Florida has a lot of unique culinary traditions that make its gastronomy one of the most distinctive in the United States, but also an interesting place for the traveler to visit who also happens to be a foodie.
One of those unique culinary traditions is Florida’s love for Cuban food. Miami is considered to be the epicenter of Cuban gastronomy in Florida, let alone in the United States, because of its large Cuban ex-pat population. However, things are changing to where amazing, authentic Cuban food can be found all throughout South Florida, even on the West Coast.
One of the best, happens to be on the very small barrier island of Chokoloskee Island, which is located two hours west of Miami, and an hour away from North Naples, or forty-five minutes away from East Naples.
The name of this restaurant is Havana Café, and it offers a unique dining experience that you won’t get at just any Cuban restaurant. All of its dishes are inspired by the local fresh seafood in Everglades City, and classic American cuisine in addition to the extremely authentic Cuban dishes that are served here. For example, you have classic American dishes with a Cuban twist, like their grilled cheese sandwich and hamburger, which are served on Cuban bread and seasoned with Latin spices.
One also has classic local favorites like the grouper sandwich, stone crab claws, and the favorite grouper plate, however you also have twists on local seafood like the stone crab enchilada, which is an entrée with stone crabs smothered in a red chili sauce, or their grouper plate, served with black beans and rice.
Of course, there are the fantastic, authentic Cuban favorites, like their Cuban sandwich, their steak sandwich, their pork sandwich and pork plate, and their shrimp plate served in a traditional sofrito, with black beans and rice.
There are several special reasons apart from the food that makes this restaurant so special to visitors and locals alike. First, this is a family-run restaurant that takes influence from their community, their Cuban culture and their work in the local fishing industry. Owners and founders Carlos and Dulce Valdez were originally born in Cuba, but have lived in the Everglades City area for over a decade. They have not only kept very close to their Cuban roots, but have forged a life within the local community.
For example, Carlos owns his own fishing boat, which he uses every year to catch grouper during the season. The community in Everglades City and Chokoloskee is extremely small, so everyone knows them. As a result, the majority of their regular customers are locals.
So, if you come here, you will be treated like family, and be surrounded by a very warm atmosphere. This brings us to the second point, which is the fact that they own their own fishing boat, which very few restaurants can claim.
Carlos’ involvement in the local fishing industry existed long before Havana Café opened its doors; however, the founding of Havana Café opened up a new outlet for the family fishing business: the opportunity to serve some of their commercial catch in the restaurant. This is the place to try fresh, local grouper, but all the other seafood is of high quality as well. Third, there is an entire Cuban family involved in running Havana Café, so you can guarantee that all the food served here has that authentic Cuban flavor with that home cooked flair.
For example, their pork is marinated in a traditional, homemade mojo, and roasted whole overnight. This makes the pork super tender, and filled with that home cooked flavor that any Cuban, or Latin American from the Caribbean, would recognize as comparable to their own family’s home cooking. Fourth, the décor and atmosphere at Havana Café screams tropical oasis. For example, the exterior and interior of Havana Café is painted with bright oranges and reds, and decorated with sculptures and paintings inspired by the nature of the tropics. Fifth and finally, the food is just really, really good and well presented.
The quality and taste of the dishes served at Havana Café keeps patrons coming back. In fact, diners will travel from Miami, Naples, and even other parts of Florida, just to eat here! Diners who visit Southwest Florida from around the US and the world frequently on vacation will come to Havana Café; most of the local businesses mention Havana Café whenever travelers ask where to eat in Everglades City. It is the food ultimately that keep locals coming back, and attracts travelers from around the world to Havana Café.
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