If you’re looking for a pure Latin dining experience, head over to The Cuban. Owner Willy Martinez greets guests with a pair of 1957 Chevrolets parked outside, the restaurant’s neon logo complete with a palm tree and a wonderfully helpful staff attired in traditional guayabera shirts and white straw fedoras. And while the aesthetic touches range from a portrait of late Cuban diva Celia Cruz hanging on the wall to the playing of music by the Buena Vista Social Club and songs like “Guantanamera” contributing to the organic Latin vibe, the food is what will keep you continually returning.
The Cuban claims of making Long Island’s best mojitos have merit once you sip this perfect balance of white rum, soda water, lime juice, mint and sugarcane juice. The passion fruit and/or mango versions of this highball are equally refreshing. The options on the appetizer section immediately transport you to the 42,000-square mile island. Hand-rolled empanadas, bacalaitos (crispy cod cakes) and camarones de coco (coconut crusted shrimp) come highly recommended. As does the croqueton, queso cabra, a twist on potato croquets that offers the contrast of a crunchy exterior that gives way to a hot and flavorful confluence of Serrano ham and gooey goat cheese complemented by Habana sauce (garlic with orange and lime juice).
Leave room for El Cubanito, twin slider versions of the traditional Cubano sandwich which, like its larger cousin, is a panini featuring layers of roasted pernil, smoked ham, Swiss cheese and pickles on brioche buns with mustard sauce and yuquita fries on the side with mojo dipping sauce. Seafood lovers will want to wrap their taste buds around pulpo a la parilla, which is a basic combination of charred baby octopus, baby greens, tomatoes and onions which comes off tasting like so much more thanks to a presentation that masterfully blends these simple ingredients together.
Entrées inherit this baton of authenticity and range from rabo encendido (slow braised oxtail), pollo sofrito and paella Cubana. Purists will revel in the ropa vieja featuring Willy’s special recipe. This crockpot, slow-braised flank steak is the epitome of Latino comfort food thanks to the complement of tomatoes, peppers, onions and green olives served over white rice with a side of maduros (sweet plantains). Not to be missed is the pan-seared salmon rumba, a moist piece of fish accented by charred pineapple salsa.
By all means, leave room for dessert, which ranges from leche frita (fried milk pudding) and tres leches to two different kinds of flan, coconut and guayava y queso (guava and cheese). It’s all enough to transport you to Cuba without ever leaving Nassau County.
The Cuban is located at 987 Stewart Ave. in Garden City. For more information, visit www.thecubanny.com.