New Habana’s Ropa Vieja, shredded pork in chipotle-tomato sauce, served with rice and beans//All photos by Steve Legato.
For the four guys on vacation in Mexico, all it took was a side jaunt to Cuba to cement their business partnership. They were so impressed with Cuba’s culinary mystique, in fact, that they decided to bring those influences back home, in the form of New Habana in Narberth.
Situated in the space that once housed Carmine’s Creole Café and Act II, this charming BYOB is producing the only authentic Cuban food available this side of Philadelphia.
“Mariano was the glue that brought us all together,” says co-owner Dennis Rowan of his business partner, Mariano Herrerias, who runs two Southwestern/Mexican cantinas in Philly, both called Adobe Café. Along with co-managing partner Jon DuPont and Adobe executive chef Everado Garcia, the duo has adopted Herrerias’ ancestral cuisine.
From Left: Prepping for dinner with a colorful Havana street scene looming; Chicken empanadas with pineapple relish.
The cozy 48-seat restaurant’s interior hasn’t changed all that much from its past incarnations. Additions include two large, colorful murals depicting Havana street scenes, a fresh coat of paint, a smattering of tropical plants, and—once the cold weather breaks—outside tables. Otherwise, the location’s rustic red-brick walls and diminutive open kitchen are center stage.
On a recent bustling Friday evening, we lingered at times between courses. But the gaps were filled with sips of good wine, and the wait only seemed to amplify the energized experience. “Everything is cooked to order and made in its own pan—maybe two or three pans,” Rowan says. “So the food may take a little longer to arrive, especially during busier nights.”
Rowan describes the menu as Cuban with a Latin twist. This is true home-style Cuban cooking, so don’t expect lip-tingling heat from the salsas or the sweet treacle sauces found elsewhere. Tasty tapas-style starters included a chilled tuna ceviche, fried pork-belly chicharrones, and a plantain, yucca and tostada trio served with guacamole, mango pico de gallo, and salsa for dipping.
Chef Alfredo Gonzales; Blackened tuna with balsamic vinegar reduction, served with fried yucca and arugula-lime salad.
Our Ropa Vieja entrée included shredded pork ribbons in a light chipotle- tomato broth atop tender saffron rice with meaty black beans. My companion thoroughly enjoyed the delicate bronzino fillet in a piquant sauce of white wine, lime and capers—a value-laden dish at just $18. Sadly, the accompanying mashed yucca was bland and too starchy.
Another member of my party happily devoured his toothsome 14-ounce rib-eye swimming in a lush pool of demi-glace. We also split a Cuban sandwich, savoring its legitimacy. And for dessert: deep-fried churros rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with chocolate sauce and mango puree, plus a respectable tres leches cake.
Admittedly, when it comes to service and atmosphere, New Havana lacks in minutia—e.g., unlit table candles, empty tissue boxes in the restroom, and a tendency to point customers to tables rather than escort them. But it makes up for it with great food. It’s a great spot for couples and smaller groups alike to dabble in Cuban cuisine—which, by the way, should never be confused with Mexican or Southwestern. It’s more subtle, but no less soulful.
THE SKINNY: Thanks to the recent lifting of the U.S. embargo, Cuba is hot right now. Until you’re able to book a trip there, New Habana is a flavorful—and much closer—option.
232 Woodbine Ave., Narberth, (610) 660-0160.
Cuisine: Cuban with Latin and African influences.
Cost: Appetizers $9, entrées $18.
Attire: Smart casual.
Atmosphere: Convivial and quaint.
Hours: 3-10 p.m. Monday-Tuesday, 1-10 p.m. Wednesday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
Extras: Reservations highly recommended.