Havana Restaurant

Exciting news folks! We are now North of Clairmont! This intersection is our first big landmark in the journey. After El Potro, there’s a lot of apartments, some medical-type buildings, and A Aroma Cafe, which doesn’t seem to serve anything that isn’t pre-made, making it some sort of walk-in vending machine. Which might be nice if you work nearby, but doesn’t really jive with our motives. And so, we come to the Crossroads Village shopping center (which we are doing out of order because the first thing was a crappy-looking pizza joint, and this week we had a special guest, Hannah).

So, Havana Restaurant. This place has a backstory planted firmly in Atlanta lore, so I’m not sure how factual my next few statements will be, but I have done some research, so here we go.


Once upon a time on BuHi, there was a restaurant called the Havana Sandwich Shop. A family-run cuban joint that was beloved by all Atlantan cuban enthusiasts for 32 years. Tragically it burned down in 2008, and the Benedit family was naturally devastated. And instead of reopening in the same spot, the wife of the now-deceased founder opted to continue at the second location they had opened in Canton. But festering family tensions caused the family to splinter into two groups that then found themselves in a heated race to be the first to open the spiritual successor of the Havana Sandwich Shop back on good ol’ BuHi. And so the Havana Restaurant and the Havana Grill were born.  And the general public sentiment was that neither of these parts came close to equaling the sum of the once-great whole. And everyone lived sadly ever after.

Okay, maybe not sadly ever after. But, the Canton location failed in 2009, the Havana Grill failed in 2011 (I think), and there is no small amount of public rancor towards the Havana Restaurant. Atlantans have strong feelings for cuban food! Things get even more complicated if you start in on the Kool Korner and Crazy Cuban succession story, but that’s another tale for another day. So anyway, in short – the Havana Restaurant is now all BuHi has to show for 32 delicious years of the Havana Sandwich Shop and several years of litigation and direct market competition. The End.

This is actually our second visit to the famed Havana Sandwich Shop Grill Restaurant. The first time around Kool Korner had just shut down, Crazy Cuban had just opened, and the hubs had just had a sandwich there that we was pretty stoked about. So I was excited to take him here, to the kind of fabled cuban place where he could have what was supposed to be the best (Considering that the Sandwich Shop and Kool Korner were’t available). At the time Adam was disappointed, so I was as well, though I remember liking whatever I ordered for myself.

Fast forward to present day. We go to the counter to order and the first thing we see when we get there is… dun dun DUN… Inca Kola. Which is awesome, because we’ve been hooked since Machu Picchu. We’re not really soda drinkers, but we’ll order this puppy whenever we see it. Which has been all of twice now. Anyway, we were clearly excited, which prompted the lady at the counter to ask where we giddy white folks had seen it before. The cans were kinds of dusty. Guess it’s not a popular pick… what a shame.

Collectively we ordered:
Cuban sandwich combo plate – half sandwich version, with black bean soup and yellow rice ($6.75), piccadillo plate – which should come with a side of maduros ($7.50), but also came with yellow rice, black bean soup, buttered bread, lettuce, and tomato (there’s a piccadillo sandwich combo plate that comes with those items, so perhaps we benefited from a happy accident), and the pan con lechon sandwich ($5.95) with a side of yuca frita ($2.65).

I mentioned ordering at the counter earlier – when you order and pay, you are given a number thatt is hollered out when your food comes up. Then you go pick it up from the counter on fast-food-style cafeteria trays and make your way back to your table, which is made of two smaller restaurant tables, and sit on your very generic-looking restaurant chairs. While the space is clean and decorated, they have made very little effort with the seating arrangement. Usually atmosphere doesn’t detract from the experience, but we all agreed that for being an anchor of the shopping center, and having a space as large as it is, we feel they could put some more effort into the experience. But perhaps this is intentionally hearkening back to Sandwich Shop days that we know nothing about. Either way, meh…

A mostly complete overview, though cutting off the yellow rice and the pan con lechon on the left… cell phone pics.

We were slightly overwhelmed with the amount of food we received (possibly due to all those extra sides), but ate with gusto. Everything was good and we enjoyed passing it around to try other things. In the end we wound up very full, which was a shame because I wanted to order the mamey milkshake (mamey is a fruit that I have never tried).

Piccadillo bowl with yellow rice and maduros (fried plantains) on the side.
Pan con lechon and yuca frita.
Half cuban with black bean soup and yellow rice with salsa.

While everything was good, all three of us experienced a lingering sense of something lacking. An expectation for just something more. More spice, more depth, just something that seemed somehow more cuban. The only things that I was really satisfied with in that regard was the piccadillo and the pan con lechon sandwich, which were both flavorful.

At this point I should say that I have never had authentic cuban food, so I have absolutely nothing to base my disappointment off of. I have not partaken of the Kool Korner, the Crazy Cuban, the Havana Sandwich Shop, or the Havana Grill. Nor have I been to Cuba, or a cuban joint in a place with a large cuban population. Adam had a single, mind-bendingly amazing Kool Korner cuban, and several Crazy Cuban cubans (not as good, but still good). Hannah has been down in the Keys and has sampled cuban fare there and says that she did feel that the depth and flavor of Havana Restaraunt’s food fell flat for her in comparison. Maybe we should have doused everything in mojo: a gunky, cloudy-looking bottle on every table; but I suppose we expected the food to come the way it was intended to be consumed – condiments optional.

In the end, it gets 3 stars. As Adam says, “Basically, it’s good, but I don’t quite see what all the fuss is.” Indeed.

Havana Restaurant (Warning: loud autoplay music. The player is near the bottom, under the photo)
3979 Buford Highway NE, Suite #108
Atlanta, Georgia 30345

Havana Restaurant on Urbanspoon

emily

Nerd. Foodie. Gamer. Gardener. Cook. Perpetual planner. Aspiring homesteader. BuHi Food Expedition leader. Pixelcrafter. I use too many damn commas.

Posted Under: 3 stars buford highway food expedition cuban food
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