Journey to Cuba, By Way of Southwest Louisiana

Café Habana City in Lafayette serves Cuban cuisine created from family recipes
Dining 03

Tostones Rellenos are green plantains stuffed with ground beef or shrimp. A Café Habana City favorite.

Sun and Gulf breezes elicit thoughts of island fun, food and drink. For those not able to jump on a plane or boat and visit an exotic locale, or if you just don’t feel like leaving Southwest Louisiana for your island fix — Café Habana City deliciously awaits.

Rafael Garcia, along with his family and friends, has stood the test of time and cornered off a piece of the culinary and culture scene by way of preparing home-styled Cuban dishes.

The team opened the restaurant in 2002. 

As good as the food is, the back story is just as impressive.

Garcia and his family immigrated to Lafayette from Cuba in 1998. It was a matter of prison or death since Garcia was regarded by the Cuban government as an enemy of the state. He spent years speaking out against the Castro regime.

With assistance from the American government’s immigration apparatus, Garcia and a few members of his family obtained permanent residency in America.

Once the group landed in Lafayette — directly from Havana — they registered for assistance and were provided one month’s rent for an apartment. Garcia then got busy trying to figure out how to make a living.

After four years of working in the injection molding plastics business, he and his family opened Café Habana City. In 2007, the restaurant moved from its first location on Verot School Road to its present home near the University of Louisiana at Lafayette sports complex.

Garcia is amazed by how the restaurant has been accepted by area foodies.

“Everything on our menu is from family recipes,” he said. “We use citrus because it is part of Caribbean seasoning.”

What does Garcia recommend eating when you visit Café Habana City?

The Cuban Classic or the Habana Mix Plate.

On the Classic, the plate will be served with traditional Cuban roast pork, a Cuban tamale, moros y cristianos (black beans cooked with rice) and boiled yuca.

Food on the Habana mix plate includes classic shredded beef, a Cuban tamale, maduritos (or sweet plantain chips) and a bowl of black beans and rice.

“These two plates are very traditional and very popular,” Garcia said. “They are a festival of flavors and colors.” 

Other dishes that feed the call of the island are: maripositas (little meat pies), tostones rellenos (stuffed green plantains with ground beef or shrimp), parrilla de pollo (grilled chicken breast marinated in citrus sauce), pollo empanizado (fried chicken breast marinated in citrus sauce and topped with raw onions),  enchilada de camarones (classic Cuban shrimp cooked in Spanish sauce with bell peppers, onions and herbs) and bistec empanizado (beef steak marinated in citrus sauce, breaded and deep fried) — get the picture?

Key flavoring ingredients in Cuban food featured at Café Habana City are garlic, cumin, bell peppers, oregano, onions and bay leaf.

If you are born and raised in SWLA, those spices can be found in many kitchen pantries. Garcia said there are many similarities between Cuban and Creole cuisine.

“I tell everybody that the landscape and culinary cuisine of Cuba is closer to Louisiana. You have French, Spanish and African as the main combination in Cuba. That is the same as it is in Louisiana. We eat a lot of rice. We eat beans. We eat pork. That is our favorite meat,” he said.

There is one drink synonymous with Café Habana City — the mojito. A traditional Cuban drink, Garcia and his clan feature many variations. Variety, spice and a zest for life are central to this vibrant eatery and its founders.


Café Habana City
911 Bertrand Dr.

Try This!


Habana Super Sample
Tasty morsels filled with the spirit of Cuban and Caribbean flavor await on this plate. A stuffed potato ball, Cuban tamale, beef croquettes, tuna croquettes, stuffed beef tostones, stuffed shrimp tostones and meat pies — delicious!


Bistec de Puerco
Pork is a delight for Cubans. The pork steak on this plate is marinated in citrus sauce and garlic, grilled or fried and topped with onions.


A Bowl of Beans
Lafayette area college students who have eaten at Café Habana City since they were children, ask for the beans. This is island comfort food.
Habana 1: White rice, black beans with fried yucca and sweet plantains.
Habana 2: Moros y Cristianos (black beans and rice cooked together), boiled yucca root and fried plantains.
Miami Style Beans: Bowl of white rice topped with black or red beans and chopped raw onions.


Categories: Editor’s Pick, Restaurants