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Havana South dining review, Buford

2stars5

$-$$

Cuban cigar boxes and faded photographs of rustic Caribbean settings hang on the walls of the dimly lit dining room at Havana South. Salsa music drifts from ceiling speakers as smiling waitresses transport pretty plates of food to diners. The vibe promises an authentic Cuban experience. And if it weren’t for the entrees, it would deliver on that promise because the best meal at Havana South can be found in its sides, starters and sandwiches.

Chicharon de pollo (all photos by Becky Stein)

Chicharon de pollo (all photos by Becky Stein)

The classic Cuban sandwich ($6.95) comes generously stuffed with slices of roast pork seasoned with mojo sauce (garlic, oil and lemon), thinly sliced ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. Unfortunately, rigor mortis had set in, making the bread a tough chew. A better option is the medianoche ($6.95). A popular late night snack (the name means “midnight”), it’s made by taking all the ingredients of the Cuban and pressing it between sweeter, softer slices of bread. The crunchy, chewy texture of pickles and pork complements the way the salty ham plays off the sweet bread, rendering every bite better than the first.

Review by Gene Lee

Review by Gene Lee

As good as the medianoche is, the beef empanada ($4.95) is my favorite. Bulbous half-moon pastries stuffed with seasoned ground meat and olives are deep-fried to a golden brown. Peppery gravy oozes from the flaky shell when I tear away pieces and swab them through the accompanying cilantro mayonnaise that gives the whole thing a garlic kick.

Maduros — warm, caramelized chunks of fried ripe plantains — pop with the taste of the tropics. Flowery yellow rice, seasoned and stained with annatto seeds from the tropical achiote tree, resembles savory saffron rice dishes of Indian origin. Sides of red beans are infused with the hearty flavor of smoked pork.

But venturing over to the entree side of the menu presents a less satisfying experience.

The bistec palomilla ($12.95) — a thin slice of marinated steak, fried to medium-well and topped with mojo and sautéed onions — deserves marks for its appetizing appearance when it arrives glistening in its juices. But each bite reveals little flavor and a texture reminiscent of jerky. Ditto the tough and bland masitas de Puerco ($9.95), described on the menu as “tender lean chunks of pork.” The best of the bunch is the chicharrones de pollo ($9.95), a popular Latin dish comprised of chunks of seasoned fried chicken (usually bone-in) dredged in flour, then deep-fried to a crackly golden exterior. Havana South’s version is moist and evenly cooked, but it could use a little more flavor and crunch.

Medianoche sandwich

Medianoche sandwich

With a little more attention to entrees, particularly the tenderizing and seasoning of the meats, Havana South could round out an otherwise solid menu. Until then I probably won’t go back unless it’s late and I’m craving a medianoche.

HAVANA SOUTH
4060 Buford Drive, Buford, 30518, 678-546-2252
F2stars5ood: Authentic Cuban dining such as traditional meat, seafood, rice plates and sandwiches
Service: Attentive but sometimes uninformed on menu items
Best dishes: Chicharrones de pollo hueso (bone-in fried chicken chunks), medianoche sandwich, beef empanadas
Vegetarian selections: Lots of fried vegetable appetizers, salads, bean soup, sides
Credit Cards: Visa, MasterCard, Discover
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 12 p.m.-7 p.m. Sunday
Children: Yes
Parking: In lot
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair Access: Yes, accessible all the way to the left of the storefront
Smoking: No
Noise Level: Low to moderate
Patio: No
Takeout: Yes
RatingsKey_3

17 comments Add your comment

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by GL, John Kessler. John Kessler said: Havana South dining review, Buford http://bit.ly/dyXs5F [...]

Donkey200

November 5th, 2010
9:56 am

Don’t think you should have given this two stars as, apparently, the food was not consistent.

Gene Lee

November 5th, 2010
10:07 am

@Donkey200 I will refer you to what Jon Watson, our popular eats writer, said in a comment a while back:

“To clarify on the star rating system– When we say “hit or miss” for the 1 star rating, it doesn’t mean that the food is inconsistent in the sense that the same dish fluxuates in quality. It means the some of the food on the menu is good, some isn’t…

And there is some room for interpretation in the starred system as well. If I were to eat at a restaurant where the food that is “good” is actually fantastic, but there are some misses on the menu, I would probably lean towards a 2 star rating. If the “good” is just good, and isn’t particularly amazing, it would be a 1 star.”

With that said, I think I’m clear that the dishes that I said are good (medianoche, empanadas, sides) are real good. One star is not representative of Havana South.

Michael

November 5th, 2010
10:22 am

Aw man. I love a good midnight.

Sean

November 5th, 2010
10:46 am

Hrm…I actually liked the masitas there when I had them.

I like the vaca frita as well…

Agreed on the medianoches!

Steph

November 5th, 2010
11:23 am

I’m not a fan of havana south. Granted I don’t eat pork, but the chicken sucks.

Super Frankie

November 5th, 2010
11:31 am

Sounds like a place my good pal Ricky Carvahlo would enjoy………

[...] Satan, Lord of All that is Unholy wrote an interesting post today Here’s a quick excerpt Cuban restaurant in Buford a good spot for sandwiches and other items. [...]

Jacque

November 5th, 2010
2:17 pm

Thanks for the ratingclarification, Gene. I too was thinking that it sounds like a one star, given the problems you said you had with some of the entrees.

In spite of the clarification, I still think you should have only given it one star. It’s not enough that the dishes which were good were “really good” as you say. If there are subpar dishes on the menu, the restaurant should not get two stars. What about the patrons that come in and have the bad luck of only ordering the less desirable dishes? They certainly don’t leave with a two star impression of the place.

Giving it one star would give the restaurant more incentive to quickly fix problems, as well. And then you can reward the establishment with an improved review. Just my two cents.

[...] the article here: The AJC reviews Havana South, Buford | Food and More with John Kessler Uncategorized actually-fantastic, lean-towards, menu, [...]

Gene Lee

November 5th, 2010
4:18 pm

@Jacque – Good points.

After various samplings of apps, sandwiches, sides, wonderful Cuban coffee, dessert that I ran out of room to mention; coupled with less than satisfactory entrée items plated with well-made side items, HS doesn’t bode a 1-star review IMO. It doesn’t deliver lackadaisical overall, just in the entrée protein. Maybe that detail negates everything for some people overall, but it shouldn’t because the other things there are solid.

I also don’t think a 2-star review is less of an incentive for a restaurant to not fix their issues. If anything I would be more motivated to get the additional star for a solid 3 rating.

BlondeHoney

November 5th, 2010
8:39 pm

Hmmmm….I grew up in Miami and for the five years I’ve lived here I have yet to find authentic cuban like I left behind at home. I will have to try Havana South because based on what you’re saying, Gene, it sounds like home to me. Bistec palomilla IS thin and somewhat chewy but you’re right, it should have some flavor. Now masitas de puerco, on the other hand, are NEVER lean chunks of pork; they need plenty of fat to stand up to the deep frying. The sandwich cubano looks like what i left behind at Casa Larios or Latin American Cafeteria in SW Miami :)

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Steven Josovitz, Jenny Turknett. Jenny Turknett said: Havana South dining review, Buford http://t.co/0brQdIp [...]

TheBigKorean

November 6th, 2010
9:42 am

I have to say you are spot on with the review. Most of the dishes at Havana South lacked the “POW’ factor when it comes to the flavor expected with good Cuban food. I can handle tough. I can handle dry. I can’t take under or non seasoned.

Steven

November 6th, 2010
2:53 pm

The problem with most of the cuban restaurants in town have been the salt factor. I crave water after eating at most of the typical players. Most of the time that is from using below average ingredients. This place sounds about the same. I grew up on palomilla steak etc.- I don;t think it should be described as “jerky” unless getting absolutely cheap a.. meat.

gabrielle lazo

November 6th, 2010
10:31 pm

i love havana south,Mr Lee need the latin flavor.

Mark

November 7th, 2010
2:54 pm

I work in Buford and we go by for lunch and I have eaten a couple of times at night. I find the food very good. I usually get the ropa veja because it is consistently good. I was raised till my middle teens in Miami and this place reminds me of my childhood tastes. The coffee and flan are a good finish.