By: Jason Perlow
If you’re looking for a great evening entertainment venue, Coral Springs’ Little Havana, which is part of a South Florida restaurant group that has locations in Deerfield Beach and North Miami, is sure to please with its fiercely strong mojitos, live Latin and disco-themed music, and Cuban specialties.
Situated in the shopping center on the northwest corner of Coral Ridge Drive and Holmberg Road, this huge 200-seat restaurant which features both indoor and outdoor dining, is in the retail space formerly occupied by Scarfone’s Pizza.
The interior features a huge illuminated and mirrored walk-up bar, dark wood and brick accents and features Cuban decor reminiscent of Old Havana including the iconic 1950s cars and vintage photographs.
Since the restaurant is brand new and its arrival into town has been highly anticipated, prime-time dining hours are extremely busy, especially during the weekends. It gets very crowded, loud, and you can expect to wait up to 45 minutes for a table, and up to an hour for your food. So don’t come here expecting a quick bite out to eat unless you come on a weeknight or during lunchtime. It’s quite obvious that the kitchen, as well as the wait staff, are completely slammed.
Be prepared to spend the entire evening here – which is what you wanted, right papi?
That being said, Little Havana is a great place to go out and have fun, especially with a group of couples. Happy Hour from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., is served at the bar as well as at the tables, and features their $6 signature mojito which is made with white Havana Club rum (the American version, not the Cuban one, por supuesto) and is quite sweet.
Pro Tip: switch it up by asking for extra lime and mint, and instead, with the dark Havana Club. Trust me on this.
To get the evening going and to quell the initial hangriness, we suggest ordering appetizers, such as the Yuca Cheese Bites, which are deep-fried fritters of the starchy tuber with a mild cheese, served with a creamy garlic mojo dip.
We also liked the “Masas de Puerco Frita” which are deep-fried cubes of mojo marinated pork shoulder served with marinated cooked onions, which go great with the complimentary rolls of pan de agua and whipped garlic butter.
If you are out with a group of couples we recommend ordering a set of dinners for two ($39) each which feature a sampling of the restaurant’s favorites and come with white rice and black beans.
The Parilliada for two, which is actually a popular dish of Argentine origin, features grilled chicken, beef, pork and chorizo over onions on a specially raised metal platter. It’s a meat lover’s paradise. The Five Star Combo, on the other hand, is like a Cuban cuisine greatest hits — it has Lechon (shredded mojo marinated roast pork), Ropa Vieja (Shredded braised beef in a sofrito tomato sauce), Lamb Shank on the bone, Chicken Steak and finally, Marinated Skirt Steak. A pair of couples ordering these along with an appetizer is likely to have to bring home food in boxes, especially if you order dessert.
We liked the flavors on both, although we felt the chicken preparations came out a bit dry and the meat was aggressively seasoned and a tad salty, which we expect the restaurant to tweak based on customer feedback.
If you’re looking for seafood, my wife and I both enjoyed the Fish Chunks in Lobster Sauce which was more of a Creole-style sauce preparation, with tomatoes, onions, and peppers. The Shrimp Havana, which is one of the signature dishes, was reminiscent of a pink seafood bisque with sauteed jumbo shrimps in it. I didn’t think it was particularly Cuban, but I enjoyed it just the same. All of these dishes were great with the buttered white rice, which while simple, was quite addictive and we had to stop ourselves from finishing it.
The only real disappointment at the restaurant was the vegetarian platter, which is composed of steamed frozen mixed vegetables, black beans, rice and a few sweet plantains. Actual plant eaters are probably better off ordering a bunch of vegetarian sides à la carte.
We think a restaurant of this caliber can do better vegetables than frozen ones, so we hope they take note.
For dessert, we first tried the Crema Catalana, which is like a Spanish version of a Creme Brulee. It is characteristically eggier and has cinnamon and few other distinctive flavorings in it that make it taste somewhat different from the French classic. We ate the entire thing. On the other hand, the Tres Leches cake was an overly sweet version of a standard Cuban dessert, we’d probably pass on ordering it again.
If you’re looking for a Latin night out like you might find in Miami, but don’t want to head down I-95 in traffic, definitely, give Little Havana a spin.
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.