Thursday, August 5, 2010

Havana - Granby Street, Norfolk, VA

Havana Exterior
During these times when many people are experiencing economic challenges, we have seen a lot of restaurants adapt their menus and offerings. I know many people at work have started packing lunches, if not everyday, then at least 2-3 times a week. An $8 dollar lunch here, a $15 dollar lunch there adds up fast. So, what’s the deal with Havana? When Alex and I visited this week, I thought they gave us the dinner menu by mistake. It turns out there is only one menu, and it is pricey for what you get. Unlike the rest of the world, Havana is a business that does not have a website, or I’d recommend you check out the menu online.

Alex and I stopped in for Nachos and a drink before a Norva show recently. We sat right up front in the window seat. From about 7PM-8:30PM on a Saturday night, they were deserted. Maybe 2-3 other tables were dining. We saw plenty of people stop and peruse the menu in the window and just keep walking. This is not a good sign. Havana used to be hopping back in the day. No more? They are locally famous for their Nachos, which we had that night. They make a decent margarita too.
Havana Sign
This week we hit them for lunch. Again, they were deserted. There were three other tables dining. A board out front marked up with $7.99 lunch deals greets you. This must be the new going rate in town. The 219 also offers a $7.99 to-go, brown bag lunch special. (I guess for only $7.99 they won’t let you sit inside and be served?) There were a large number of options on the Havana board, mostly meat and sandwich/wrap options. There were no salad or vegetarian offerings. Since there are no entrĂ©es on their menu priced close to $8, these were where I focused my attention.
Havana dish Side Salad
Our server was accommodating (she was not busy). I asked the price of a soda and was told $2.50, so I got water. I am officially boycotting the purchase of soda anywhere that charges over $2. It’s robbery! I ordered the Jerk Chicken Wrap special with a side salad. The side salad was small, put nicely presented. The produce was very fresh. There is no choice of dressing offered; it arrives tossed in light vinaigrette. They are not heavy handed with the dressing, which I appreciate, but the dressing has a very strong garlic flavor. Lucky for me, I love garlic, but I have to admit this was bit too much even for me.
Havana dish Jerk Chicken Wrap
The entrĂ©es arrived quickly. No fancy presentation for $7.99. You get your basic white plate and your wrap. After two or three bites I determined that there was absolutely zero jerk flavoring in my chicken. If you have had it before you know that jerk is a bold flavor, even a mild use would be discernable. The chicken was fresh and tender. Overall the wrap was very good, if I’d ordered a chicken wrap, which I did not.
Havana dish White Chocolate Raspberry Bread Pudding
I had been seated facing the dessert menu board, which is not a strategically good location for someone with a 24 hour sugar jones and weak resolve. Top of the board was bread pudding. Really? How can I say no? Alex and I decided to split one. The board was outdated, but our server told us the new bread pudding was White Chocolate Raspberry. Even better! I love white chocolate. It did not disappoint! The price of the dessert was $6.50, which I find reasonable.

In summary, the pros of Havana’s are great service, good food. The cons are limited options for lighter eating and overpriced selections. The last one is what will keep me from going back.


I have no qualms about paying for good food, but when I see $18 for the tuna bite appetizer in Norfolk, Virginia, I have to wonder what the manager was smoking when they priced the selections. As Laine noted, the $7.99 special board did not offer a great variety. I would have thought they would have a daily salad special since the cheapest salad on their menu is $12 and it is not a ‘meal’ salad, but more of an appetizer. In the past, I have had the spinach salad and enjoyed the taste, but I know for a fact it is small...again for $12. There was one fish special, salmon, but everything else had chicken, pork or beef. Norfolk is pretty vegetarian friendly, but Havana has not caught on with their specials, it seems. I would gladly have ordered the Vegetarian Nachos but they are pretty large and heavy and it was lunch time. This was not a day for that kind of meal.
Havana dish Vegetarian Quesadilla
I settled on the Vegetarian Quesadilla...for $11. That seemed pricey. Some of my other favorite haunts have quesadillas for about $8; a wonderful spinach and goat cheese version at Tortilla West runs $7.95 and it is filled heavily with spinach and goat cheese. Back to Havana’s meal. I was a little wary since I was paying $11 for a quesadilla and had pretty big expectations, but fortunately for Havana, I was delightfully surprised. My dish was filled with black beans, red and yellow peppers, red onions and cheddar cheese. A light sour cream was drizzled artfully on the corn tortilla, next to the guacamole, dice tomatoes and shredded lettuce. My dish tasted as good as it looked but I still feel that $11 was high for a lunchtime quesadilla.

I have had a few desserts from Havana and they have always been homemade and delicious. The bread pudding was no exception. The board advertised a Reese’s Cup version and because the servers had not updated it, I was initially let down because I wanted to try the Reese’s, as I have never had that in bread pudding. Lucky for me, the white chocolate raspberry flavor was stellar and my slight disappointment quickly disappeared. $6.50 is about the going rate for a dessert, so that price was right on.
Service was good and our food arrived quickly, but as Laine noted, they were not busy, so this was not a big plus for Havana, rather what was to be expected. I hope they typically drum up better lunch and dinner crowds than Laine and I saw.

The Vegetarian Nachos are indeed my favorite item on the Havana menu. When Laine and I ordered them before the concert, they were fresh and provided enough for the two of us to share (we ordered the larrger size, as there is also a small). I requested extra cheese and they do charge $2 for that, but they did not skimp, so the charge was legitimate. There is nothing worse than paying for extra and receiving the standard amount of anything. The number of people dining that evening was about equal to the number we saw at lunch. That is worrisome.

A few years ago, you had to stand in line at Havana to get in at night. It was packed to capacity, known for great martinis and very, very lively. I hope they see some of that business because they do have good food, fun music and a cute space. As I mentioned above, as did Laine, Havana’s major lunch error is their menu. They need a separate lunch menu with lunch prices. Most people are not jumping to pay $18 for a salad or $15 for a sandwich in Norfolk when they will have to tip on top of prices in that range. Their specials board was priced correctly, but the variety was lacking. These small changes would make Havana a great lunch place and draw a much bigger crowd than Laine and I saw...and we are the experts.

255 Granby Street
Norfolk, VA‎ 23510
(757) 627-5800

Monday - Friday 11am-2am
Saturday and Sunday 5pm-2am

Havana on Urbanspoon


april said...

love Havana. The crabcakes and fried plantains are delish. I agree with the pricing... we don't go often these days.

april said...

Love Havana. I will never forget the crabcake with fried plantains on the side that I had a year ago. We don't go there a lot these days, but we've gone during restaurant week. I agree with the points you made about prices.

Anonymous said...

As a Miami native from Cuban parents, I craved home cooking. Just for the namesake alone, I visited Havana's for Dinner. The service was very good, although it doesn't make up for it's pricey non-authentic food. The only credibility to its designated name is its seasoning with the much loved garlic taste! There was nothing on the menu that was even remotely similar to real Cuban food! To make things worse, most of their main dishes were served with mashed potatoes. Anyone who has had the pleasure to eat real Cuban food knows that mashed potatoes aren't a part of our cuisine.