Friday, February 22, 2013

ROC: Habana - Caribbean/Latin Influenced Cuisine and Cocktails at The Lab

Habana is an amazing, unique dining institution in Orange County. It is a restaurant that serves Caribbean (primarily Cuban)/ Latin influenced dishes and cocktails within The Lab shopping mall in Costa Mesa. Besides the food, the romantic and intimate environment of the restaurant makes Habana an amazing place to take a date to as they have not only a candle lit interior designed as a Spanish monastery but also an outdoor patio with an outdoor fireplace, heat lamps and lightened by candle light as well. In addition, they also have a bar area where a person can dine alone or just have a drink.

Although Habana's in The Lab that refers itself as the "anti-mall", one will notice that it is pretty much the only place within the mall due to its intimate atmosphere that hosts a completely opposite clientele compared to the alternative/hipster crowd that the mall caters to; people in business/formal attire that have exponentially far more disposable income than that rest of the young crowd that shop at The Lab; some of them could pass off as their parents. Be that as it may, it should not intimidate those wearing more casual attire to dine at Habana as it's filled with both crowds consisting of polar opposites as there's no dress code.


Habana is one of the few, if not the only place that serves Caribbean/Latin cocktails such as a mojito and sangria. If the standard mojito is too basic for you, the bartenders can also add fruit such as blueberries, strawberries and raspberries to it. For their sangria, they have both red wine and white wine types. On Wednesdays, one of the main bartenders has available new cocktails she's created with some of them utilizing concepts of molecular gastronomy. Later in the summer, Habana will once again have their outdoor barbeques on Wednesday nights. The cocktail pictured above is my favorite of Habana, their version of the caipirinha which is made with raw sugar and also is more stronger served in an old-fashioned glass which gives it its masculine quality for a fruit-based cocktail.

The dishes served at Habana are very delicious. Although some might say that it's not 100%, the restaurant does a pretty good job bringing authenticity to their food that originated and was developed thousands of miles away from the west coast of the US. One of their classic dishes and my most favorite dish is their skirt steak topped with onions and chimichurri served with seasoned rice and corn. The cooked onions providing a carmelized flavor and the contrasting chimichurri contrubutes the necessary refreshing acidity and flavor to the skirt steak.

Another one of their popular dishes is their Ropa Vieja which is Cuban pulled pork with fried plantains, black beans and white rice. It is definitely one of their most homestyle dishes that's serves great as comfort food.

Certainly one of my favorites, the Paella at Habana is very delicious. Along with the saffron rice and peas, the unique combination of proteins consisting of clams, shrimp, calamari, mussels, chorizo, and chicken is what gives its dish it's comforting character. The dish can be either ordered as for one or two people.

Although it started out as an occasional special, the Citrus-Marinated Pork Belly is extremely popular with the customers. Also topped with two shrimp and a steak knife plunging deep through, the pork belly sits on top of a bed of spinach and Caribbean fufu that's surrounded by a Caribbean Habanero sauce with gives the dish its fire and acidity that contrasts well with the fattiness of the pork belly and the fufu starch. I took one of my friends recently for a first visit to Habana and had recommended that he order this dish: he loved it and actually preferred it to my favorite dish being the skirt steak.

Habana is a great place to experience Caribbean/Latin fare here in Orange County. It also is an amazing spot with its immensely intimate, romantic atmosphere in order to have an impressing first date. Compared to the other romantic restaurants in Orange County, the dishes at Habana are much more relatively affordable with the most expensive dish coming to around $24. Although Habana's a great date restaurant, it also is a great place to have a fun meal with friends or dine alone.

Habana on Urbanspoon

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