I was in Columbus, Ohio, for a book signing at the White Castle downtown for a few days. So I was pleasantly surprised to find Pablo’s Havana Cafe (9685 Sawmill Road) in Powell, Ohio.
It had only been open for about six months. But I’m wondering, how exactly did a Cuban restaurant find its way to Ohio?
When visiting a town, I usually check out all old-school restaurants or as many as possible. However, there is one exception to that rule, typically Cuban food.
I’m from Miami, Florida, where you can find Cuban food all over the place, so why have more of the same? I’m looking for Frita Cubanas, the Cuban Hamburger.
The Frita was street food in Cuba and was served out of hot dog-type carts. It arrived in Miami, Florida, in the early 1960s via the Fritas Domino cart in Little Havana when many Cuban sought refuge there.
You can find a more extended version of its history in a chapter from my book All About The Burger.
Cuban Food in Ohio?
Upon arrival, Pablo Taura, Pablo’s Havana Cafe owner, greeted my wife Marcela and me. He is indeed Cuban and arrived in Ohio via New Jersey, where he had lived since 1967.
New Jersey houses the third-largest pocket of Cubans after Miami and Tampa, Florida. Pablo fell in love with his now-wife, from Ohio, and moved here.
His grandmother’s recipes inspire the food. So I knew there had to be a great story, and I’m glad he shared it with us.
After our conversation, he shows off his mojo’d-up lechon (aka roast pork). Now, we’re officially friends.
Frita Cubana Talk in Ohio
Fortunately, my luck didn’t end there; Pablo was debuting his Cuban Burger on that day. I tell him about my Frita Cubana obsession, and we talk about the technique used to cook a Frita on the flattop.
Do you want to talk about a memorable moment? He invited me into his kitchen, and we cooked some mini Fritas together.
The food is Cuban but spiced slightly differently than we might find in Miami. The Picadillo (seasoned ground beef) was way spicier (heat-wise) than I’ve had anywhere else.
We loved this version of it. The Black Beans had a more pronounced cumin taste than their Miami cousins.
So How was The Cuban Sandwich in Ohio?
The Cuban Sandwich is the best I’ve had outside of Miami and Tampa. I’ve eaten Cuban Sandwiches in 15 different states at this point.
The lechon, which was also on one of the tostones (fried plantains) along with the crusty bread, made it the stand-out dish of the afternoon. The Cuban Sandwich was perfectly executed.
This is a Miami Cuban Sandwich, not a Tampa Cuban Sandwich, for those keeping tabs at home. Both sandwiches have pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles, but a Tampa Cuban also has salami.
Marcela and I were stuffed. We wanted a Cafe con Leche (Cuban Latte) and flan, but there was no way.
We had planned to drop in at Pablo’s Havana Cafe one more time before leaving town, but the visit never materialized.
If you find yourself in the Columbus/Dublin area, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you did not eat at Pablo’s Havana Cafe. When you see Pablo, please tell him the Beast sent you.