Café Habana: Cuban-Mexican in the Desert
In Dubai we have not had many Mexican-Cuban eateries, although you could count Maria Bonita as an option, I suppose. But now e have a bit of class.
Located in the bustling Souk Al Bahar (Dubai Downtown),Café Habana is an outpost of the revered Latin-flavoured luncheonette in New York that opened in 1997 which creates a fun relaxed vibe where the order of the day is to relax and chill.
Inspired by a storied Mexico City lunch joint where legend has it Che and Fidel plotted the Cuban Revolution, Café Habana is a mix of straight-shooter authenticity and nonchalant cool although it can be a little confusing. With its Mexican menu and Cuban name, and the Salsa on the airwaves and the massive portrait of Che over the DJ booth it doesn’t help you find your bearings but the dark wood tables, faux-aged wooden bar, tessellated white and blue tile floor, bentwood chairs and dim yet ambient lighting create a fun relaxed vibe.
It has an outdoor seating where you can smoke a traditional sheesha (just to add to the identity-confusion). Café Habana is one of the few restaurants that allow you to smoke indoors at any table. And if you are in the mood you could always try one of their cigars on sale. Alcohol is served only within the four walls so if you chose to smoke a sheesha you will have to forgo the alcohol unfortunately.
I would suggest you make a booking if you are more than 3-4 people as it can get busy even on weekdays. If booking (and your preference is indoors), ask for a table along the side as it’s more comfy and you’re less likely to rub shoulders or knock elbows with the waiting staff or diners next to you.
In terms of food, it has a menu that’s small in size but big on flavour with all the Mexican staples thrown in, from huevos rancheros and nachos to quesadillas and burritos.
I have a bad habit, if I taste a dish and love it, I will want to go to the restaurant again and order the same dish. I have done that three times with the following dish – Enchiladas Suizas (AED55) which features grilled chicken enchilada topped with suizas sauce and a few onion slices. It is accompanied by rice and black beans. (Do I need to spell it out again! I absolutely love it!)
But in order to review I do take along some family or friends who can be more adventurous when it comes to food and whose opinion I can count on. So the last time I went, we ordered two sandwiches – Cuban Sandwich (AED75) which is their signature dish that lives up to its reputation. It comprises of corned beef, pastrami, Swiss cheese, chipotle mayonnaise and pickles on toasted tool and is accompanied by hand cut fries. The second sandwich we ordered was the Cheese Burger (AED65) which had a 6oz burger patty grilled to order, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and hand cut French fries. As I said, both my diner dash buddies are adventurous, so how could they not try the two sauces which were lying in wait at the table. WARNING – both the sauces are spicy – so take a little to try if you MUST and then based on your spicy threshold figure out how much of it you would like to have.
The purpose of all the three dishes, evident in their plain presentation and humming flavour, is not showmanship but to offer comfort.
The choice for dessert was easier for me. If you have followed the few blogs I have put up, you will know I am a hardcore chocoholic – so it had to be the Chocolate Chilli Fondant with Vanilla Ice-cream (AED 50). It takes the regular chocolate fondant you get everywhere and throws in a twist – chilli, and boy can you taste it, subtle but different.
Friends who have frequented the restaurant swear by the Pastel de Tres Leches (AED 55) which is like a slice of New York heaven is through and through. It is a velvety sponge cake soaked in three different milks (evaporated, condensed and whole) and topped with vanilla cream. So again, if you are adventurous, perhaps this is something you could try.
The food is wonderful as is the service. Our servers have always been very attentive and friendly. Habana provides a nice change from the ever-present Mexican food restaurants or the overly typical Italian restaurants for a night out.
In a nutshell: Café Habana has a great location, excellent food (almost all were irresistible) and fantastic prices.
Upper level (Level 3), Souk al Bahar, Downtown Dubai (you can walk it from Dubai Mall). Open every day from 12pm-11pm (Saturday-Wednesday) and 12pm-2am (Thursday-Friday). Tel: +971 4 422 2620. www.habana-dubai.com