TOP OF THE MORNING: Habana Cuba adds spice and variety to breakfast. Photograph by Kristine Bautista
Salsa vibes and staccato notes roused me out of my morning daze as I was led to the table. The walls were washed in yellow, red and blue, and I saw awards posted along one wall leading to the kitchen. There was a sense of nostalgia, a gut feeling that this dining room has played host to huddled conversations, long-awaited coffee dates, roaring laughter and family banter. I was happy to sit at that table on a Saturday morning, coffee in hand, imagining all of these moments as the steam from my coffee whirled into the brisk air.
I was at Habana Cuba, a local go-to for Cuban food in the South Bay that is also shaking up the breakfast scene. Tropical morning cocktails and intriguing plates like the “not-so-French” Cuban French toast have drawn many diners to this iconic location on Race Street, which is now serving a Cuban brunch from 8am to 1pm on the weekends. Cuban food is an intense marriage of Spanish, African and Caribbean flavors. Most plates are sauteed or slow-cooked with a sofrito base: green pepper, garlic, oregano and ground pepper quick-fried in olive oil.
The Not-So-French-Toast Special ($11/$4 a la carte) consisted of a slab of Cuban bread topped with sifted powdered sugar. Torreja, as it is sometimes called, can be served hot or cold, for breakfast and for dessert. Compared to its French counterpart, this breakfast toast was not particularly eggy or soggy. Instead, it was very sweet even without the syrup. All of the brunch items came with an assemblage of hash browns, fried ripe plantains and cut-up fruit. The Joao Special Omelette ($12), named after the chef, was a mountainous jumble of egg, ground beef, spinach, mushrooms and onions. The hearty portion lacked the prim and properness of an omelette fold; instead, the layers seemed to dance together naturally, making for very colorful and unpredictable bites.
Although chicken, beef and seafood are amply consumed in Cuba, pork is still considered the best. We ordered the breakfast burrito ($10) with lechon—pork slow-roasted in citrus juices and herbs. The meat was savory; the egg, black beans and potatoes, pretty standard. But the dish was tasty, and so big that I had leftovers for lunch. The Habana Special ($9), with sweet and spicy chorizo, two eggs and two pancakes, seemed like a basic breakfast at first. But Habana uses a more solid-textured chorizo, one that is devoid of hot pepper and more on the sweet side. The link was cut in half lengthwise and crisped in a pan.
Habana Cuba is a great place to experience the first meal of the day—differently. If you’re there for brunch, you may also see the chef himself, Joao, slipping out of the kitchen to check on tables and say hello to regulars. Siestas were looming as we said thank you and made our way to the door, the charge of a good meal leading the way.
238 Race St., San Jose; 408.998.2822