It seems Jeff and I are on a streak. We haven’t been to a restaurant that deserves less than Three Piggies in over a month! This week we are back on the west side of Indy reviewing one of the very few Caribbean restaurants in Indianapolis, the Havana Cafe.
I find it amusing this little cafe is located just around the corner from the Saigon Restaurant we reviewed last week. Is it me or does the west side have the widest variety of ethnic restaurants in Indy? The Havana Cafe is situated in a small strip mall just at the corner of Moller Road and West 38th Street, next to a hair salon that plays hip-hop music at high volume.
The Havana Cafe is small, intimate, and the music is great. Today they played one samba after the other over the sound system and it lent a wonderful Latin flavor to the place.
The tables are covered with burgundy tablecloths over white linen and topped with a vase containing a silk flower. The paint, while warm and inviting with primary colors of orange and rust, is inexpertly painted. The walls are decorated with South American and Mexican paintings and copper colored sconces filled with silk flowers. The floors are white linoleum tile with beige flecks in them. Or was it the other way around?
As you walk in you immediately see the large Cuban flag next to the kitchen door and light stained wood bar in front of that. Next to the bar is a large chalk board that has the day’s specials listed on it.
As usual we arrived after the lunch crowd, if there was one. Only one waitress was on staff but she was quick to seat us and take our order. She had a very pleasant demeanor and answered all my questions patiently and with a smile. The only small complaint I have is that she forgot Jeff’s order of fries with his meal. Instead of admitting the omission, and giving him the option of whether he still wanted them or not, she said they were on their way; however, they didn’t end up arriving until near the end of our meal. Other than that small exception, the service was great.
Sanitation was adequate, although flushing the toilet in the men’s restroom was a bit of an adventure. The flush mechanism or float needed to be replaced and it took me three attempts to get it flushed.
The day we visited the Havana Cafe, they were having a special on Empanadas and fried or boiled Yuca. Taking the waitress’ recommendation we ordered one beef and one chicken Empanada along with an order of fried Yuca to share between us as appetizers. For lunch, I ordered a Cubano (Cuban Sandwich) with a salad and Jeff ordered the Bistec de Carne (Steak Sandwich) with fries.
What surprised me about the Empanadas was the difference between the crusts of the beef and the chicken. In my estimation, the chicken’s crust had a much more pleasant crunch, flavor and mouth feel. The beef’s crust tasted similar to a store bought pot pie crust. Of the two, I was most impressed with the Chicken Empanada. Filled with shredded chicken and a small Spanish olive or two, it was quite savory and had me wanting more. The Beef Empanada pretty much reminded me of a pot pie with taco filling. It’s only saving grace in my opinion was the sourness of the Spanish olives that were enclosed in the fried crust.
If you’ve never had fried Yuca before, I highly recommend it. It tastes very much like potato, but has the crunchy outer texture of butter fried potatoes and the inner thickness of a well baked potato. The waitress recommended that I try the boiled Yuca the next time I visited, as it is boiled in mojito sauce and is pleasantly tangy.
Now on to the sandwiches, they were large, and I mean LARGE! Each one was easily 6 to 7 inches long and 4 inches wide, and they were cut in half diagonally. Combined with what we had already eaten as appetizers, one half of a sandwich could have easily satisfied the average appetite; however, Jeff and I aren’t average and neither are our appetites. We traded one half of our sandwiches with each other and got down to the business of eating and evaluating our meals.
Now the few Cuban sandwiches I have eaten in my lifetime, which I have always found absolutely delicious, were homemade with regular yellow mustard, dill pickles sliced lengthways, and sliced tender roast pork topped off with a couple of slices of deli ham. I have never had a commercially prepared Cubano in my life, so I was very surprised to find the roast pork finely chopped and the ham very thin and crispy, like bacon. Still, though it was different from what I have eaten in the past, I was not at all disappointed. While I prefer sliced roast pork, the additional saltiness of the crispy ham made a huge difference in flavor and texture, one that I found delightful! Jeff’s Bistec de Carne was also delicious. The beef was marinated in mojito sauce and then grilled well done and made with all the traditional sandwich accoutrements. While I generally like my steak sandwiches a bit on the rare side, the citrusy mojito marinade made all the difference in this sandwich.
For dessert Jeff and I each ordered a coffee. Jeff a Café con Leche, and I ordered a Cortadito. Jeff’s coffee reminded me of Café au lait, which if you translate both phrases mean the same thing, coffee with milk. My Cortadito, which was dark and sweet, reminded me of a cross between the after dinner coffees served in France and a traditional Espresso.
The Juicy Bits
The Havana Cafe is a wonderful little place to take a date or friends for a meal and flavor that is out of the ordinary in the Midwest. The servings are generous and the wait staff, friendly and very knowledgeable about the food.
One word of caution; most of the items, on the lunch menu at least, do not come with accompaniments and must be ordered separately. If you aren’t careful this can make a relatively inexpensive seeming meal very expensive. Otherwise, prices are quite reasonable and the food is tasty and plentiful.
In summary: The Havana Cafe brings a little taste of Cuba to Indianapolis. I enjoyed the experience so much I am looking forward to going back for dinner sometime soon, hopefully with a date or a few friends.
3839 Moller Road
Indianapolis, IN 46254
Tel: (317) 293-2822
Hours: Breakfast: Monday – Sunday (7:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.); Lunch & Dinner: Monday – Saturday (11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.), Sunday (4:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.)