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Robin Garr

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Everybody [i]still[/i] goes to Havana Rumba

by Robin Garr » Wed Mar 09, 2016 12:38 pm

Everybody still goes to Havana Rumba

LEO's Eats with Robin Garr

Lechon Asada at Havana Rumba.
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“Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.” Did Yogi Berra really say that? Baseball legend attributes this quotable quote to the late, great New York Yankees catcher; but bear in mind that Yogi is also recorded as having said, “I really didn't say everything I said.”

It was like déjà vu all over again when we dropped in on Havana Rumba’s original St. Matthews location the other night. I couldn’t help but think of Yogi as our group crammed into a table set way too tight, in quarters packed with way too many happy, noisy people enjoying excellent Cuban food.

Everybody still goes to Havana Rumba, it seems, but to be honest, I was getting a little claustrophobic in those tight quarters, jammed in biceps-to-biceps with my dining partners on either side (fortunately, they were friends), and backed up tight against another stranger at an adjoining table.

It was loud. It was dark, dark enough that it was hard for these old eyes to make out the menu or identify with certainty what was on my plate. (Upon critical analysis, I’m pretty sure that the long table for our group of seven had been squeezed in between two original, more comfortably spaced rows, with the unfortunate side effect that none of the ceiling lights were there for us.)

This place is popular, and as the grandpappy of all of Louisville’s current Cuban eateries, deservedly so. And rather than turn away hungry supplicants, it appears that management has made the canny decision to fit more paying customers into the same amount of space. It’s a plan that may make sense ... unless diners start deciding that, you know, what Yogi said.

Still, it ain’t over till it’s over. Yogi said that, too. And at the end of the meal, when it really was over, our group left full and happy.

As a fan of some of the iconic Cuban eateries in Miami and Key West, I can be a tough judge, but Havana Rumba has always passed muster with me for Cuban authenticity. Comparing the menu against my October 2004 review, when it was the next big Cuban thing, it appears that they’ve stayed on course, still featuring Cuban favorites with prices adjusted only reasonably for inflation. ...


Read the full review on LouisvilleHotBytes,
http://www.louisvillehotbytes.com/?p=5524

See this column also in LEO Weekly:
http://www.leoweekly.com/2016/03/everyb ... ana-rumba/



Havana Rumba

4115 Oechsli Ave.
897-1959
havanarumbaonline.com
Robin Garr's rating: 85 points

Other locations: 12003 Shelbyville Road, Middletown, 244-5375; 2210 Bardstown Road, 749-4600.
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Nathaniel C

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Re: Everybody [i]still[/i] goes to Havana Rumba

by Nathaniel C » Sat Dec 29, 2018 6:00 pm

Since I’m a regular at this place, and have tried pretty much everything on the menu, I figured the least I could do here is to write a comprehensive review. I first tried Havana Rumba’s then-new Highlands location shortly after it opened, when it was a walk-up counter with a separate bar. I really liked the food, but didn’t think a whole lot about it until I moved to Louisville in 2014 and began frequenting the St. Matthews Havana Rumba shortly thereafter. What’s not to like? Well, sometimes it’s crowded, but other than that, not much. Often when I recommend restaurants to friends, I mention specific dishes that the restaurant does particularly well, or tell them to avoid things that I didn’t find appealing. Not so with Havana Rumba. Almost everything on the menu is an excellent choice and the portions are huge, so I just tell people to go there and order whatever strikes their fancy. It’s very common for me to take home enough leftovers from an entree to make one or even two more meals—it’s truly an awesome value if you take into account the quality of the food and the size of the entrees. The service is outstanding, and I’ve noticed that many of the employees have been there for several years, which is exceptional in an industry which traditionally has very high employee turnover. For that reason, the staff tends to be extremely knowledgable about the menu. The food is extremely consistent from one visit to another, which is something that smaller restaurants sometimes struggle with.

Caveat: Shamefully, when I was in Miami several years ago, I had no idea what Cuban food was, nor did I seek it out, so I can’t compare Havana Rumba’s authenticity to the restaurants there. What I can say is that the food and drinks at Havana Rumba are objectively great, compared to other restaurants I have tried. All of my friends who have been to HR absolutely love it. Also, I generally don’t eat seafood, so I’m pretty blank on those dishes, but I can say that the shrimp dishes smell awesome and I’ve heard good things from others who have tried the fish.

Since I’ve tried most of the menu items, I’m just going to provide my commentary on the ones I’ve had over the years. First off, the bread they serve at dinner. The bread alone is nice, but the garlic butter that comes with it is out of this world. Second, their house hot sauce is also great. It packs quite a kick, but unlike a lot of hot sauces, also includes milder spices to give it flavor. This used to be a “secret menu” item, but they recently put it on the menu, so it’s a little better advertised now.

Specials:
The St. Matthews location recently had Ajiaco soup as a weekend special for two or three weekends in a row. It was excellent, as were the Costilla de Puerco (pork back ribs), which practically melted in your mouth—if it were feasible, I’d love to see these on the daily menu. The Highlands location recently had a bourbon mojito as a weekend special. I didn’t care for it. See below for my drink suggestions from their regular menu.

Appetizers:
Empanadas – these are good, the sour cream based dipping sauce is also great. The cheese and spinach variety has the best flavor, followed by the chicken. I don’t care for the beef.

Rumba Queso Dip – this is one of my favorites, it has so many different flavors interacting with each other. I’ll often just order this and eat it as my meal if I don’t want to take home leftovers.

Tostones con Pollo – this is also a favorite. The pork and beef varieties are also great, but I usually prefer the chicken.

Croquetas de Pollo y Jamon – these are good. I typically don’t order these as a separate appetizer, but will take the “free croquette” they offer on some nights with the purchase of an alcoholic beverage.

Yuca Brava – this is new on the menu and I think it’s kind of a dud. It just feels like a hodgepodge of random ingredients. It’s not terrible, but I’d much rather get the Rumba Queso Dip instead (see above).

Cuban Tamale – Another solid choice. Like corn pudding with pork on top.

Cuban Sampler Plate – I like all three of the things it includes, so, obviously, it gets a thumbs-up.

Ham, chorizo and cheese plate "Entremes" – this is really good. Most charcuterie plates have several items I don’t care for, but this one is a winner.

Guacamole – really good on its own, however, I usually end up ordering the Rumba Queso Dip, which includes a dab of guacamole plus many other delicious ingredients.

Tapeo Criollo – great for sharing.

Bocaditos (Dinner Sandwiches) – All of these are excellent, with the following caveats: 1. I have not tried the fish sandwich. 2. I don’t care for the steak sandwich—it’s not bad, I just don’t care for it.

Pollo (Chicken) – All of these are also excellent. The Pollo a la Milanesa is a favorite of mine. It is basically the Pollo Empanizado with ham and cheese on top, and tomato sauce underneath. The Pollo con Queso is a new menu item. They used to offer the Vaca Frita with chicken instead of beef. This is the same as that, plus some cheese sauce on top.

Puerco (Pork) – the pork dishes are both good. The Lechon Asado is a favorite, it’s always so tender and moist. I love the pickled red onions.

Carnes (Beef) – again, all good, with the following caveats: 1. I don’t care for the palomilla steak (which is the basis for the steak sandwich, which is also not my favorite). I really love the pinchos—where else can you get filet mignon with great sides for $20? Ropa vieja is incredible, very tender and flavorful. Definitely try that.

Sides
French Fries – nothing wrong with these, but you can do better—see below...

Sweet potato fries – bingo! The dipping sauce is delicious.

Yuca Frita – these are a nice alternative to fries. The chimichurri sauce is excellent.

Yuca con Mojo – I wasn’t sure what to think of this at first, but I really like it. It’s kind of like a potato with garlic sauce on it, and the pickled onions also give it a nice flavor.

Tostones – I overlooked these for a long time. They are what forms the bed of the tostones con pollo appetizer, but you can order just the smashed plantains on their own as a side. They come with chimichurri sauce. Very good!

Maduros – fried plantains with caramelized sugar on the outside. These are basically like a dessert that is served as a side with your meal. Very sweet.

Congri Rice – also a solid choice, it’s included with a lot of the meals. Kick it up with some hot sauce.

Arroz blanco – this is included with black beans with a lot of the meals. Mix it with the beans and add hot sauce to taste.

Grilled Vegetables – these are really good. Add hot sauce for additional flavor.

Desserts
Cafe Cubano – this is great, but I almost never have room for anything else after eating here.

Tia's Flan – this is a great dessert.

Tres Leches – also a great dessert. Incredibly rich.

Drinks:
If you like margaritas, the Ultimate Margarita is probably the best in town. It builds on their house margarita by adding Grand Marnier. Super strong, but delicious. The Havana Rumba Margarita is new on the menu and, supposedly, is like the Ultimate, but with a higher grade tequila. I thought it had a much stronger tequila taste and actually prefer the Ultimate.

Their house mojitos and margaritas are very solid choices, and are happy hour specials during the week. Many people order the mojitos with different rum.

The swirl margarita is also a popular choice, and seems to include more sangria than others I’ve had. If you go to El Taco Luchador and order a swirl margarita, you’ll get a much smaller serving and, in my experience, it will only have a tiny amount of sangria.

They have various other flavored drinks, a small selection of beer and wine, and some spirits. They will occasionally have special drinks that aren’t on the regular menu. They had a guava based sangria several months ago that was very nice.

In short, Havana Rumba is always a great place to dine out. I’m really glad I discovered it.
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Jerry C

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Re: Everybody [i]still[/i] goes to Havana Rumba

by Jerry C » Sat Dec 29, 2018 7:30 pm

How many shares of their stock do you own? ... LOL :lol:
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Re: Everybody [i]still[/i] goes to Havana Rumba

by RonnieD » Sat Dec 29, 2018 9:32 pm

Still one of the best tables to occupy in Louisville. LOVE HR!
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Louisville Boat Club
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Re: Everybody [i]still[/i] goes to Havana Rumba

by Margie L » Sat Dec 29, 2018 11:05 pm

I'm also still a regular, but I've never gotten around to the Margaritas, the Mojitos are too good. :)
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Re: Everybody [i]still[/i] goes to Havana Rumba

by Robin Garr » Sun Dec 30, 2018 10:18 am

Great review, Nathaniel. Thanks!
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Re: Everybody [i]still[/i] goes to Havana Rumba

by Nathaniel C » Mon Dec 31, 2018 9:05 pm

Jerry C wrote:How many shares of their stock do you own? ... LOL :lol:

None... yet! :mrgreen:
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Re: Everybody [i]still[/i] goes to Havana Rumba

by Nathaniel C » Mon Dec 31, 2018 9:07 pm

Margie L wrote:I'm also still a regular, but I've never gotten around to the Margaritas, the Mojitos are too good. :)

They really are! Some of my friends have criticized that they are made from a mix, which is true, but they're still good. Also, if they are not busy, you should ask them to make you a mojito from scratch, it's a completely different (but excellent) taste.

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