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HavanaGrill delivers true taste of Miami Cuban culture 

click to enlarge Try a Cuban sandwich rendition that adds a soft pork croquette. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Try a Cuban sandwich rendition that adds a soft pork croquette.
HavanaGrill is a new, notably affordable Southeast-side gem. Though more Miami than true Cuba, it hits almost every right note to capture Cuban culinary culture. For example, the Cuban sandwich’s popularity has taught consumers that it’s a Florida-born construct from immigrant communities, not found on the island, as I confirmed during a visit a couple years ago.

That history aside, HavanaGrill smacks authentic because it captures the best of both the diaspora and the island inhabitants, going so far as to ship in bread and pastry dough from Miami to achieve stylistically spot-on textures. Co-owners Elvin Garcia and Carlos Rodriguez have done a remarkable overhaul of the former Pho Queen, spending five months to renovate it, evident in such touches as a cool marble-granite tile wall at the order counter (table service also available). It’s the Springs’ first brick-and-mortar Cuban eatery since Cubanacan folded a decade ago.

Rodriguez has managed and operated several Cuban restaurants in Miami over the past 25 years, so consider HavanaGrill’s menu well tested. He cooks, while Garcia works his charm out front, greeting and managing flow.

Treat the spot more like a coffee shop if not seeking a full meal, as it serves a well-made Café Cubano (a sweetened espresso shot), café con leche (a mug of steamed milk with a side shot), and cortadito (a shot with a touch of milk), all made with Café Bustelo coffee. Pair them with the imported pastelitos, flaky puff pastries, the finest of which is the guava-cheese, poignantly sweet and faintly salty on the crust, with soft cream-cheese-like cheese pockets. Or for a savory snack, plump empanadas offer a more dense, pie-crust-like bite; the mildly seasoned ground beef (no Cuban food is spicy) a standout over a chicken option that’s a bit dry and bland inside, making us want a side dip of the mojo (lime-garlic-olive oil-Parmesan) or chimichurri (parsley) sauce, that’s served with other dishes. 
Location Details Havana Grill
3748 Astrozon Blvd.
Academy (South)
Colorado Springs, CO
445-0776
Mexican/Tex-Mex/Southwestern

Plates come with two sides, everyone’s favorites being sappy sweet plantains or tostones, green plantains pounded and fried into tougher, chip-like discs for dipping. But airier-than-most yuca fries delight, too (skip the given tartar sauce for mojo or chimi), and Moros (black beans cooked into white rice, darkening it) should be ordered with an item like the stellar ropa vieja, exceedingly tender, pressure-cooked skirt steak, shredded into a bright, deep tomato broth with red bell peppers and onions.

Both the lechon asado and medio pollo a la plancha rate pretty excellent too: the former being sour orange-marinated shredded pork seared to crispy edges that give way to succulent, partly fatty threads, mixed with caramelized onions. Again, mojo or chimi poured atop elevates, as it does on the pollo: boneless meat, 24-hour marinated, pounded thin, plated super juicy with not-yet-translucent, vinegary white onion slivers for a touch of sharp sweetness and garnishing lime wedges for more acidity.

A HavanaGrill Hamburger’s not really our thing, topped in sweet guava sauce and the queso fresco-like cheese, but I award it uniqueness points, and you may love it. And, finally for us, we do enjoy HavanaGrill’s Cuban sandwich: properly porky, cheesy and piquant from mustard and pickle, on thin pan Cubano. Classic. Try a heavier croquette version that adds a breaded ham mash into the strata, or the medianoche, which subs a sweeter bread.

Authenticity abounds here whichever way you dine — bienvenidos a Miami!

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