Saturday, May 24, 2008

A taste of Cuba in Austin

A good Cuban sandwich should have plenty of roasted pork, a slice of ham, swiss cheese, and the ever crucial mustard and pickles. It's best when pressed and grilled so the cheese melts.

It's not too complicated, but it takes some place definitively Caribbean to get it right. Habana, Austin's best Cuban restaurant, definitely gets it right, from the laid-back island feel to the, yes, near perfect sandwiches.

It's menu also has a wide range of dinner entres, salads and appetizers, and even includes some vegetarian options which may be the one difference between this restaurant and the Cuban capital, where, I suspect, people always eat meat. While I appreciate vegetarian food, there is no way I could turn down that roasted pork. Think of a typical pulled pork barbeque sandwich, strip the sauce, and add some island flavors, and that's what fills Habana's sandwiches.

My test of good Caribbean food is always the tostones - plantains, fried, then smashed, then fried again. Good ones have a crispy crust but soft inside and retain some of that unique plantain flavor. They shouldn't taste like a bad version of a french fry. Habana gets these right, too. Nice and crispy, but not too oily or salty, they make a delightful side to the Cuban.

Habana also boasts a great Happy Hour menu with two-for-one deals on its best sandwiches, $2 beers and $3 mojitos, magarhitas, and martinis. On a warm, sunny day, while sitting at one of the outdoor tables under a thatched roof, you might just forget you're on South Congress and think you're in the islands.

The Basics:
Locations: 709 E. 6th Street and 2728 S. Congress Ave.
Price: $10-$20
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Accepts: All major credit cards
Rating: 4 stars
Bottom Line: When you're fed up with Mexican and crave Latin flavor, Habana is the perfect remedy.

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