The anticipation surrounding a new restaurant opening in Louisville is heightened dramatically in this social media world in which we live. When you can “like” pages on Facebook for restaurants whose doors haven’t even opened yet, a buzz is created months in advance. Havana Rumba Express & Tapas Bar carries on its great reputation from its sister restaurants, delivering quality Cuban cuisine, as well as Spanish Tapas (small plates.) We were all left squirming as soon as construction started in Douglass Loop.
I will say I was a bit confused and conflicted by the concept originally, and even more when I walked through the doors on that opening week. Several questions went through my mind. Is this “fast food” Cuban on one side and a full service tapas bar on the other side? Are there servers who come to me, or do I go to the bar to order my food? Do I order in two different places? Why am I leaning over the bar patrons to view the Tapas cases? Do they have the infamous mojitos and margaritas that Havana Rumba has always been known for? This created quite a hectic scene for all customers and I felt a little anxious after I finally sat down. After a deep breath, I decided to relax, drink the mojito I was waiting for and able to order from the bar, and enjoy my meal.
Keep in mind this was the first week they were open, and sometimes you have to give a new spot some time to iron things out, but I was a little disappointed with the Cuban fare and confusion. There is just something about my standard go-to at the Havana Rumba in St. Matthews; The piping hot Vaca Frita is delivered to my table as a generous helping of shredded beef with peppers and onions, a side of green chimichurri (per my request) black beans, rice and sweet plantains. It is untouchable as far as Cuban food goes. So, needless to say I had the same expectations at this location. Unfortunately, when food sits on a line and it’s served to you in a plastic container, you don’t get quite the same experience. With no Vaca Frita in sight, I was a little disappointed and reluctantly ordered another beef dish with a side of black beans and rice. Let’s just say this was not the highlight of my meal that night. A menu for this place is nowhere to be found online and I didn’t write down what I had that evening, as I usually do. Feeling like a novice food writer, not just the apprentice that I am, I went back to Havana Rumba Tapas and Express Bar for lunch this week so I could finally write my review. What I found is the Cuban menu has been completely re-vamped and looks much more pleasing. It now includes platters served with one meat, and a variation of black beans, rice, plantains or yucca. You also have the choice of Cuban sandwiches, salads, starters and kids meals. For me, the large salad for $5 with 3 toppings of my choice was a nice, lighter option. I started with the spring mix, topped with marinated peppers, Spanish olives and pine nuts which was a fresh combo that wouldn't weigh me down for the rest of my work day. This new menu, with some searching, can be found on the Havana Rumba Express & Tapas Bar Facebook page under photos.
On my original visit, I ventured to the other side of this 2-in-1 concept to find the tapas bar. Although you can sit on this side at lunch, sadly the tapas are only served at dinner. My experience with these small delights was much more enjoyable. A few caught my eye, and for the price I could partake in the glory of trying them all. Our array started with a mild piquillo pepper, stuffed with creamy goat cheese, followed by Chorizo con Bacon, served on skewers and drizzled with honey that were perfectly spicy and smoky. Next, was the Patatas Bravas, a healthy portion of sliced fingerling potatoes with a creamy aioli and cheese sauce. To finish, I had my favorite of them all, the Torta de Camaron, a large shrimp atop a potato cake smeared with guacamole and a touch of sweet chili sauce. For anyone who asks, my recommendation is to appreciate as many of these bite- sized delights as you can afford. I look forward to another dinner experience. Keep the mojitos flowing and the tapas coming!