Manhattan, New York – Café Habana (Take-Out Store)

Restaurant: Café Habana (Take-Out Store)
Cuisine: Cuban/Mexican/Latin
Last visited: September 9, 2011
Location: Manhattan, NY (Nolita)
Address: 229 Elizabeth Street
Transit: Spring Street
Price Range: $10 or less

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: n/a (didn’t try enough)
Service: 3
Ambiance: 2.5
Overall: n/a
Additional comments:

  • Since 1997
  • Cuban/Mexican food
  • Local/tourist favourite
  • Very busy at peak hours
  • Award winning Cubano
  • Hole in the wall
  • Vegetarian friendly
  • Quick/casual
  • Limited seating
  • Sit-down restaurant next door
  • Budget friendly/cheap eats
  • Eat In/Take Out
  • Mon-Sun – 9am-late

**Recommendations: Cuban Sandwich, Grilled Corn Mexican Style

This wasn’t on the original Follow Me Foodie to New York itinerary, but I heard lots about the little cafe once I got there. Flipping through magazines I would see advertisements for it suggesting that it was the must try place for “award winning Cuban sandwiches”. I didn’t buy it initially and thought it was just another tourist trap. However after talking with some locals, it seemed to be a legit recommendation and I got more than curious.

It was only 2 hours before dinner time and I was wondering Manhattan looking for food. Well I wasn’t looking for food, but naturally food was of interest. I didn’t want to fill up because I was saving room for Grimaldi’s Pizza, but a snack never hurt anyone right? I walked back and forth thinking should I try it? Or should I just pass? But I couldn’t ignore the mini line up and noticeably packed restaurant every time I walked by. After this I even ended up trying The Best Chocolate Cake in the World too… so much for a “snack” huh? You can’t be too surprised and neither am I.

Café Habana doesn’t even have a real sign on the outside, which is one of my Top 10 Characteristics of a Hipster Restaurant. It attracts that type of crowd along with locals and tourists alike, but it is more than just a “hip place”. From what I got it’s simply a very good place that happens to attract hipsters especially due to the area and I think perhaps the owners.

The restaurant was good enough to open a take-out cafe next door only after one year, and both remain just as busy to this day.

I decided to try out the take-out cafe which still had a few tables and chairs. Honestly the sit down restaurant felt almost the same, but perhaps even more cramped and crowded. I actually preferred the take out restaurant and it’s a solid go-to for quick, cheap and reliable eats for lunch or dinner. Being in Manhattan, that criteria is a challenge to meet, but they did it.

I really wish I did some previous research because I thought the Cuban sandwich was “the thing” to order. That was only half the equation though and it turns out I missed the “Best Corn on the Cob” in the city. @$#%. Seriously?! I saw lots of tables ordering corn and I saw it being grilled in the back on an open flame, but it didn’t look like anything special. I thought “I can grill corn on the cob and slather it in butter”… so I passed. Big mistake. *Sigh*… if I could go back in time I would order 5 just to make up for missing out the first time. I still haven’t tried it to this day, but I am constantly reminded over and over again that I missed the corn on the cob at Café Habana from those that have tried it.

On the table:

**Cuban Sandwich5.5/6 (Excellent!)

  • $7.50
  • This is the “must try”, award winning, “city’s best”, “Top 5 Best sandwiches in New York” sandwich. It’s the famous Cuban sandwich.
  • Being that Cuban food and Cuban sandwiches are very limited in Vancouver, my standards aren’t going to be crazy high.
  • This was the third Cuban I had in New York though. I had one from the street vendor on Brazilian Day, one gourmet Cubano from The Spotted Pig and this one. This one schooled.
  • This Cuban was huge and shareable, made upon order, and I didn’t want to put it down. It was delicious!
  • I’m not going to talk heavily about authenticity.
  • It’s just a grilled ham and cheese sandwich and considered a classic comfort food.
  • However I couldn’t taste or really see any mustard and I missed the tangy mojo sauce (cooked sauce made with pureed garlic, onions, cumin, salt and lime or orange). It doesn’t have to have mojo sauce, but it’s so good with it.
  • There was a touch of aioli which would be very taboo for traditionalists, because traditionally mayo/aioli should never be in a Cubano.
  • The bread was good bread and it was well pressed and slightly chewy, but not tough.
  • It was super thin, crunchy and crispy and it was stuffed with a very generous amount of juicy roasted pork, melted Swiss cheese, ham and pickles.
  • Every bite just leaked pork juices and the Swiss cheese was creamy and rich like brie or cream cheese.
  • I think the cheese might have mixed with some mayo and chili flakes so it was slightly spicy too.
  • It was pork butt or shoulder (just like pulled pork) and it was roasted and literally falling apart.
  • It had a good amount of fat that wasn’t just oily, but full of flavour.
  • Every bite would be dripping juices and I’m not exaggerating unless I just had a good piece.
  • The pork juices just absorbed into the bread making it slightly soft and the meat was full of herb flavour from thyme and perhaps even rosemary.
  • The ham wasn’t anything special, but I could taste every layer of each ingredient with the pickles adding a tang to the rich pork.
  • The juiciness and amount of the pork was definitely a highlight and if I had more time I would have tried the other Cubano Sandwiches from Gena’s Grill, Chickenbone Cafe, and El Sitio.
  • If you’re a Cubano expert it might not change your life, but if you’re coming here to eat I would order this.
  • The only one I’ve had that is possibly better is in Portland at Pambiche – see their Sandwich Cubano.

**Grilled Corn Mexican Style

  • $1.90
  • If I was so happy with their Cuban sandwich already, then I can only imagine how good the corn could be.
  • It’s supposed to be as good if not even better than the Cuban. I don’t know how you compare a sandwich to a side though… ?
  • I can’t believe I missed it and I’m so ashamed. Major food fail.
  • I remember just seeing plain roasted corn on other people’s tables, but not corn that looked like that!
  • It was a fresh flame grilled corn on the cob slathered in butter, aioli, Mexican Cotija cheese and chili pepper.
  • The wedge of lime is squeezed on top before enjoying and it’s supposed to be the most amazing thing… I can’t believe I missed it!!
Photo credit: The inside photo is from Café Habana website and the corn is from KungFoodPanda.com.

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Café Habana (Take-Out Store) on Urbanspoon

7 Comments

  • KimHo says:

    Cuban sandwich is like Othello (the game): “easy” to make but difficult to master. The ingredients are simple: ham, roasted pork, swiss cheese, sliced pickles (lengthwise!) and yellow mustard, inside a bread and pressed after it has been assembled. The problem is that the bread’s characteristics are somewhat unique: think more banh mi than your regular baguette. As a result, it is crispy but not necessarily thick (and the chewiness, as a result, is also different). And pressed is in a sandwich press, not panini style. However, most people on this side of the world look at it as “just another local variation of a sandwich”, hence, the results are not as good.

  • yeppers says:

    Aw, their corn is sooo good. That’s the only thing I’ve ever had there. The cotija cheese and lime make it. We were pretty sure it was mayo and not butter. Headed there next week, maybe I’ll give you an update.

  • Jean s says:

    Mijune! The corn and the steak avocado sandwich too !
    U should check la esquina fot one of the best burgers I had in soho as well as el portal for an awesome tacos carnitas …. I miss NYC

  • Mijune says:

    @Jean – did I bump into you downtown!? Or was that someone else?! I got confused!! Ohhh thank you for the rec… I want to go back!!!!

  • Mijune says:

    @yeppers – I know!!! I missed out :( Let me know k?

  • Linda says:

    mmmm look at that grilled corn! :)

    i’ll need to go back to NYC soon just to try more restaurants.. definitely didn’t get my fill this time around lol

  • Mijune says:

    @Linda- me too!

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