I was seriously excited when I heard that a new Cuban place had opened in Orange County, because until now, the only way to find good Cuban fare meant driving to Versailles in LA.
Yes, I know there are a couple of “Cuban” places here in OC, but please don’t get me started because honestly, they’re not really good — not at all actually.
I’ve been back several times and the minute you sit down, water is brought to the table along with garlic bread. You can’t help but gobble these down and then find yourself eagerly nodding yes when the server returns and asks if you want more.
We started with Yuca Frita ($4.95), chunks of crispy fried yuca served with the tastiest mojo sauce ever! In Cuba, mojo applies to any sauce comprising garlic, olive oil and any kind of citrus juice. The one here is all that and more! The garlic is overwhelming — but in a good way — and the lemony tartness made my mouth pucker, wanting more. This sauce is good on practically EVERYTHING!
I’m a big fan of the Cubano sandwich and very few places make one that is close to perfect. Here, the Sandwich Cubano ($9.95) is served with fries and is packed with flavor. The bread is toasted to perfection on the outside, giving it a crusty exterior with the combination of ham, roasted pork, cheese, pickles, mustard melding together to create a salty and slightly tart finish.
I’d never had Vaca Frita ($12.95) before, but managed to get a taste of it off my friend’s plate. Grilled shredded flank steak is pan-fried with onions, garlic and lemon possessing that ubiquitous acidity common in Cuban cuisine. It is something I love and crave which means vaca frita is now a dish I will add to my future repertoire!
My very first foray into Cuban food was Lechon Asado ($11.95), traditional Cuban roasted pork marinated in mojo sauce topped with onions. Because I loved it so much, I’d never venture too far from it whenever I eat Cuban, going from pork to chicken and back again. Here, the pork is beautifully greasy, moist and tender. The mojo sauce’s acidity cuts the grease and seasons the accompanying rice, making it one of those comfort foods you can’t get enough of.
If you can’t decide, I highly suggest getting the Combinacion de Pollo y Puerco ($14.95) a generous plate of roasted chicken and pork smothered with the onions and the mojo sauce. Entrees are all served with rice, plantains and a bowl of black beans. I mix my rice with black beans and drizzle mojo sauce over it. I crave the sauce and find myself wanting it on absolutely everything.
I save the soft caramelized plantains for the end because they are sweet enough to have for dessert!
One of my favorite dishes is Camarones al Ajillo ($15.95) and I couldn’t resist ordering it. The garlic shrimps were so freaking tasty but I was disappointed that for $16, there were only six shrimps. Really? Not even eight? I had really expected 10 shrimps, but they tasted so delicious my sadness soon dissipated and I tucked into them with relish.
Not that I needed dessert after the huge meal, but I was curious about the Flan Cubano ($3.50). It looked like it would be rich and overly sweet, but surprisingly, it wasn’t too sweet and had a rich caramel flavor. The flan itself was a little too dense for me as I had expected it to be softer and lighter, but it was decent, just nothing I’d order again.
Service is friendly, swift and combined with the great tasting food, Bella Cuba is fast becoming one of my favorite places here in the OC. If you’ve been craving some seriously good Cuban food, you need to try them out. The menu is the same at lunch and dinner so you won’t be missing out on anything no matter what time of day you visit.
3940 S. Bristol Street
Santa Ana, CA 92704