Reviewing Cuban Food & Cocktails Located In The Lab ‘Anti Mall’
Who says one can’t travel these days?
I took a journey from Southern California to Havana, Cuba to do a little Havana Daydreamin’ and I did not even have to get on an airplane.
Instead, I took a train from San Diego and went to Habana, a Cuban restaurant in Costa Mesa (there’s a second location a few miles away in the Irvine Spectrum). And while I was not actually in the Pearl of the Antilles, Habana sure made me feel like it for a few hours.
First, there was Cuban music playing on speakers. It was not enough to disrupt conversations, but was enough to make one want to get up and dance some salsa. Especially after one of its blackberry or coconut Mojitos ($10).
I just wish I had worn a white jacket and pants, topped by a Panama Joe hat so I could have really looked the part.
Later, tho, I went to heaven when I – accompanied by PubClubette Kristina – had the pork croquettas off the Taste of Habana appetizer platter ($22). Stuffed with cheese and bread crumbs and rolled into tall round balls they were so delicious that Kristina commented (after just one bite), “I can never have meatballs ever again that are not stuffed with cheese. Wow!”
They were so good, in fact, we talked about them all night and even into the next day. If there’s one menu item that will send you back to Habana time and time again, this is the one. It was a Cuban Crime Of Passion how quickly we devoured those croquettas! (Jimmy Buffett fans will get the reference.)
The platter also had three chicken and three vegan empanadas, something that Kristina had never had before (which is surprising because the girl loves good food!) and she is now a big fan. To top if off, the mango cole slaw was a perfect addition and the banana-habanero ketchup, fire-roasted tomato sauce certainly added to our culinary pleasure.
For our entrees, we wanted something really traditional from the island so we went for the Cuban sandwich, which on the menu is called the Medianoche ($14). Good call! It was, quite simply, the best I’ve ever had, and that was due mainly to the incredible rich taste of the ham. The rest of it – roast pork with perfectly-melted Swiss cheese – just melted in our mouths. Exquisite!
We also shared the Rum Pepper Shrimp ($30), a somewhat light choice considering the menu also featured roast pork, skirt steak and filet mignon. But after the wonderful appetizer platter, we did not want to walk away feeling too stuffed, for it’s easy to do that here since the food is so good.
This turned out to be an excellent decision. It comprised of pan roasted shrimp, Jamaican rum-pepper cream sauce, red and green peppers, mango and jicama salad, with white rice. This had me thinking that since I was having a pink crustacean, I really wished I had worn a white sport coat. (Buffett fans will get this reference, too.)
One thing that really surprised both of us about the shrimp dish was how well it paired with our cocktails.
Kristina had the Hell Blossom – El Silencio Mezcal, Ancho Chile liqueur, muddled cilantro, cucumber, lemon, pineapple with a chile salt rim, the later of which really made this drink POP! – and I the Before Night Falls. The latter consisted of aged rum, house plantain syrup, ginger beer and lime ($12 and $15 respectively).
You get a choice of three rums and I opted for the Flor de Cana, an excellent dark rum from Nicaragua. One certainly doesn’t get that everyday. Unless you happen to spend a lot of time at Habana, of course.
For dessert, Kristina has the Flan Caribbean ($16) – which she fawned over with every bite – and since I don’t eat sweets I had the red sangria ($8).
Both were ideal to end our delicious evening. We then took a quick walk around the quirky area in which Habana Costa Mesa is located, The Lab. There, with an old VW bus and other quirky and vintage items, it actually kind of felt as if we were in Old Havana.
There’s one other thing to add here. Beyond the food, cocktails and atmosphere, the service is outstanding at Habana. Our waitress verbally walked us through the menu, made recommendations on what to order and was always there at the right time to follow up with us.
Habana is located at the following locations:
Phone: (714) 556-0176
Phone: (949) 419-0100
– Thursday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-Midnight
– Sunday: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
– Tuesday-Wednesday, 5-10 p.m
• For the full menu, click here.
• Website: www.restauranthabana.com
• Instagram: @restauranthabana