[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Travis Mitchell (DCist) writes about Chef Joseph Osorio’s new restaurant Little Havana, which opens today (August 10, 2018) at 3704 14th Street NW in Washington, DC.
Chef Joseph Osorio’s connection to Cuban cuisine started during his childhood in Queens, New York. Starting on Friday, he’ll bring the vibrancy and energy of the island country to Little Havana (3704 14th St. NW), a new slice of Cuba in north Columbia Heights.
Osorio, who previously worked at The Watergate Hotel and for the restaurant group Passion Food Hospitality in D.C., is leading the project in partnership with chef and restaurateur Alfredo Solis (Mezcalero, El Sol). Both chefs are involved in the kitchen, but the concept is decidedly Osorio’s baby. He says he’d long aspired to open a Cuban restaurant and draws inspiration from his godmother Mimi, who was a Cuban immigrant and a close family friend. “I wanted to do something to represent her and her memory,” he says. Her influence is felt throughout Little Havana, especially in the menu, which Osorio says is different than what people have seen at other Cuban restaurants around Washington. “We’ve got more of the food that I grew up eating with my family.”
Osorio says he doesn’t have a favorite dish—”everything on the menu I do from the heart”—but he’s especially eager to share his love of oxtail and cow tongue with the community. Both meats are prepared using a slow braise technique to achieve a tender texture. The tongue (lengua) gets a garlicky criollo sauce and the oxtail stew (rabo encendido) comes together with a spicy Creole demi-glace.
The 60-seat Little Havana serves a sizable menu of appetizers (priced at $9-$13), entrees ($11-$25), salads, sandwiches, and sides. Pork is featured heavily, including in the spicy guava barbecued ribs and in the restaurant’s spring roll-style treatment of the classic Cuban sandwich. There’s a bounty of seafood as well, like the whole fried red snapper and a paella loaded with lobster, shrimp, mussels, clams, and chorizo. Those who prefer more traditional offerings can settle in with an order of potato, ham, and cheese croquetas or a plate of ropa vieja made from slow-braised short rib. And, of course, there’s the standby Cubano sandwich, loaded with pork, ham, pickles, Swiss cheese, and mustard.
In addition to the menu, Mimi also makes an impression in the restaurant’s design. There’s a portrait of her in one of Little Havana’s many colorful murals painted by local artist Ernesto Zelaya. Her gaze is directed toward the small kitchen, alongside other figures, including Cuban revolutionary leader Che Guevara and current Washington Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who is of Cuban descent. Those design touches help make the cozy restaurant space feel lively and inviting.
Little Havana’s beverage program is overseen by Heriberto Casasanero, a veteran of Founding Farmers and Reliable Tavern. Cocktails are rooted in Caribbean flavor, which means lots of rum and tropical ingredients and juices. Expect to find mojitos, daiquiris, and a pina colada served from a hollowed-out pineapple. The bar is also lined with bottles of high-end rum of all kinds, suited for sipping neat or on the rocks.
Little Havana joins a packed segment of 14th Street NW. The restaurant shares a block with Mezcalero, Taqueria Habanero, Lyman’s Tavern and Red Derby. Little Coco’s is just a quick walk up the street. After a year of planning, Osorio is ready to share his personal take on Cuban cooking with the city.
“I’m excited to do it and introduce everyone to it,” he says.