Viva Cafe Habana!
Last night I went to the birthday party for one of my best friends (and my roommate) Erin. It was a heady, champagne-fueled, dance-filled affair that lasted until the wee hours of morning, but aside from some salt and vinegar chips I chomped on the way home at 4:30AM, my nourishment came in the form of (delicious) bubbly liquid. Inexplicably, I woke up five hours later feeling quite spry and went to one of those hardcore conditioning classes at my gym- you know, the one involving various sets of weights, those step thingies and a bordering-on-sadistic instructor. Why do I disclose such trivial details of my night-into-morning? Because it’s the only way to appreciate the magnitude of my appetite this afternoon. I was ravenous, and thus not too picky about where I went so long as it was close by.
I woke up post-birthday girl Erin and told her to get dressed as we were going to EAT. We decided on Cafe Habana, a tiny Nolita restaurant that has been consistently packed since it opened in 1998. To be honest, I ignore this place most of the time. Having lived in the Nolita area for the last four years, I’ve seen lots of restaurants come and go. Sometimes the simplicity of Cafe Habana’s food and the crowds that form outside (lots of them with guidebooks in hand) make me shrug it off as the neighborhood teflon. It’s ubiquity and unwillingness to change must mean it’s descended into mediocrity.
Well, sometimes I’m totally wrong.
The food is Latin comfort food- a solid cuban sandwich, decent mojitos, and grilled corn on the cob that made the place famous. For the one person who doesn’t know (you know who you are), Cafe Habana’s grilled corn is served on a skewer, smothered in mayo, cotija cheese, a sprinkle of cayenne, and then a squeeze of lime. It’s an awesome snack. The place is tiny, the prices are ridiculously cheap, and the crowd is still pretty cool after ten years.
We sat at the bar and ordered two cafe con leches, rich, whole milk mixtures served in tall milkshake glasses, two ears of grilled corn, scrambled eggs with chorizo and black beans, a cuban sandwich, a side of sweet plantains, and after we finished the coffees, a Dos Equis to take the edge off. It was so filling and so good. The service was awesome- everyone seemed sincerely happy (despite the fact they are working brunch on Sunday). The bill was $35. To put that in perspective, I paid $27 for a lobster roll yesterday. I left Cafe Habana feeling not just full but fulfilled.
Some restaurants stay around forever because they’re real good at what they do. They don’t pretend to be anything they’re not, they deliver on what they promise and they serve it well. There’s never an identity crisis with Cafe Habana. It’s a neighborhood spot where the food is cheap and good. As long as they do that, they will always have the crowds. Which is why I left the bartender such a big tip…I want him to remember me next Sunday when I walk in looking for a spot to sit and chow.
17 Prince at Elizabeth St