My heart is in Habana... Oh, na-na!
It’s a catchy song and also, a sultry restaurant in Costa Mesa, California. Habana is tucked in the shabby chick LAB Anti-Mall shopping center where they have been going strong since 1995 serving Cuban and Latin inspired fare.
At Habana, you are likely to dine outdoors, partly due to the limited seating inside but mostly because the patio is where it’s at. Directly beside the restaurant is a high metal roof patio lit with minimal filament light bulbs, a fire pit, candles and wall candelabras. The space is enclosed by foliage providing a sense freshness and privacy.
Upon entering the upscale restaurant, you will step directly into the bar area. The indoors also has a candlelight glow and rustic decor. You can expect a cool vibe intertwined with an aura of Latin romance... an intriguing combination.
The one hour drive towards the coast is worth the satiating experience Habana provides. My many visits have occurred over dinner and met with consistency. I always look forward to their exciting dishes bursting with unique flavors I cannot get anywhere else.
Two ingredients you are bound to encounter are maduros and sofrito. Maduros are sweet plantains that are sliced, then fried, and served in just about every entree. Moreover, sofrito is the base of the cuisine which is a combination of garlic, onion, paprika, and tomatoes cooked in olive oil. It imparts so much flavor–even the side dishes pack a punch.
Pork Croqettas ($11)
We begin by enticing the appetite with great balls of fire! Slow roasted pork meatballs are made with swiss and manchego cheeses and cooked in a bright, fire roasted tomato bath. These amazing croquettas are topped with picked onions and served piping hot on a skillet.
Spanish Flatbread ($13)
I love dishes that showcase fresh ingredients and that is what you get when you order the Spanish Flatbread. This shareable appetizer involves a crispy dough drizzled in olive oil and heaped with goat cheese, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes and finished with fresh rosemary.
El Puerco Primo ($23)
On a rare night when I dream of food, it’s usually about El Puerco Primo. Slow roasted and flash fried pork is cooked osso-buco style in au jus. El puerco is finished with a cream sauce to the effect of a gravy. The sauce, containing chopped tomato and green onions, compliments the dish very well. The outer layer of the meat is like crispy bacon while the inside is utterly tender falling right off the bone. The massive bone is quite meaty and is served with garlic yuca mashed potatoes, braised bacon collard greens and maduros.
Salmon a la Parilla ($ 18)
A lighter meal that also taps into the Caribbean flavors is the Salmon a la Parilla. Flaky and grilled to perfection, it’s topped with a mildly spicy, tomato and green onion cream sauce that adds to its moistness. The fillet is served with maduros, sofrito black beans and fluffy white rice.
Ropa Vieja ($21)
Ropa Vieja is a national Cuban dish and one that is made well. Beef is cooked pot roast style with peppers, onion, garlic and tomato. The Cuban beef is then shredded and served with maduros, sofrito black beans and fluffy white rice. The side dishes also match in big flavor. Black beans are plated in a cute cup with chopped bell peppers as garnish. I could literally have these in a bowl and eat them as soup.
Caribbean Flan ($6)
Flan is a dessert I tend to overlook. When you eat it plain, after a while it gets boring, but not at Habana. This Caribbean style flan contains rum and is plated with fresh fruits. The fruit is a superb addition like berries on a cheesecake. The custard is prepared with the traditional bath of caramel sauce and is garnish with a mint sprig. This truly is the best flan I have ever had!
A full service bar extends through half the indoor space. The bartenders specialize in rum cocktails such as mojitos and fresh coconuts infused with rum. There's something about holding a fresh coconut in your hands and sipping the elixir with a straw that makes you feel like you're in a tropical paradise or is it just me?
The sangria is also a great choice. There are two large jars of red and white adorning the bar. The sangria is made in-house with fresh fruits marinating overnight. Sangria Blanca ($8) is made with white wine, passion fruit rum, apple liquor and fresh fruit. Sangria Roja ($9) is made with red wine, brandy, triple sec, rum and fresh fruit. You can’t go wrong either way.
Key Lime Tart
Recently, a secondary location with the addition of a bakery, opened at the Irvine Spectrum Center. I can't wait to visit the new restaurant and try their baked goods.
2930 Bristol St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626