Updated: Dec 8, 2021
Over the last couple years I had heard nothing but good things about a Cuban restaurant that had opened up in the North End of Scarborough.
Cuba will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the first trip I ever took outside of the Canada & US borders. Always a popular destination for Canadians looking for affordable getaways to a tropical paradise and home to incredible culture and fascinating history and politics, it is a really enticing destination. That was more than enough for my friends and I to head there for our first time in the early 2000's.
Even as a group of 19 year olds, the 24 hour bars and buffets weren't enough to keep us on the resort for more than a few days. It didn't take long before we were renting mini-bikes and exploring some of the neighbouring towns and arranging a ride to Havana from one of the friends of the resort staff. A year later we were back again and rented a car to see more and venture a little farther out.
A number of years later I was back again with my girlfriend (now wife) and stayed right in Havana to explore even more of the Cuba beyond the resort walls. It's been almost a decade since my last trip there but I can still remember eating fresh fried chicken along the Malecon, Cuban sandwiches on the streets and ropa vieja in an open air restaurant in upscale Miramar like it was yesterday.
With so many great food memories of Cuba I was always surprised when I would hear people say things like "don't go the Cuba, the food is no good" or "I wouldn't go back to Cuba, the food sucked."
I never understood dismissing an entire nations culture and food because the buffet at your Sell Off Vacations.com bargain resort wasn't exactly gourmet! Guess what...this is not representative of real Cuban food!
When it comes to sampling Cuban food in Toronto it's always been a little hard to find. Most would agree that Latin food is under represented in this city. There are some incredible Mexican, Central and South American restaurants to be found but they are few and far between when compared to the Caribbean and South and East Asian food options in the city. Places specializing in Cuban food seem to be especially rare.
This is part of the reason that I was so excited when I found out about El Habanero & Churrobar in Scarborough and now that I've been, I can say that it is representative of all of the best qualities that I remember about Cuban food.
El Habanero & Churrobar started as a catering business featuring a mobile Churro dessert bar. The restaurant, right on the Scarborough-Markham border, opened in 2018.
Aside from the food, my favourite thing about this place is this front window! Instead of looking out and seeing a parking lot on Steeles Avenue, you are transported to Havana with waves crashing along the Malecon sea wall. The photo transfer onto the window gives an amazing effect with the sun shining through!
On to the food! Tostones are fried pieces of plantain that are smashed down and then fried a second time, creating a thick plantain chip. Served with a sweet & spicy sauce and their house "El Habanero sauce."
The Yuca supreme takes a base of fried cassava and covers them in pulled pork, fried onions and drizzles of the same two tasty house made sauces as above.
The La Cubana meal (also available in sandwich form) stars lightly battered pieces of fried chicken covered in a sweet and spicy sauce. It comes with Moros (Cuban rice & beans) and your choice of Yuca Con Mojo (Cassava marinated with lime & garlic) or plantains. As you can see I am firmly on team plantain!
Ropa Vieja is the national dish of Cuba and translates to "old clothes." The name apparently comes from an old story of a poor old man who couldn't feed his family and became so desperate that he started boiling his clothes and praying until miraculously the old clothes turned to a delicious stew. This seasoned shredded beef cooked with peppers and onions tastes infinitely better than an old shirt!
El Cubano is another classic Cuban dish. A pressed sandwich with roast pork, ham, cheese, mustard and tangy thick cut pickle slices. They add some of their special house made sauce to their Cubano too. It's so good that I wasn't able to hold off on eating before snapping a picture!
You can't have Churro in your name without making some outstanding churro's and that's exactly what they make here. The churro based dessert menu is extensive. From the classic with cinnamon and sugar to dulce de leche filled to more elaborate churro stacks, churro smore sandwiches, churro sundaes and more, the Churrobar definitely lives up to it's name!
For a taste of real Cuban food in Toronto make some time to check out El Habanero & Churrobar. Grab a Cubano sandwich and a coffee and watch Steeles Ave. transform into crashing waves along the Malecon!
El Habanero & Churrobar
4915 Steeles Ave E #8, Scarborough