I was in Columbus, Ohio, for a few days for a book signing at the White Castle downtown. 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. I know there has to be a story here. How exactly did a Cuban restaurant find its way to Ohio?
I usually try to check out all old-school restaurants or as many as I can when I’m visiting a town. There is one exception to that rule, normally 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 longer version of its history in a chapter from my book All About The Burger.
CUBAN FOOD IN OHIO?
Pablo Taura, Pablo’s Havana Cafe owner, greeted my wife Marcela and me upon arrival. 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, who was from Ohio, and ended up moving here. His grandmother’s recipes inspire the food. I knew there had to be a great story. I’m glad he shared it with us.
After our conversation, he shows off his mojo’d-up lechon, aka roast pork, to us. Now, we’re officially friends.
Frita Cubana Talk in Ohio
My luck didn’t end there; on that day, Pablo was debuting his Cuban Burger. I tell him about my Frita Cubana obsession, and we talk about the technique used to cook a Frita on the flattop. He invited me into his kitchen, and we cooked the Fritas together, talk about a memorable moment.
The food is Cuban but spiced slightly differently than what 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 to them than their Miami cousins.
So How Was The Cuban Sandwich in Ohio?
The Cuban Sandwich is the best that 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 of you 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 to have a Cafe con Leche (Cuban Latte) and flan, but there was just no way. We had planned to drop in one more time to Pablo’s Havana Cafe before leaving town, but it never happened.
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 make sure to let him know that the Beast sent you.