Scoop: Havana Carolina owners open new Cuban restaurant in Charlotte

Scoop: Havana Carolina owners open new Cuban restaurant in Charlotte
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El Puro, a restaurant celebrating 1950s, pre-revolutionary Cuba, opens this week in Madison Park.

The owners are Manny Pérez Ochoa, his sister, Ana, and mother, Dania, Cuban immigrants who also own Havana Carolina Restaurant & Bar in Concord. 

Why it matters: In 2019, Manny and his family shared with me the story of how they fought to keep Havana Carolina alive after the loss of their father and “dreamer” of the family, Idael Pérez Maldonado, who died at the age of 44. 

  • Now they’re expanding with a spot in Charlotte.
  • “It’s going to be a space where Old Cuba meets modern Charlotte,” owner Manny says.

Between the lines: The name has two meanings. In Cuba, “El Puro” is a common nickname for father, and the new restaurant is another faithful tribute to Idael. Idael spent his younger days interacting with tourists in the resort town of Varadero so, fittingly, live music will be a big part of the new restaurant’s scene. 

  • Additionally, as a cigar term, “el Puro” refers to the provenance of the tobacco inside. A cigar wrapper has been incorporated into the restaurant’s logo. Like many Cubans, on special occasions, Idael would enjoy the occasional cigar. 

What to expect: Manny says the kitchen will feature much of the same essence that has brought customers back to Havana Carolina over the years — slow-roasted flavors, typically not lacking in garlic.

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The food:

  • Masitas de la Loma: tender pork shoulder chunks slathered in house mojo sauce with onion, lime, and garlic; served tabletop over a smoking La Caja China.
masitas de lomo from El Puro

Masitas de loma in a cajita china. Photo: Courtesy of Ben Jarrell

  • Tamal en Casuela: baked in a petite Dutch oven rather than a traditional corn husk, El Puro’s version uses freshly grated cornmeal, emulsified with garlic, and pork fat; finished with crispy chicharron crumbs. [**Writer’s note: the flavors here will make Southerners feel right at home.]
tamal en casuela from El Puro

Tamal en Casuela. Photo: Courtesy of Ben Jarrell

  • Langosta Macorina: 8oz freshly caught Caribbean lobster stuffed with its own meat and house Creole tomato sauce with olive oil and parsley, in an avocado cream base. “Although it is not an enchilado, it reminds us of the delicious enchilado de langosta that my mom used to make in the B&B back in Cuba,” owner Ana says.
  • “PUR”-iche: Dania’s version of ceviche with seasonal fish, poached, cubed, and marinated with onion, sweet aji cachucha peppers and lime. But it’s her addition of leche de tigre — a reduction of the fish poaching broth — that elevates this dish to something truly special.
puriche from el puro

“PUR”-iche with a side of sweet-potato fried plantains. Photo: Laura Barrero/ Axios

Other highlights: Live music will be at the center (literally) with a stage built into the dining room with Latin Jazz from 7:30pm to 10:30pm on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday the stage hosts live Cuban salsa music in the afternoon.

  • Surrounded by Tiffany-style lamps, a neon sign above the stage reads, “La vida es un carnaval,” from a popular song by Cuban musician Celia Cruz.
  • A walk-up window echoes similar spots on the streets of Cuba where patrons can grab a quick bite to-go or to eat en la terraza (on the patio).

Reminding me of an old bluegrass tune, Dania described the way she kept her family going.

“When everything happened (with her husband’s unexpected death), I said we have two choices,” Dania said. “Because life was tough with us, we needed to rebuild ourselves. And we decided it would be for the best.”

According to Dania, the family was at a crossroads. One path led to destruction and despair. The other led them past the pearly gates and well, here. 

“We’re trying to make a space where people can stop time, and enjoy the life. Bring family, bring friends,” she says. “You know … live,” says Dania.

Dania gives me her version of the Golden Rule.

  • “It’s not just a business. It’s a love in the food, a love in the drink, a love in how you want to be treated.”

My thought bubble: But it wasn’t just Dania’s words that had such an effect on me. It was her eyes. Having recently lost my own mother, it was a most welcome sight. In that one look, Dania showed me her hope for the future — a future that looks bright, colorful, and full of music.

What’s next: El Puro has an opening date set for Nov. 19.

  • It will be closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • The exact address is 5033 South Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28217. 
el puro bar

The bar depicts the Cuban flag. Notice the red triangles on top and the blue and white stripes on the bottom. Photo: Laura Barrero/Axios

el puro restaurant

Seating right by the kitchen at El Puro. Photo: Laura Barrero/ Axios

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