Bartow: Havana Delights Cafe

Group photo of cosplayers at SyFy Bartow in Bartow, FloridaThe annual SyFy Bartow took place recently.  Just like last year, it was a fun day of cosplayers and vehicles outdoors on a lovely day in downtown Bartow.  If you missed it this year, you can follow them on Facebook to get updates as the 2019 event approaches.

Havana Delights Cafe restaurant exterior in Bartow, FloridaWhile my wife and I were there, of course we had lunch at a downtown restaurant.  We had been curious about Havana Delights Cafe for a long time, so this was a perfect opportunity.  It’s right along Main Street where SyFy Bartow took place, so we could watch folks in costumes walking by as we ate.  (Notice the Batman logo over the door!)

Havana Delights Cafe restaurant interior in Bartow, FloridaThe owner greeted us enthusiastically.  She had a fun personality and seemed to really enjoy describing the menu for us.  She had made several items special that day (ox tails, for example) that weren’t even on the menu – it felt like the kind of place where the menu might include a pleasant surprise any time you go there.  The interior was lovely, with black-and-white tiled floors and decorations that evoked both Cuba and the U.S. of an earlier era.  Several comic book and superhero decorations indicated the owner is a happy supporter of SyFy Bartow.  She told us she was raised in Miami but her parents left Cuba before the revolution; we also overheard her telling another customer that the Cuban bread is made at the restaurant.  So everything seemed authentically Cuban to us.  It’s worth mentioning that the owner also did what we wish many other restaurants would do – played music that is appropriate to the setting, in this case some lovely Cuban music.

Can of Jupiña pineapple soda in front of vintage radio at Havana Delights Cafe in Bartow, FloridaThe menu includes a variety of sandwiches as well as entrees with chicken, beef, pork, or fish, and a number of sides to round out a meal.  To start off, my wife ordered a Diet Coke to drink but I ordered a beverage I had never seen before, a soft drink called Jupiña, a pineapple flavored soda manufactured by the Cawy Bottling Company in Miami, a company with a very interesting history.  I love it when restaurants offer unique beverages instead of the same mainstream soft drinks every restaurant carries.

Two bowls of black beans and rice at Havana Delights Cafe in Bartow, FloridaFor our lunch, I ordered a Cuban sandwich and my wife ordered a pork sandwich.  We shared two sides, black beans and rice, and tostones (fried green plantains).  The beans and rice came out first and they were steaming hot.  These might be the best beans and rice we’ve ever had.  The flavor was outstanding, the beans were perfectly cooked from dry beans.  The dish wasn’t overwhelmed with a lot of onions.  Everything was clearly fresh and made on site, not just this side but our entire meal.

Cuban sandwich at Havana Delights Cafe in Bartow, FloridaThe sandwiches both lived up to the beans and rice.  We both love pressed sandwiches anyway, and the freshly made bread made these a real treat.  The Cuban sandwich was authentic, without tomatoes or onions added as you find at some restaurants.  The pork sandwich had good-sized chunks of pork with onions.  Not dry and not soggy with too many condiments – just right.  Both were large sandwiches, we would probably have taken leftovers home if we weren’t so hungry.

Pork sandwich at Havana Delights Cafe in Bartow, FloridaFried green plantains at Havana Delights Cafe in Bartow, FloridaLast, we received the tostones.  They weren’t intended as a dessert but since we ate them at the end of the meal and they were so delicious, they had that effect.  I’ve had sweet plantains before, these had a very different flavor.  The owner described them as being more like chips, my wife compared them to fried green tomatoes.  Slightly salty, a little crispy on the outside but soft inside.  The flavor reminded me of mofongo, which contains green plantains and is the only other time I’ve had them.  A delicious way to wrap up our meal.

With tip, our total was only $29.  It was only when I looked at the receipt a few days later that I noticed we weren’t charged for the rice and beans.  So our total would have been a little more, and this is one of those times when I’m glad we try to tip generously.  We were already in a festive mood because of the outdoor event, but the owner’s great attitude and this wonderful food really made for an outstanding lunch.  Even if you don’t live in Bartow, it’s worth going just for Havana Delights Cafe.  They are located at 155 East Main Street in downtown Bartow.

If we have inspired you to visit Havana Delights Cafe, or if you have already been and want to share your experience, please do so via the comments section below.  And if you have Polk County restaurant tips, we would love to hear from you via our Contact Us page.  Thanks for stopping by and happy eating!

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