Maria Anai Jimenez may be many miles from her hometown of Huaquechula, in Mexico’s Puebla state — where the Day of the Dead celebrations are legendary — but she easily conveys its magic when asked about the place. “There are flowers all over, and you feel you are in a place that is very clean and very happy,” she gushed.
When Jimenez and her husband Masimo “Manny” Morales took over a Long Beach restaurant late last year, they resolved to inject some of that warmth into the beamed-and-brick-lined space that had long been Corazon de Cuba — painting the walls deep turquoise, placing bright orange napkins on the dozen or so tables, adding lots of greenery and a bigger bar. When they reopened the restaurant as El Malecón de Cuba this winter, what had once been a primarily Cuban menu now had plenty of Mexican dishes, too — from tacos, quesadillas, sopes and flautas to mole poblano, a dish that reminds Jimenez of home. “You taste the flavors and it brings back your memories,” she said.
Jimenez and Morales, who is from Guatemala, met years ago while working in New York City’s hospitality industry. They married within a month. “I want things fast, he has a lot of patience,” joked Jimenez. They were both working at Corazon de Cuba when owner Armando Lopez decided to close last October, and made the decision to take over the restaurant. “It wasn’t that easy. It was beautiful, but needed a lot of attention,” Jimenez said. With their families and some of the remaining staff supporting them, including chef Francisco Zarate, they plunged forward.
Cuban, Creole and Caribbean dishes still anchor the menu, from starters ($4.50 to $18) such as tostones and mofonguitos (plantain bites filled with meat) to larger plates (mostly $16 to $27) of ropa vieja, vaca frita (fried, shredded skirt steak) and pernil, as well as a few versions of paella. When they first opened, Jimenez and Morales tried out breakfast service, and while it was so slow they nixed it, they kept the dishes on the menu for those who might want chilaquiles, a chorizo-egg burrito or huevos rancheros late in the day or evening alongside a mojito, margarita or aqua fresca.
In fact, El Malecón de Cuba’s menu is so lengthy — both for food and drink — that deciding on dinner can take time and firm decision making. When the weather is warmer, a truncated version of that lineup will roll in the form of the El Malecón de Cuba Sobe Ruedas, a food truck that will be parked somewhere in Long Beach, said Jimenez.
El Malecón de Cuba, 26 E. Park Ave., Long Beach; 516-875-7727, elmalecondecuba.com