Got a Thing for Cuban Thighs? Five Cuban Restaurants in Broward County

There's something about the aroma of minced garlic, sliced onions, citrus, and cumin -- a spicy fusion of deliciousness that just makes you hot. Luckily, in sunny South Florida, being that we're only 90 miles from Cuba at our most southern point, Cuban meat is abundant; you know... palomilla.

Listed are five restaurants where you can find a combination of topnotch service along with authentic, home-style Cuban cuisine at its finest. Give this list a try and these top five Cuban restaurants will have you coming back for more... only this time it won't only be for the cute server.

5. Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine 
With 11 locations in South Florida, good Cuban food is only a hop and a skip away. The Vilarino family opened its first location in Hollywood in 1984, only four years after arriving in the U.S. from the Mariel boatlift. The Vilarino family promises quality, authentic Cuban cuisine, with an extensive menu carrying everything from classic dishes to unique creations. 

Traditionalists love arroz con pollo -- roasted chicken and yellow Valencia rice cooked with onions, garlic, red peppers, and wine -- for only $6.95 on Mondays! Perhaps you would like to try a seafood dish such as Camarones al ajillo -- shrimp sautéed in olive oil with garlic, wine, red bell peppers, and onions alongside white rice, black beans, and sweet plantains -- for $12.95. Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine offers daily lunch specials, including on weekends.

4. Padrino's Cuban Café 

Padrino's started out as a small food market and winery in Cuba back in the early 1930s. Since then, it has grown into a warm and inviting restaurant with three locations, in Boca, Plantation, and Hallandale Beach. Padrino's has an eclectic menu, with an array of choices that you may not always find at your typical Cuban restaurant. 

The Combinacion Cubana ($9.99) includes four dishes: crispy plantain chips topped with a delicate garlic mojo sauce; crispy yucca croquettes made with fresh bacon, onions, and garlic; chicken canelones containing morsels of chicken wrapped in mozzarella cheese and ham, lightly breaded and served with a light red sauce; and stuffed potatoes (breaded and fried). 

If you still have room for an entrée, order the paella for $18.95 (prepared for two). It's a seafood favorite that combines yellow fragrant saffron rice, sautéed chicken, scallops, shrimp, mussels, fish, and langostinos -- along with bell peppers, onions, white wine and finished off with a modest dash of parsley. If you are passing through for lunch and require something quick and simple, you have come to the right place. Padrino's offers a lunch buffet on weekdays for $8.99 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Skeptics, do not be scared off by the word buffet -- this one still manages to deliver fresh and tasty food, providing you with a new lunchtime ritual.

3. Bongos Cuban Café 

For years, songstress Gloria Estefan enchanted you with her upbeat and tropical lyrics. Just when you thought you got the best of her, you will become a fan once again... only this time through your palette rather than your old-school stereo. Gloria and Emelio Estefan opened their first Bongos Cuban Café and Nightclub in Orlando back in 1997 and soon after opened another location at Miami's Bayside. Now, Broward County has finally welcomed a Bongos Café and Nightclub at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.

Bongo's Café is a multilevel, 7,000-square-foot restaurant decorated with mahogany furnishings and a South Beach-style, 5,000-square-foot rooftop lounge with luxurious private cabanas.

It is only natural to order a classic Cuban mojito -- the only dilemma is which mojito to choose! Bongo's Café has its own mojito menu, making you feel as if you just died and woke up in Cuban heaven. Guests have the choice of ordering classico, spiced, limon, juicy, royale, and cereza negra mojitos. The mojito classico contains Barcardi superior rum, fresh mint, lime, and freshly squeezed sugarcane juice; you also have the option of adding fresh pineapple, mango, juicy strawberry, or watermelon juice. Guests have the choice of ordering mojitos by the glass or the pitcher (price varies depending on selection). Finish off your evening by getting your dance on, garlic breath and all. Bongo's Café is the full package.

2. Mario's Catalina Cuban Restaurant

Mario's Catalina offers guests Cuban dishes in a romantic setting. Upon your arrival, you will notice a small, tranquil fountain, richly painted burgundy walls adorned with an array of oil paintings, and tables dressed in crisp, white tablecloths, all in a lightly dimmed setting radiating from dainty crystal chandeliers. Patrons also have the option of dining in the outdoor patio surrounded by lush, tropical plants and candlelight.

The owner, Mario, is famous for his ice-cold sangria. It is recommended that you order this by the pitcher (you will most likely be ordering multiple rounds). Mario's Catalina is rather pricey. Bistec de pollo is $16.95 and is prepared the traditional way with grilled, marinated chicken covered in perfectly sautéed onions and garlic, with white rice, black beans, and sweet plantains. Mario is generous as he serves his guests with the house salad, which includes fresh romaine lettuce, freshly chopped and crisp green apples, celery, salt and pepper, and his secret dressing; guests also receive warm mariquitas topped with a mojo sauce.

Watch your bill, because things add up quickly (Mario charges for refills). On the flipside, like the old saying goes -- sometimes quality comes with a price!

Website available soon:
1611 N. Federal Highway
Fort Lauderdale 33305


1. Havana's Cuban Cuisine

My new fave! I will admit, initially I was skeptical about an authentic Cuban restaurant that was nestled in the middle of cow-town Davie, but after continually hearing all the buzz circulating about the new spot, I decided to give it a go. 

When I entered the restaurant, I was taken back by the rustic yet modern décor. What was previously a Fried Green Tomatoes Restaurant is now an open, airy space, with exposed ductwork, warm mahogany tables and chairs, plush leather booths, and modern lighting, and everyone gets a clear view of one of the few flat-screen televisions hung high on the walls.

The food is just as pleasing as the pleasant décor and friendly service. The restaurant is known for its lechon asado -- marinated pork that is slow-cooked for at least ten hours every night, than pulled and topped with sautéed onions, garlic, and mojo sauce and served with rice, black beans, and sweet plantains -- all for a modest $9.95. Havana's prides itself in using family recipes that have been passed down for more than 80 years, including its famous flan for just $4.95.
Havana's is planning on opening for breakfast starting in February. Breakfast will include a traditional, Cuban-style cafeteria window, where you can order café con leche, coladas, and traditional Cuban pastries from outside on your way to work. Additionally, Havana's plans on eventually providing guests with a Cuban-style brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, serving all your Cuban breakfast favorites.
The restaurant, just shy of 6 months old, is already preparing to open its second location on the Sunset Strip in Sunrise.

Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.
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