down-home Cuban cooking awaits those who take the drive down Forsyth Road's forlorn drag; Maria Alfonso brings her diner to life with a welcoming exuberance. Empanadas are a must (if they haven't sold out); meat-lovers will revel in the steak palomilla, churrasco and pork-topped mofongo. Breakfast and lunch only; closed Sundays.

When two of the best Cuban restaurants in town get together under one roof, expect a lot of spicy, savory, delicious things to happen. That's what's going on at Rolando's Cuban Restaurant in Casselberry -- easily the best Cuban on the east side. And as the eatery enters into its second decade, it's in no danger of losing its reputation after a recent ownership change. There's a new partnership between longtime Rolando's chef Faufto Rodriguez and his wife, Maria, and Numero Uno proprietors Isidro and Carmen Paulina, who will maintain their other restaurant on Orange Avenue, south of downtown Orlando.

Outwardly, none of the changes are evident. Rolando's is looking a little more formal and dressed up these days, but that's about it. Tables are draped with flowing cloths and decorated with vases of roses. Wait staff are friendly but reserved and decorous. More importantly, the food remains terrific.

Outwardly, none of the changes are evident. Rolando's is looking a little more formal and dressed up these days, but that's about it. Tables are draped with flowing cloths and decorated with vases of roses. Wait staff are friendly but reserved and decorous. More importantly, the food remains terrific.

Something as simple as a Cuban tamale gets impact from spicy beef picadillo on top; it's silky and scented with sweet cornmeal, and the meat topping is spiced so expertly that it resembles finely crumbled chorizo. Topped with a bright-yellow pepper, it's beautiful and delicious ($1.95).

Something as simple as a Cuban tamale gets impact from spicy beef picadillo on top; it's silky and scented with sweet cornmeal, and the meat topping is spiced so expertly that it resembles finely crumbled chorizo. Topped with a bright-yellow pepper, it's beautiful and delicious ($1.95).

True to Cuban tradition, there's a heavy representation of seafood. Everything from lobster to shrimp to king fish are sautéed in wine sauces and garlic sauces. Red snappers are fried and served whole, too. We passed on that variation and opted instead for a snapper fillet that was breaded and fried, then topped with crisp onions and multicolored bell peppers ($10.25). The fish was clean, odorless, firm and sweet, just the way seafood should be at its prime.

True to Cuban tradition, there's a heavy representation of seafood. Everything from lobster to shrimp to king fish are sautéed in wine sauces and garlic sauces. Red snappers are fried and served whole, too. We passed on that variation and opted instead for a snapper fillet that was breaded and fried, then topped with crisp onions and multicolored bell peppers ($10.25). The fish was clean, odorless, firm and sweet, just the way seafood should be at its prime.

Game entrees range from lamb to rabbit fricassee ($9.25), and there's even Havana-style fried rice with corn fritters. Though there are only three pork selections, at least one of them is excellent. Fried pork chunks are brushed with garlic sauce and garnished with onions ($9.25). The results are flavorful through and through, vaguely salty and quite juicy.

Game entrees range from lamb to rabbit fricassee ($9.25), and there's even Havana-style fried rice with corn fritters. Though there are only three pork selections, at least one of them is excellent. Fried pork chunks are brushed with garlic sauce and garnished with onions ($9.25). The results are flavorful through and through, vaguely salty and quite juicy.

Entrees come with a choice of side items, the best of which are a deep yellow rice that is boosted by a whisper of garlic and a shot of white wine. Also not to be missed: Fried plantains, especially the ripened ones, which are much sweeter than the green plantains.

Entrees come with a choice of side items, the best of which are a deep yellow rice that is boosted by a whisper of garlic and a shot of white wine. Also not to be missed: Fried plantains, especially the ripened ones, which are much sweeter than the green plantains.

We counted nine dessert choices, including grated coconut concoctions and papaya sweets. But we opted for a tres leches sponge cake that was soaked with three kinds of milk for a heavy, succulent effect that contrasted nicely with a fluff of meringue on top ($2.95).

We counted nine dessert choices, including grated coconut concoctions and papaya sweets. But we opted for a tres leches sponge cake that was soaked with three kinds of milk for a heavy, succulent effect that contrasted nicely with a fluff of meringue on top ($2.95).

Across Orlando, there are dozens of options for good Cuban food, but remember: Rolando's is in a whole other league.

The second Yaya's location (later renamed Zaza) should prove to be just as popular as their first, serving the same classic renditions of Cuban comfort food. A tiny '70s-style building houses affordable, bountifu dinner plate (the lechon asado proves pork can be lean and still juicy) and high-octane cafe con leche, some of the best Cuban cofee north of Key West. Flaky, buttery homemade guava-and-cream cheese pastries make a sweet finish.

14 total results

Calendar

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.


© 2018 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation