Having driven to Louisville around noon Monday for a job interview that concluded by 1PM, the timing worked out perfectly to score a late lunch before heading back to Frankfort.
I plotted my course to Bardstown Road in search of Banh Mi Hero, where I was hoping to sample some fresh, crisp Vietnamese sandwiches.
Unfortunately I waited too long to explore this option. The sign outside remained, but a notice of “For Lease” could be seen through the front window. I learned its owner, Lee Tran, whose mom is Annie from Annie’s Cafe, intended to reopen a PanAsian noodle bar in the same space earlier this year, but it doesn’t look like that happened.
As often transpires, when one door closes another opens.
As I made the block I noticed Havana Rumba had opened a Highlands location at 2210 Bardstown Road, with a tapas bar. This would allow me to stay with my sandwich theme, because they do amazingly tasty creations involving pressed Cuban bread.
Parking is easy here. There is a small lot attached to Havana Rumba, with a more expansive lot across the way behind the CVS.
Just walking into Havana Rumba makes one feel better. The splash of yellow and red colors, the spirited Cuban music and a bustling lunch crowd breathes of energy.
No menu was necessary, I started with a Hemingway Daiquiri, to soothe over any residual interview vibe. It’s tall, refreshing, not too sweet with a sneaky punch by the time it’s gone.
I went with the namesake sandwich, the Havana Rumba for my entrée. This doesn’t look huge at first, but it’s a dense and rich offering. It features succulent roasted pork (that could stack up with any barbecue around), Spanish chorizo, Serrano ham, Provolone cheese, another ham, mustard, pickles and aioli, served on hot pressed Cuban bread.
It tastes even better than it sounds. This sandwich is hard to put down. It’s a flavor explosion. The bread has a crisp exterior from being grilled, with a supple, delicate interior that holds its own with the substantial filling.
The Havana Rumba is served with sweet potato fries that include a wonderful honey dipping sauce. I will say if you eat all the fries, which is difficult not to do, then half the sandwich is probably coming home with you.
Like everything at Havana Rumba, whether overt or not, the portions are plentiful, and priced economically.
I ordered two empanadas to take home with me, a ground beef and a chicken, as more is always better with Havana Rumba. These are some of the best meat pies around. I’ll give the nod to the chicken. It could have been bland but it was moist and full of Cuban flavor.
There isn’t a bad meal on the menu. Always check the specials and house specialties. The wait staff is top-notch here, observant and attentive. Anyone unsure of what to order can rely on the staff to steer them in a desired direction. Trust me, they do this a lot, as many are unfamiliar with these dishes.
The Parrilla Habanera, with Palomilla steak, roasted chicken, grilled Spanish chorizo, served with tostones (smashed, fried green plantains), rice, black beans and sweet plantains, is an excellent way to sample a few of the delicacies offered here, and at $33.99 for two – a steal.
The original Havana Rumba in St. Matthews is my favorite location. Opened by Marcos Lorenzo in 2004, it remains a star on Louisville’s restaurant scene. He now has a large Middletown location to go with the Highlands spot, along with his themed Mojito Tapas Restaurant at Holiday Manor Center.
Visit any of the Louisville area Havana Rumba ventures. The staff will take great care of all who enter and your taste buds will thank you for coming.
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HAVANA RUMBA | 2210 Bardstown Road | Louisville, KY | 502-749-4600