With this year’s newly eased travel restrictions (thanks Obama!), vacationing in Cuba is once again all the rage for celebrities and other in-the-know Americans. But for the majority of us New Yorkers who won’t be making off this island and onto that one anytime soon, experiencing authentic Cuban fare is as easy as walking down the Bowery. Sitting on the corner of Bleecker, the colorfully-trimmed Agozar Cuban Restaurant has been serving up traditional Cuban- and Mexican-style tapas, sandwiches and specialties since it opened in 2002.
Inside the charmingly decorated dining room, exposed brick walls are decked with vintage framed posters and canvas paintings depicting daily life in the Caribbean, while potted palm fronds and banana leaves add tropical splashes of green to the warm, red-orange paint. It’s a fitting setting for enjoying pricy-but-worth-it tapas like slices of salty chorizo offset by caramelized onions and a sangria glaze ($8); and miniature arepas ($8), layering stringy, savory ropa vieja beef over steamy sweet-corn cakes, all topped with a crema nata sauce.
On the entrees front, skip the lechón roasted pork ($24), which, while tender and well-prepared, lacked the right punches of garlic and citrus needed from the requisite mojo sauce. Instead, opt for a full portion of that ropa vieja ($24) or the more adventurous vaca frita ($24), which pan-fries the beef to a toothsome crisp that bursts pleasantly with meaty flavor.
While spice is not very prevalent on the menu, diners can still appreciate a bevy of refreshing cocktails, including the Pasión de Agozar! ($11) tempering light rum and Chambord with passionfruit and pineapple juices. Seated at one of the sidewalk café tables with a tropical drink in hand, it’s nice to see that one need not go much further than Houston Street for a true taste of Havana.