Lafayette's first Cuban restaurant, Cafe Habana City, has been named one of the top 20 Best Cuban Restaurant in America by an international travel website.
The family-owned restaurant, which started in 2002 on Verot School Road before moving to its current location at 911 Bertrand Drive in 2007, was named the 19th Best Cuban Restaurant by Big 7 Travel.
Writers noted that it had the first mojito bar in Louisiana and is "now one of the best Cuban restaurants in America" for its hard work preserving the "flavors and rich heritage that makes Cuban cuisine so delicious."
Co-owner Rafael Garcia was surprised by the recognition.
"We've never made any list before and we never thought we'd make one nationally," he said. "The recognition gives us a little bit of pride that they are recognizing traditional Cuban food in the country and they chose us. There are many, many Cuban restaurants, so it's a big deal for us."
The Garcia family came to Lafayette directly from Cuba in 1998 as political refugees. As such, their recipes come directly from the Cuba so they could bring the unique blend of Spanish, African and Caribbean cuisine to Lafayette.
Some of those signature dishes include not only the Sandwich Cubano, but also Pollo Empanizado, a citrus chicken dish, and Vaca Frita, a dish made of grilled shredded beef marinated in a citrus and garlic sauce.
"The recipes we brought were traditional Cuba recipes. We decided to open our restaurant because Lafayette is a food city. It's known for its food and its restaurants not just in Louisiana, but across the U.S., but there were no Cuban restaurants. So when we had the opportunity, we opened as the first Cuban restaurant with the first mojito bar, we did it," Garcia said.
Garcia said he believes one reason the people of Lafayette have taken to their food and allowed them to do so well is because of the similarities between Cajun and Cuban foods and how the two cultural cuisines have similar shared heritages.