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.
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:
Tostones (fried green plantains served with a delicious garlic/lime sauce) and Maduros Fritos (ripe plantains sweetened and caramelized)
We also had some fun Caribbean sodas – Iron Beer and Jamaican Ginger 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!