It is a little shocking that I’m not able to find a website for Habana in this day and age. I’ll have to admit, it’s been many years since I was last here. In fact, I’m thinking more than six years ago, perhaps, even longer. I remember my that meal, with a friend from San Francisco who asked to eat at Habana, so I complied.
Last week, we were here for a friend’s birthday and even though I remember the food to be hit and miss, I have to agree, this is a perfect spot for a celebration with a group. We begin at the bar with a round of drinks: Raspberry Mojito ($11) Rican Soul ($10) Sangria Roja ($9) — all tasty and rather strong.
Shortly after, we move onto the patio where the atmosphere is lively and bustling, so very different from the dining room itself. Another round of drinks and we settle in to some complimentary buns which arrive on the table before our appetizers arrive.
Spanish Flatbread ($12) sounds better on paper than it is in reality. The bread portion is very dry and the longer it sits on the table, the worse it gets. The toppings of goat cheese, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, Kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, and finished with fresh rosemary is good.
Handmade Empanadas ($8) are decent. We order both the chicken and vegetarian versions. Drizzled with crema fresca with an accompanying ramekin of banana-habanero dipping sauce, the mixture of sweet and spicy is pleasant.
My to-go-to dish at Habana is always Ropa Vieja ($17), shredded Cuban beef pot roast with peppers, onions, garlic and tomatoes. The maduros (plantain) on this dish is crispy rather than grilled or sauteed. Served with black beans and white rice, I like both the starches, however the dish itself is not as tasty as I remember.
One of my favorites of the evening is Skirt Steak-Estillo Churrasco ($24) a well-seasoned piece of skirt steak, first smoked, then grilled, and topped with chimichurri and grilled red onion. I ask for more chimichurri as there isn’t enough for all the steak on the plate. I like the Spanish rice, but it is the grilled chile lime corn on the cob with cotija that wins hands down.
The rest of the dishes are all new to me. El Puerco Primo ($18) is a generous pork osso-buco first slow roasted and then flash fried. Garlic mashed potatoes and braised bacon collard greens accompany and it is the latter that I wish there is more of — maybe an entire bowl? The greens are seriously flavorful and prepared perfectly!
I am never sure it is a good idea to order paella in the US, although there are a handful of places which offer a passable one. Paella a la Habana ($22) is by no means authentic, but still, we agree it is tasty. Marinated chicken, Bilbao chorizo (spicy semi-cured sausage), green peas, black tiger shrimp, fresh fish, mussels and clams served with saffron rice. The chicken is a tad dry and the seafood sparse, however, if you don’t go into it expecting a traditional paella, you won’t be disappointed.
Surprisingly, I really enjoyed the Vegetarian Tamale Pie ($16), a baked seasoned polenta dish topped with melted cheddar, fire roasted tomato salsa, jalapeno cream sauce. Served with maduros, sofrito black beans and white rice, it possessed all the flavors of a tamale, but blended together far better than a tamale ever would be.
The Rum-Pepper Shrimp ($22) is one of three seafood items on the menu. It was a little under-seasoned but this is something I would order again. Plump black tiger shrimps are served in a Jamaican rum pepper cream sauce with red and green peppers (Cuban cuisine seems to have an abundance of peppers), with two whole crawfish which serve no purpose at all except to garnish the plate. This is a dish which had enough sauce for the accompanying rice, which is always a plus.
If you pick the right dishes, your Habana experience will be very positive. If not, your meal might not be all that great, but you’ll still have a fun time because the drinks are good and the atmosphere, really engaging. Just choose your dishes wisely and all will be well.
2930 Bristol Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92626