My favorite entrée by far was the lamb shank braised with tomatoes, rosemary, and sherry ($12.95). It was succulent, ever so tender, and deeply flavorful. The ropa vieja ($9.95), a shredded beef dish very similar to the lamb, was nearly as good, though even more humble, spread as it was like a stew over rice. A rib-eye steak marinated in citrus and port ($15.95) was strongly flavored and good, but the meat was rather tough. The traditional puerco asado ($9.95), a marinated roast pork dish, is also excellent.

Less thrilling are options like the Arroz con Calamares ($9.95)--simply a scant handful of squid rings on a mountain of saffron rice--and the scallops in tomato-sherry sauce ($13.95), which were overcooked and stewy. But my least favorite dish might well have been the Camarones Enchilados, shrimp in a goopy red sauce. In fact, the seafood was so miss-or-miss it seemed more appropriate to landlocked Minnesota than to sea-cradled Cuba. The marinated tuna steak ($12.95) was dry on one visit and fine on another, and the plantain-breaded red snapper surprised me because it was deep-fried in a thick sugary shell: It may have been too sweet for my taste, but that same fact will make it perfect for many people.

Mark Wojahn

Location Info

Map

Cafe Havana

119 Washington Ave. N.
Minneapolis, MN 55401

Category: Restaurant > Caribbean

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

The homemade desserts are surprisingly unpretentious for a spot where you'd expect gold-plated rococo edifices. My favorite is the tres leches ($4.25), a condensed-milk-drenched white cake dripping with a silky boiled icing. Though almost candy-sweet, the cake is absolutely delicious, and I watched several people who swore they were stuffed beyond all hope linger long enough to scrape the last crumbs off their plates. The apple cake ($4.50) is a humble square of moist brown-sugar-iced plain pastry, and it is also impossible to stop eating; the key lime pie ($4.50) is more like a key-lime cheesecake, and I particularly appreciate its lumpy, homemade graham-cracker crust. Homey and humble as they are, these desserts create a lovely feeling that in the middle of all the flair and style beats a loving grandmother's heart. It's a feeling that's more real than any trend, and maybe that's one of the reasons trend-wary Minnesotans have embraced this hot spot so thoroughly. In any event, I suspect that once the zeitgeist moves on from cigars to the next big thing--steam baths? mahjong? soup? orchid cultivation?--the crowds will keep coming for the cake.

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