Discover Cuban

Lost Gem
Margon Restaurant 1 Cuban Breakfast Theater District Midtown West

Margon Restaurant

"We are the oldest restaurant on our block. We try to keep a low profile while doing the best we can, and every day we appreciate that we are living in this country, ” said Guadalupe, who has been married to Rafael Rivas — affectionately known as Papa Bear — for over forty years. The restaurant was founded by three Cuban cousins, who took Rafael under their wing when he came to the U. S. from the Dominican Republic in his twenties. With their encouragement, he started out as a dishwasher, then a lineman, and eventually ran the show up front. When the cousins decided to retire in the mid-1980s but could not find a buyer, Rafael stepped up to the plate and asked if he could take over Margon. With years of hard work and small payments, Rafael has upheld the cousins' tradition of serving Cuban favorites, such as roasted pork, oxtail, fried sweet plantains, and rice and beans to the line of customers that stretches out the door on any given day. Little by little, each member of Rafael's family was brought from the DR to join the fold. Guadalupe — who met her husband while they were both on a tour of the Statue of Liberty — along with Rafael's brother, sister, sister-in-law, and many of their children — are all part of this warm and loving family affair. Papa Bear's smile lights up Margon — and his entire family smiles with him. They work like a well-oiled machine, serving a constant flow of customers ranging from construction workers on break, to ladies meeting for a leisurely lunch, to a gentleman in his eighties who never misses a day to sit down and enjoy his usual. According to Guadalupe, “We have the best customers. They come from all over the world. We have every accent. They visit once and then they tell their friends.

Lost Gem
Calle Dao 1 Chinese Cuban Midtown West Tenderloin Garment District

Calle Dao

The blending of Cuban and Chinese culture at Calle Dao is evident from the moment one steps into the restaurant in which Cuban cigar boxes and fresco walls neighbor Chinese vases and figurines. When we stopped by, we had the chance to sit down to chat with owner Marco Britti, who is also responsible for the innovative interior decoration. He told us that the décor is meant to “transport you back to Havana. ” With meticulous attention to each detail including a gate patterned exactly like a traditional style of door in Havana, and intricately distressed wooden chairs, the space is remarkably cohesive. Marco’s own life has been somewhat of a fusion as well. Originally from Naples, Italy, he moved to New York in 1996. He told us, “as an immigrant I left Italy to go to New York. So I know what it is like to leave everything behind, try something out and make a business out of it. ” While pursuing a music career – Marco plays the drums – he also worked part time in restaurants. In 1999 he took a trip to Cuba, and ended up living in the Chinatown of Havana for nine months. While there, he learned about the wave of Cuban-Chinese restaurants and was struck by the Chinese influence on the cooking culture. Upon returning to New York, he found that there had not been much development of Cuban-Chinese fusion in the city, which furthered his interest in the restaurant industry. He went on to open his first restaurant, Cubana Café, and later Favela Cubana, both of which presented dishes from different cultures side-by-side. The complete fusion was only realized when he went on to open Calle Dão in the late summer of 2014, partnering with executive chef Humberto Guallpa. Marco said that his situation now is not something he would have ever predicted, and remarks that “it’s interesting to see how you can cross paths in life like that. All of a sudden you are doing something else. ”

Lost Gem
Havana NY Restaurant & Bar 1 Bars Cuban Midtown West Tenderloin Garment District

Havana NY Restaurant & Bar

One day, Tom, the photographer for Manhattan Sideways, and I stopped by to say hello to Roz, the dear and wonderful man who owns Lou Lou Buttons. After catching up for a few minutes, he insisted that we accompany him across the street to meet his friends, the owners of the Cuban restaurant that would be opening the following day. We were immediately greeted with hugs and handshakes and, of course, some incredible Cuban food. Roz enthusiastically led me and Tom around the space, including upstairs, proudly pointing out the fantastic artwork displayed on both floors. When we finished our tour, we were introduced to Yussep Garcia, the artist. He told me that he came to this country in 2010 from the Dominican Republic, expecting to be a dishwasher. When he met Abbas, the owner of Havana, he mentioned that he loved to paint. Abbas immediately hired him, not to wash the dishes in his restaurant, but rather to fill his walls with artwork. "He trusted me from day one, " Yussep said in disbelief. In September 2016, Havana moved across the street from its original 1991 location, meaning it now has even more space for Yussep's art. Each painting magnificently depicts the colorful and captivating impressions of Cuban life and its culture. Also gathered in the restaurant the day before the grand opening were Abbas' partners and their chef, Rene Hernandez. After putting on a cooking demonstration for us in the kitchen - during which he prepared a classic chicken dish, pineapple salsa, and other vegetables - Rene sat down to chat. A fascinating man, he informed us that he is originally from Italy, but has cooked in some of the finest restaurants around the world: "I have spent forty-five years in the kitchen with thirty-seven of them being a chef. " He has helped people open restaurants as far away as Russia and Spain. "Now I am looking forward to retirement and settling in Puerto Rico, " the chef confessed. Tom and I would have loved to have spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing with this warm and friendly group, but we needed to move on. Before leaving, however, I had one important question. I had been introduced to people from many different countries - the three owners are from Iran, the chef from Italy, the painter from the DR, etc. - so when I asked the crowd of people gathered, who was from Cuba, they laughed and admitted "no one. " Apparently, Havana NY was opened by a Cuban in 1991, but Abbas purchased the restaurant in 1993, with the promise to keep the Cuban dining experience authentic.

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