When Amy Bernabeo and her friends are in the mood for authentic Cuban mambo, mojitos and sandwiches, they head on over to Corazon de Cuba, a restaurant two blocks from Long Beach's Boardwalk.
Bernabeo, 45, who is living in Island Park while her superstorm Sandy-damaged Long Beach house is under repair, says the food there compares to Miami's Calle Ocho Cuban neighborhood, which she has visited a number of times. At Corazon de Cuba, she says, "their rice and beans and seafood is unreal, and their empanadas are delicious. It's a great Cuban experience for us Long Beach girls."
Despite the paucity of palm trees in the city by the sea, she and her friends can imagine they're on Havana's famed oceanfront esplanade when they take a breezy after-dinner stroll on the Boardwalk.
And with relations between the U.S. and Cuba thawing, it shouldn't be long before Long Islanders can more freely board a flight to Havana to dig into a truly Cuban meal and dance in a real Havana nightclub.
Meanwhile, here are Long Island restaurants where you can try a taste of Cuba to an authentic Latin beat.
WHEN | WHERE Live Cuban band music Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.-midnight; Sunday brunch, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 26 E. Park Ave., Long Beach
INFO 516-272-4200, corazondecubany.com
Owner Armando Lopez hails from Puebla, Mexico, but earned his Cuban cred working his way up from dishwasher to manager at the Havana Central restaurant in Manhattan's Union Square. His chef, Oscar Juarez, also is Mexican but worked for 16 years as a cook in Cuban eateries around New York City.
"We opened a Cuban restaurant here in Long Beach because you feel like you are in Cuba when you walk along the beach and the Malecón [Esplanade] in Havana," Lopez says.
In addition to mojitos and seafood dishes, a specialty of the house is ropa vieja, the Cuban staple of slow-cooked shredded beef, red pepper, onions and garlic, with a side of rice and beans.
WHEN | WHERE Salsa bands Thursday, Friday and Saturday beginning at 7 p.m. Happy hour 4-7 p.m. weekdays plus brunch on Sunday, 630 Old Country Rd., Garden City (Roosevelt Field)
INFO 516-739-7900, havanacentral.com
The music is hot, the mojitos are ice cold and the clock is frozen at 1950 at this retro Cuban restaurant.
"We're trying to evoke the golden era of Havana," says catering and events manager Crystal Davis.
Owner Jeremy Merrin, a Manhattanite with a love of Cuban culture, founded Havana Central as a Union Square sandwich shop in 2006. The Long Island outpost features wood-paneled walls, circular booths, potted palms and the beat of salsa, mambo and merengue music.
Slide into a booth and try the Huevos Santiaguero, a Cuban take on eggs Florentine served at Sunday brunch. For something more authentically Cuban, any time, try the Cuban sandwich, with layers of fresh roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles all pressed down and flavored with butter and garlic. And, of course, plantain chips on the side.
3. Café Havana
WHEN | WHERE DJ music Friday and Saturday beginning at 9 p.m. Happy Hour, 5-8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 944 W. Jericho Tpke., Smithtown
INFO 631-670-6277, cafehavanali.com
With potted palm trees in the dining room, and conga-drum-shaped stools in the lounge, this spot also strives for that retro-Havana feel. Cuban classics such as chicken, beef or shrimp empanadas are on the menu, along with other Caribbean dishes such Puerto Rican mofongo.
CRITIC'S PICK: CUBAN SANDWICH AT CAFÉ HAVANA
The Cuban sandwich is said to have been invented in Florida by Cuban immigrants. At this lively Smithtown spot, the grill-pressed sandwich classic is made with roasted pork, smoked ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. It comes with plantain chips. ($16)
TRIP TO CUBA
Gallery North, a not-for-profit art house in Setauket, is organizing a small group trip to Cuba May 20-26, timed to coincide with the country's biennial art celebration. Travelers will visit museums and artist studios, take a walking tour of Old Havana and make day trips to the Soroa Orchid Garden and other sites. The gallery is working with a tour operator licensed by the U.S. Treasury Department to run educational-cultural trips. The program costs $4,500 (double occupancy) and includes round-trip charter flights between Miami and Cuba, hotel, several meals, excursions, medical insurance and a travel visa. A travel application and trip deposit is due by Friday. Details at 631-751-2676 or email firstname.lastname@example.org