Vallejo: Havana Sol - finding the holy grill at last ... Authentic Cubanos with house-made Cuban bread
Earlier in the week, I stopped by Havana Sol for Happy Hour (M-F 4-6). The deals are $4 mojitos, $2 draft beers and $3 well drinks. They only serve sandwiches for lunch, so I ordered dinner which came with a large basket of bread.
I only had a slice and took the rest home.
First of all, it was very good bread. I couldn't place the bakery. It had some sesame seeds on top, but the unique thing about it was when I opened the box, it had this lovely citrus aroma though it didn't taste sweet.
When I went for the Cubano today, I asked about the dinner bread. The server said that it was Cuban water bread. The Cuban chef made it in-house and the recipe had been handed down for generations in his family.
There seem to be a lot of variations on the recipe for this bread
After taking a bite of the wonderful Cubano, I asked if the chef also made the roll for the sandwich. Yes he did. There was also something about having the correct press for the sandwich so the fluffy bread could be compressed. The grilled section crackled and there was a layer of compressed white bread. The roast pork was wonderful and very flavorful. The cured ham was lovely, the crunchy, house-made Cuban pickles were perfect and there was the right amount of Swiss cheese.
It has been sooo long since I've been in Miami, I am blanking on the actual bread used ... however, this was better than my memory of any Cubano I had back there. It sort of looked like this, only with a little more compressed white bread between crust and filling
It comes with a nice slaw that has a lot of flavor going on in it. And I am in love, love, love with the platano chips. These are like potato chips, only made out of plantains sliced very thinly, the long way, They are crisp and greaseless.
They are still setting up. They won't have Cuban coffee until tommorrow when the staff will be trained in how to prepare it properly.
This is a wonderful restaurant. A nice and stylish restaurant comes to Vallejo at last.
Not that there aren't a lot of tasty mom and pops, but outside of that, dining is like something out of the mid-20th century with the food to match.
This is nicely done. It could be Havana had things progressed there. No schockly decorations. The tables are black wood, the walls muted beige and brown. There are some tables with light beige sofa-type banquettes. The ceilings are high and fans turn lazily. A few large bright pictures are on the wall, but even they are toned down with black accents
This is an excellent date restaurant. At night there are softly glowing candles on the tables and there is a large grand piano in the back. On the weekends there is (or will be) live music.
There's a nice bar area with one tv playing sports and the other flashing photos from modern day Cuba.
It is a comfortable restaurant. Not out of step with Vallejo ... ther bar was filled during happy hour and even at 5pm there were a few diners in the back having dinner. During lunch today there were about a half dozen tables filled.
Off the side of the bar there is a little a little lounge with some wicker couches. There are a few sidewalk tables.
I'm gettting a bit psyched about this chef's baking. I see myself having a nice dessert and a Cuban coffee out at the sidewalk table really soon.
I had a wrong impression of the menu. It is not a California take on Cuban food. It is Cuban food done well. It is not a Sol Food type of place. As much as I like Sol Fooe,, the food there is revised for American, especially California, tastes.
This is the best Cuban food I've had in the Bay Area so far. Way better than the now closed Laurel. More serious and better than the also closed Mambo.
Thanks to ricebowl for the heads up. I started a new thread because the name of the restaurant was incorrect in that thread and there was a discussion that this was Mexican food. It is not. It is solidly Cuban. Here's another positive report at the end of that thread
326 Virginia St, Vallejo, CA
If the chef is Cuban and so serious about the cuisine that he's baking his own bread to get the sandwiches right, I'm driving to Vallejo to check it out. It's still weird that he has Mexican dishes like guacamole with tortilla chips on the menu, but I don't have to order them.
They've got happy hour specials listsed on twitter: http://twitter.com/HavanaSol
Thank you, rw, for the good and thorough review. I knew I could count on you to provide an accurate evaluation of the food after all the confusion of "well, is it this or is it that?". LOL. My apology also in adding to the confusion by the incorrect name of the restaurant, but heck, there's only one Cuban restaurant named "Havana..." in Vallejo! So go figure it out. Anyway, it seems that some are still hung up on the guacamole + tortilla = Mexican and not authentic Cuban food. While that may be true, it does not mean that Havana is not solidly Cuban. I mean you can go to some Chinese restaurants and find teriyaki or kalbi on the menu, right? Or to a Mexican restaurant that serves the Salvadorean dish, pupusa. What's wrong with that? It's the restaurant owner and/or chef's preference to include these dishes. Anyway, I am looking forward to trying Havana very soon. I have my eye on the Cubano sandwich, oxtails, short ribs and seafood dishes! :)
My guess is the guac and chips are big money makers. If it's a small mom and pop place in an area that doesn't get a lot of culinary buzz, well you have to go with stuff that makes $. Certainly the "items not particular to that cuisine" can be a bad sign but guac and chips are hard to screw up.
We live in Vallejo and usually schlep to Berkeley or Napa for our weekend dinners. We have had really really bad experiences with Vallejo restaurants (food poisonings, vulgar & annoying tirades by staff, etc.) and have given up on eating in Vallejo. This Havana place sounds very intriguing and promissing and we will definitely give it a try.
Checked this place out yesterday for lunch. They have a much more varied dinner menu I'll have to try. I hadn't read the full review and was pleasantly surprised by the bread. Exactly as described. Had the escarole salad with roasted chilies and garlic cumin dressing. Very nice. The entree was the opposite. Lomo de Puerco, roasted pork tenderloin. Way overcooked to the point of burnt on the outside and tough inside, with none of the habanero marinated flavor left. Too bad since it seems it's the same pork as used in the Cubano. The citrus slaw was the highlight of the dish. Service was good and it seems they want to get it right. I recall the place in San Jose, Havana is it? being much better.
re: Dan Wodarcyk
I'm confused about what you ordered. Did you order a Cubano and lomo de Puerco? The pork in my Cubano was moist juicy and full of flavor. So was the meat in both not good or are you just projecting that the meat in the Cubano is the same. Habanaro marinated flavor in the pork in a Cubano? I'm not sure what you are describing.
I ordered the lomo de puerco. It is described as pork tenderloin marinated in a habanero blend. Didn't have the cubano but it is described also a pork tenderloin and I'd assume it would be the same but maybe not. Marinade or not, the lomo de puerco had no flavor and was burnt to the point of tough inside.
re: Dan Wodarcyk
I just realized I forgot to report about the dinner I had there. I wish they kept the sandwiches on the menu all day, or at least through the happy hour. I had been snacking all day and I wasn't in the mood for a bar appetizer but really didn't want a heavy dinner either so I went with the fish partly because I was curious about the croquette.
Durango Asado papaya mint mojo and grilled spring onions, black bean and rice croquette and collard greens
This was fine but other than the bread nothing had a wow factor except the collard greens which were a bright green chiffonade with lots of garlic.actually the papaya salsa was good as well with nice citrus notes. The fish was grilled fish. The grilled onions were arranged over the fillet which was draped over the croquette and was fine. Don't know why I was expecting crispy but it was a soft patty.
They also have a list of specialty drinks. Due to happy hour I had the mojito, but I really can't comment on it as my lime tastebuds were totally off that day. Watching the bar put them together, everything looked like it was being done right. However for lunch at another restaurant I had a fresh limeade that tasted bitter and overly sharp. I was going to warn posters not to order it. Then I had the mojito at Havana Sol and it tasted exactly the same ... but with mint ... so I'm thinking it wasn't them, it was me ... my lime tastebuds were screwed up somehow. Will re-try it in the future.
Until they get over opening blips and up to speed, I may stick with the stewed dishes and sandwiches to avoid something being possibly overcooked.
Went back again today for lunch and had to try the Cubano. It was excellent and the roast pork was nothing like what I had tried in the lomo de puerco. Perfectly cooked, tender and combined with the homemade bread, pickles, cured ham and swiss it was a hit for this non-sandwich lover.
re: Dan Wodarcyk
Well I’ve been here two times so far and both times the food was pretty mediocre. I really really wanted to like this place. Went last night because we were preparing dinner at home and a disaster occurred (a translucent worm crawled out of our fresh wild Salmon from Whole Foods as we were about to grill it). Anyway the Cuban food was disappointing. We started with a romaine salad which ended up being the highlight of the meal. One of us had braised oxtails with mashed sweet potatoes and one of us had roasted chicken with yucca fries. The oxtails were good but not great. The chicken was bland and mediocre and the yucca fries were appalling. It’s a shame because authentic Caribbean food can be so delicious and satisfying. Too bad the best restaurant in Vallejo is the Taco truck in front of the furniture store on 29.