Have (an) a Vegan Cuban Dinner in Phoenix!

When most people think of Cuban food, “vegan-friendly dining” doesn’t usually come to mind. Cuban cuisine is typically rich in flavored meats such as picadillo and classic sandwiches like the medianoche. But in reality, it’s a dining experience full of vegan/vegetarian options that tantalize the taste buds!

I was raised in Orlando, Florida, which was full of great Cuban and Puerto Rican restaurants. I lived near a significant Seventh-day Adventist community, which adheres to a strict vegetarian diet. As a result, my favorite local family-style Cuban restaurant, Don Pepe’s Cuban Café (renamed Habana Grill since I moved), has a wide assortment of vegetarian and vegan items to cater to this community. We love their food so much we had them cater our wedding 10 years ago.

The lack of authentic Cuban food in Phoenix was a bit of a shock to my system when I moved here. The only Cuban restaurant I could find was Havana Café on Camelback.

Vegan Food Restaurant Phoenix

At the time I first tried it, the memory of my favorite Florida restaurant was too fresh in my mind. It’s thirteen years later now, and the memories have faded. I’ve grown to value the unique offerings at Havana Café, and appreciate the amount of vegan items on the menu.

Cuban restaurants are a great place for vegetarians, vegans and omnivores alike to experience food that is full of flavor, but isn’t “too spicy” like other ethnic cuisines that are vegan-friendly such as Thai or India food. Our meal this weekend consisted of a variety of sides and appetizers, namely:

Vegetable empanaditas (stuffed with lentils, corn and carrots, served with a salsa)
Havana Cafe vegetarian empanaditas

Black beans and rice (a Cuban staple done with an interesting flavor at Havana Cafe)
Vegan black beans and rice

Tostones (fried green plantains served with a delicious garlic/lime sauce) and Maduros Fritos (ripe plantains sweetened and caramelized)

Vegan Tostones and Maduros

We also had some fun Caribbean sodas – Iron Beer and Jamaican Ginger Beer.

Iron BeerGinger Beer

Our waiter was very good at pointing out what was vegan, but we could only eat so much in one meal. Other appetizers and tapas items that are vegan include gazpacho soup, interesting salads and yuca fries. I still need try more vegetarian items (but I don’t know yet if they are vegan) with interesting names such as “Sun Spots” (sweet potato fries) and “Frituras de Frijoles Negros” (black bean fritters).

If you want a full entrée, Paella de Legumbres and Cho Cho (without the cream sauce) are probably your best options. However the paella takes awhile to make and I haven’t tried it yet, so make sure you ask if they use any butter/meat/fish/poultry stock before ordering!

They also have a gluten-free menu which includes many vegan/vegetarian items.

Havana Café will never supplant my favorite Cuban restaurants in Florida, but it’s a nice, friendly restaurant with a style all its own, and is close to where I work on Camelback. There is another location in North Scottsdale as well, called “Havana Patio Café”. Both are open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, dinner only on Sunday.

Update: see expanded list of vegan options in the comments!

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3 Comments

Filed under Obsessions, vegan food, vegan Phoenix

3 responses to “Have (an) a Vegan Cuban Dinner in Phoenix!

  1. Reading this made me hungry. I’m vegetarian. Hmm, maybe I should look into being a Seventh-day Adventist. I hope I’ll get to Phoenix at some point to visit the Havana Café.

  2. 4legsgood

    Thanks! Maybe the next time the Canucks come to town we can arrange a “junket” for you since it looks like we’re going to have a team for at least another season? 🙂

  3. 4legsgood

    The fine folks at Havana Cafe sent me a note with details on even more vegan options!>>

    Thank you for your great blog/review of our restaurant. You did miss a few other vegan dishes: Moros (white rice and black beans cooked together) Torronja (candied grapefruit skins – dessert item..ordered without the cream cheese), the Sun spots are vegan and so is the banana-guava ketchup served with them, Plato de Veduras (marinated assorted vegetables), Berenjena con Garbanzo, does have parmesan cheese in it and a creamy tomato sauce, although no strickly vegan, it can be ordered with a non-creamy sherry tomato sauce (the same one we use for the Tortilla Espanola – this sauce (which is vegan) also complements the cho cho very nicely). On our dessert menu, we have a Mango sorbet and a Fresh cut fruit dish as well.

    Since all of the food, including all 17 desserts, is made here on the premises, special orders don’t upset us. We try to accommodate our guests dietary preferences whenever possible.

    Thanks again,
    B J Hernandez
    Chef/Owner

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