Cuban comfort food as the snow flies: Yuko finds big flavour at a small price with Havana Cafe

Yuko Inoue (blog) came to Ottawa from Japan one year ago to study at Carleton University. After a summer serving as photo editor of The Charlatan, Carleton’s student newspaper, she’s now starting her second year of journalism. In her spare time, Yuko likes art, live music and exploring the city’s food scene. 

Snow finally fell in parts of Ottawa on Thursday — but, meanwhile, I was drinking lemonade and waiting for a hot sandwich inspired by the country Canadians escape to during the winter: Cuba. 

Nestled into a little stretch of shops in Old Ottawa South, I came face-to-face with Havana Cafe‘s “Cuban Club.” Let me explain my first date with him: 

The Cuban Club from Havana Cafe

Tender grilled chicken, lightly flavoured with pepper and cilantro jumped into my mouth, dancing in harmony with caramelized onion, lettuce, tomato and a bit of mayo. Both sides of the bread were crunchy, while the bread inside absorbed the juice from the chicken and veggies. I nearly burnt my tongue, but couldn’t stop from hastily munching on it as soon as it arrived.

But perhaps the best perk was the price: $5.65 — WITH taxes and a lemonade thrown in. Way to go when living a student life. (Even better, considering that Havana Cafe is within walking distance to Carleton University.)  

Another option is the Cuban wrap with rice and beans, grilled veggies and Yucca chips (fried Cuban root vegetable that is something between sweet potato and potato). Once you know and trust Havana Cafe’s sensitivity in flavouring food, I would definitely recommend this $10 plate.

 

The Cuban Wrap from Havana Cafe

Old Ottawa South — “between the bridges” — is a neighbourhood that’s growing quickly. With the recent arrival of great spots like Taylor’s Food & Wine and Stella Luna Gelato Cafe, it’s easy to spend an afternoon walking the sloping streets and perusing the shops. 

On a wall instead Havana Cafe was a (typical) Cuban photo of both the young and old sitting in front of a porch, smiling, as a big, happy family. And it seems to be an attitude that carried over to the cafe’s staff, too. “Smile,” said one staff member, taking a photo of a family that came for a take-out order. Looks like they’ve brought the Cuban flavour, and haven’t lost the energy yet either.

While this will be Havana Cafe’s second winter to go through in Ottawa, like me, they recently renovated the lower floor for cocktail parties, birthdays and meetings. The vibe is private, yet friendly. Another great perk is that people can order meals that are not in the menu, as long as they are Cuban. The menu offers a suggestion: “Backyard pig roast.”

So instead of splurging on a $500 flight to escape the Ottawa winter, why not hop on an bus and come over for some Cuban comfort? And all for $5. 

Havana Cafee is located at 1200 Bank St in Old Ottawa South, and can be reached at 613-733-1200 or via havanacafeandcatering@gmail.com

Thanks for the winter-friendly food tip, Yuko! Great to know as the temperature drops!