Austin, TX – Habana Restaurant…

I apologize for backtracking slightly in the process of catching up on these posts.  Some places or activities…either planned, suggested by locals I happened to meet on the road, or purely by accident…in hindsight, became things I thought some folks might be interested in knowing about.  Habana Restaurant on South Congress Avenue (aka SoCo) in Austin was one of these.

I stumbled onto Habana Restaurant by accident, as GPS was taking me to an ATM in Austin, just before I was about to head to San Antonio for three days.  I literally just caught a glimpse of Habana’s unlit neon sign on a rustic building tucked down a little embankment, peeking out from behind some tree branches on the opposite side of SoCo as I was driving by.  I was a little hungry.  And that’s all it took.

I found my ATM…googled “Habana restaurant Austin”…was informed that it is primarily a Cuban restaurant, turned my car around and headed straight for this unassuming little hideaway.

I am always attracted to buildings that transport you somewhere else as soon as you walk in.  Habana is this kind of place.

I arrived a little after the Wednesday lunch rush, to find I nearly had the restaurant to myself.  A friendly woman, wearing what I assumed was a server’s uniform, greeted me and escorted me to a table.  In my now-familiar habit, I jokingly explained that I was a tourist, on this road-trip…had never had Cuban cuisine before and could really use some help ordering lunch.

She said I should start with a Mojito, so I went with that.  I have had a Mojito maybe once, and I only remember it tasting like it came from a mix.  But, this was the real deal, including bitters, a little granulated sugar at the bottom and fresh mint leaves.  I could have sipped these all day, if I wasn’t going anywhere.

After describing a couple of options to me, she suggested the Masitas de Puerco (chunks of pork, marinated in Cuban seasonings and lightly fried), which came with a rice and bean dish.  She also mentioned the Chulitas Fritas (fried pork chops), but still recommended the Masitas.  So, I went with the Masitas.

When a different young woman came over with my lunch, this second woman quietly said, “You’re very lucky.  You just got waited on by one of the owners.”  There was also more to my lunch than I had ordered.  It included a pork chop and a second side dish of boiled, seasoned Yucca with onions.  The Yucca is similar to a potato dish.  The owner had added these without my knowledge.

The first woman, who then introduced herself as Yasbel Flores, owns Habana with her husband, Ron.  Yasbel continued to check in on me, and we ended up chatting for quite a while.  She was so down-to-earth and I felt honored that she would spend time just chatting.

Here’s a quick cellphone snapshot of Yasbel.  I love her smile:

I told Yasbel more about where I’m from, this road-trip, the blog (yes, I gave her my greeting card).  She told me about her high school aged daughter(s)…which related to my blog…more about sightseeing and vacationing in Texas, what Cuba is like (Yasbel is Cuban), and suggested that I take a trip to Cuba, especially because of my love of photography.  Cuba was already pretty much on my list, and now I really hope to go…and before too long.

Needless to say, lunch itself, was amazing.  So, if you ever find yourself in Austin, I would definitely treat yourself to Habana…and definitely go when you have time to linger over some Mojitos.

Is anyone beginning to see a pattern emerging?  I was gradually evolving into an accidental foodie over the course of this road-trip.  And the “worst” is yet to come…or at least more of the same.

Actually, I blame my friend, Joni, who suggested that I post some images of interesting meals I encounter on the road.