Hell’s Kitchen now has a place to enjoy authentic Cuban cuisine with the opening of Havana Libre.
The outside of the little storefront on 10th Avenue welcomes visitors with a huge neon sign while inside, the atmosphere is warm and friendly with walls painted in tropical yellows and oranges and festive Latin music.
The space is decorated with rows of paintings and murals by artists from the tiny island, including a 3D masterpiece featuring a scene straight out of a Caribbean Carnival.
The food, however, was the highlight of the evening and Chef Jose Mesarina (formerly of Toloache, Nuela, and Dos Caminos) served traditional dishes with a bit of a twist. The special tasting menu included skewers of marinated steak that was tender, flavorful, and juicy. Chicken banderitas covered in a spicy green sauce followed along with bacalao croquets, which were essentially fritters filled with fresh codfish and topped with a sweet mango sauce. The mixture of crunch fritter with the soft, fish filling and cool, creamy sauce blended perfectly with each bite.
Next came fried oysters on the half shell, drizzled with guacamole sauce over a bed of creamed spinach. Coming from someone who is not a fan of oysters, I actually enjoyed this dish. Who knew guacamole could pair well with seafood and spinach? Somehow they made it work. Of course, the menu wasn’t complete without a Cuban sandwich. This one came with a spicy mustard sauce and garnished with a cherry tomato.
For an affordable, authentic taste of Cuba, you can’t go wrong at Havana Libre, where the hardest decision will be which dish to try first.
– Angela Thomas
688 10th Ave
New York, 10019