Cuban food is the focus of the menu at Luchacubano...

Cuban food is the focus of the menu at Luchacubano in Riverhead. Credit: Marc LaMaina

Marc LaMaina had been wanting to open something in downtown Riverhead for a long time. The owner of five Lucharitos Mexican restaurants scattered across the North Fork and Suffolk was just waiting for the right property to present itself. Last fall, it did.

Sunny’s Riverhead Diner & Grill, the last incarnation of the vintage diner that had been in continuous operation since 1932, closed its doors. The new owners had barely closed on the building before LaMaina registered his interest in leasing the space. On Friday, LuchaCubano opened for breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and ushered its last guest out the door at 10 p.m.

Although his existing eateries are all variations on a rollicking, Mexican theme, LaMaina has a long list of other concepts he hopes to build. And since a pre-pandemic trip to Miami, classic Cuban has been at the top of the list. "The feel of the diner was perfect," he said. "The lighting, the tile floor, the bar stools — it all felt very '50s, which is the era you think of when you think of Cuba." Of course the 90-seat restaurant has gotten a tropical makeover in shades of hot pink and turquoise. And it serves a very un-diner-like assortment of tropical drinks such as mojitos, mai tais and hurricanes.

The food is also a far cry from diner fare. All the Cuban classics are here: black bean soup, ropa vieja (braised beef), lechon (roast pork) and the Cuban sandwich (ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickled pressed in a roll). The kitchen, under the direction of corporate executive chef Joe Taffurelli, has Cubanized the Lucharitos ribs with a zesty mojo sauce. You’ll also find burgers (beef or bean) with hand-cut fries, and freshly squeezed juices. Local producers are represented by the bread (Blue Duck of Southold) and coffee (Aldo’s of Greenport).

LaMaina was adamant that the spot serve breakfast because "the location has always served breakfast," and he was adamant that it serve breakfast all day because "whenever my family has dinner at a diner, my kids order pancakes." In addition to sweet plantain-chocolate-chip pancakes, LuchaCubano also serves a bacon-egg-cheese sandwich on a Cuban roll, pan con tomate (toasted Cuban bread with tomato), eggs with pork belly or chorizo with beans and Cuban toast, and a classic French toast.

Breakfast items range from $7 to $11; sandwiches are all $13; mains are $10 to $15 at lunch, $14 to $20 at dinner.

Sunny’s, which closed in August, was only the third tenant in the diner’s 89-year history. "The previous owner left this place in immaculate condition," LaMaina said. "It has its own history and I am thrilled to be able to write its future."

LuchaCubano is open Mon. to Wed., 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Thurs. to Fri., 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sat., 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sun., 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 87 E. Main St., Riverhead; 631-591-3575, luchacubano.com

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