By: Jason Perlow
The dining scene in Coral Springs is no stranger to Cuban and other Latin flavors. Several notable establishments, including Little Havana Parkland, Mima’s 1888 Cuban Cafe, and El Cubano have opened over the past couple of years, joining long-standing purveyors of Mexican, Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine in our city.
So when I saw that Cubanera was opening in the Walk of Coral Springs several months ago, I was skeptical. For starters, this is a shopping center notorious for killing restaurants due to high rents, in a town where many residents are price-sensitive. At the time, I thought to myself that if this place is unable to offer a distinctive take on a treasured local cuisine and price its offerings accordingly, it would be doomed to join the long list of establishments that have failed in that plaza over the last decade.
Cubanera is a beautiful restaurant. The central attraction is the marble and glass bar, which features premium liquors, a full beer and wine list, and some of the best mojitos you can find in Coral Springs. The main dining room is adorned with art and white tablecloth, with seating for about 120 people.
In terms of the overall concept, Cubanera is in direct competition with Little Havana Parkland, which opened in May of 2018. Both serve traditional Cuban food to an equivalent number of seats. However, there are some important differences. For example, without Little Havana’s cavernous dining room, Cubanera does not suffer from ear-splittingly loud reverberating audio, which has turned off some diners. The lower volume level gives it a more grown-up atmosphere, suitable for date nights and other occasions where quiet conversations are preferred.
The menu is also significantly more curated in that it concentrates almost entirely on Cuban (and some Spanish) classics. All of these Cubanera does exceptionally well, such as their picadillo, ropa vieja, and dishes which feature steaks, chops, chicken, fish, and shrimp. I’ve had virtually everything on the menu in the last three months, and I can say that Cubanera’s dishes are excellent and faithful representations of the Cuban classics that you’d find on Calle Ocho in Miami.
And yes, the Cuban sandwich and the medianoche are two of the best you are going to find in the immediate Coral Springs area. But their Cubano is not the favorite thing I like to eat there. That would be their pork, specifically the lechón.
Lechón also referred to as pernil in other Spanish-speaking parts of the Caribbean such as Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, is roast pork typically made from the shoulder (butt or picnic roast) cut or the leg in a restaurant setting. It’s often cooked as a whole roasted pig for a holiday meal.
The Cuban variant is marinated in mojo — which is citrus juices (typically sour orange, lime, or lemon juice), vinegar, garlic, onions, oregano, salt, and pepper. Puerto Ricans and Dominicans (Cubanera’s ownership is partially from Dominican heritage) also use a heavy dose of sofrito, the Caribbean wet herb paste consisting of aji dulce peppers, cilantro, culantro (sawtooth herb), and other ingredients. It’s cooked between four to eight hours until it becomes fork-tender.
Cubanera’s exact recipe is a secret, but I can tell you this — it’s the juiciest lechón I have ever had north of Papo Llega y Pon, the legendary Cuban pork restaurant in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood.
At Cubanera, you can have lechón as a dinner plate, with the traditional accompaniments of rice, beans, or vegetables. Or you can have it as a pan con lechón, which is simply slices of juicy roast pork on toasted Cuban bread with onions, with a side of fried plantain strips, known as mariquitas. It’s utterly fantastic that way, an example of simple deliciousness. You can also get it stuffed into fried plantain cups (tostones rellenos) or as a non-traditional slider appetizer with coleslaw and pickled onions, which is out of this world good.
The best way to experience Cubanera, in my opinion, is to go for Happy Hour, from 3 PM to 7 PM Monday-Friday and to sit at their beautiful bar. Well/rail drinks, which include the classic daiquiri — the historical precursor to the ubiquitous mojito, a simple refreshing cocktail made of white rum, lime, and sugar, shaken with ice and served in a coupe glass — are $5. House wines are $5, and beers are $3/$4 for domestic and imported selections. On Tuesdays, mojitos are $5 all day long.
But the best part of Happy Hour at the restaurant is the selected half-price appetizers. Cubanera makes all of its appetizers from scratch, which include their ham and bechamel croquetas, their chicken and beef empanadas, ground beef stuffed potato balls (bolos), sauteed chorizo sausage in wine sauce, deep-fried pork belly (chicharrones), and stuffed tostones, which can be filled with picadillo (ground beef) or ropa vieja (shredded beef). Oh, and don’t forget the lechón sliders, too.
The Walk of Coral Springs
2752 N University Drive, Coral Springs FL
Open 7 days
Mon-Thurs 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Fri-Sat 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Sunday Noon – 9 p.m.
Jason Perlow is a long-time foodie who spent 20 years in the New York City and New Jersey metro areas reviewing restaurants for The New York Times and his personal food blog, Off The Broiler, which he started in 2006 and ran for ten years. He is also the founder of eGullet, a popular food discussion site and not-for-profit organization that was formed in 2001, which was featured on Tony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” cable television program.
As a technologist by profession, he writes the Tech Broiler blog for CBS’s ZDNet web site. He has been a Coral Springs resident since moving to South Florida in 2012.
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