Our world has changed. Cuba is now a destination for travelers and Cubans can visit their “homeland” again to see their long separated families. Meanwhile, several Cuban eateries have come into the Chicago Restaurant Scene. Some, like 90 Miles, have been around for years. Recently, a new café opened up on Division Street, between the flags, so to speak, of what has been named “Little Puerto Rico” in Chicago. Located at 2525 West Division, between the main streets of Western Avenue and California in Humboldt Park is a new dining spot, La Havana Café.
I had learned about this new spot when I attended the local theatre, Urban Theatre, one of Chicago’s Hispanic companies. Many of the patrons had mentioned the special dinner/theater packages that LaHavana Café made available. I took a look at the menu and decided that this might be a great spot to tell my readers about. Tonight we had dinner there, and I am here to tell you, this is a great little secret in an area that many fear to tread. First, let me tell you, Division Street is like a new street. As the city gentrifies, it spreads further west and as one travels west of Ashland (the Chopin Theatre, for example) and continues, one will see many new dining spots. Most of these are non-ethnic, until you get past Damen Avenue (2000 west) and after Western (this is the corner where you will see Roberto Clemente High School).
Once you pass the Puerto Rican Flag sculpture that hangs over Division street, you are now in a truly ethnic area of our city, and are just moments away from this small venue that serves high spirits along with its amazing cuisine. Jane and I were greeted by our host Carlos, who has built this spot using the recipes from friends, family and of course the expert chefs that dominate his kitchen. Jane and I were joined by our friends, Richard and Denise who had not tried Cuban cuisine in the past, thinking it to be on the spicy side. It is not!
We began our dinner with some drinks. Denise and I enjoyed Russian vodka drinks, Jane a Mojita and Rich one of the select wines that Carlos chose for us. We all partook of this lovely red wine with our meal.. All were delicious! While we were viewing the menu and being educated on same by our server, Jenna, who truly knows her “stuff”, we enjoyed some plantains with a citric garlic sauce. These are made in house (as most of the food is). We also enjoyed “The Best Of Cuba Sampler” composed of croquettes, a Cuban tamale, 2 stuffed potatoes, 4 masas de Puerco, fried cassava and 2 empenadas. This is a pretty selection that could easily fill all four of us and for only $15.00. We added some extras so that we might enjoy all the flavors of empenadas and even the Flaming Cuban Tamale (not as “hot” as one might expect with the word “flaming” in the name).
There are many salads to choose from and we selected the La Havana Café Salad: mixed lettuce, feta cheese,tomatoes, cucumbers,onions,cilantro, green peppers and dry cranberries with olive oil,salt,balsamic vinegar and lemon juice. we added the avocado, and one could also add grilled chicken and/or grilled shrimp. This salad was enough for all four of us to share. In fact, one of the nice things we found about La Havana Café, was that it is perfect for sharing, allowing each of us to sample new flavors and tastes. By doing this, when we come back, and we will, we can select the ones that we truly wanted more of for ourselves. OR, we could do the sharing again, but with other menu items.
There are many sandwiches: classic Cuban, Midnight (ham,roast pork, Spanish chorizo,swiss cheese, dill pickles, mustard, mayo on sweet bread), grilled steak and many more. We opted for Sunday dinner knowing that we can return for a lunch sandwich in the future. For our entrees, we selected the lime grilled chicken ( a mere $11), an 8 ounce chicken breast cooked in lime sauce that is juicy as can be. We als enjoyed the house specialty , Miami Calle 8 Lechon ($11) Cuban style roasted pork marinated in citrus juice, the Filetillo A La Lola ($12) grilled strips of steak and Palomilla Steak ($13) 8 oz sirloin steak with grilled onions (this is THE most traditional steak of Cuba). All were served with white rice and black beans and a side of fried sweet plantains (I love plantains).
For dessert, we selected the Caramel Flan Crème which on the menu says, “wow, what a chef creation!”- let’s call it as it was- THEY ARE SO RIGHT! We had the original (only $3), but next time, I think it will be the cheese cake version. We also enjoyed, and I truly mean enjoyed the Cuatro Leches ($5) white cake soaked in sweety milk, topped with Chantilly crème and Dulce de Leche’. another hearty WOW!. They also have ice cream and a combo flan and ice cream along with many varieties of coffee and hot chocolates as well as Cuban Coffee (at a far lower price than you might think possible). This is a great change of pace for you and your family. Here you can dine on new flavors at very affordable prices. They are about to add some late night specials so that theater patrons can enjoy their offerings after the show as well as before.
Once the weather warms up, and I have it on good authority, it will, there will be outside dining as well as inside. By the way, when you enter the café, take a look at the walls. The entry wall has many exciting stories relative to Cuba and its history. The other wall, pictures and artwork depicting Cuba as it was (and still is) back in the “day”!. This is a casual dining spot with affordable pricing and probably one of the friendliest staffs in town. Every server and the owner all care about the pleasure of each and every diner, making sure that every step of the evening is a perfect experience. To make a reservation, call 773-697-8300. Again, the address is 2525 West Division Street in Chicago (hey, guess what? On Sundays, the meters are FREE) Don’t tell the Mayor, just enjoy!
To take a look at the menu, https://m.facebook.com/LaHavanaCafe/Menu/?p_ref=pa
All foods are mainly prepared on premise and based on availability (seasonal items) and most of the menu is available for catering as well. Ask for Jenna, and tell Carlos, you saw La Havana Café on www.aroundthetownchicago.com. He will be glad to buy you a cup of coffee.