Most Cuban meals in Los Angeles fall into a narrow spectrum. Menus are pretty similar, usually quite limited, and satisfaction primarily comes down to execution. Habana Vieja, a Torrance restaurant in CarsonWestern plaza, features mottled mauve walls lined with Cuban instruments and decorative crosses, lively music, and a menu that’s dialed up just a notch. According to a Habana Vieja staffer, owners Terra Carrillo and Elizabeth Solis are not Cuban. Neither is chef-partner Alex Chavez, but he does have 25 years of Cuban restaurant experience, and he’s clearly paid attention, since the restaurant serves some of L.A.’s best comida Cubana. I enjoyed rabo encendido starring tender braised ox-tail, and adobo pork legs slow-cooked with sour orange and garlic, but arroz con pollo was the definitive crowd pleaser, a dish that takes 30-40 minutes to prepare, but qualifies as worth the wait.
Order Arroz Con Pollo ($13.99) as soon as you sit down, gird yourself with other food in the meantime, and devour the platter of saffron-stained rice loaded with skin-on, bone-in, dark meat chicken. The slow-cooked dish, which my friend compared to “west paella,” also incorporated onions, peppers, bay leaves and beer to flavor and finish. The impressive Habana Vieja platter also touted a central thatch of sweet fried plantains and crunchy onions. Their arroz con pollo is far from fast food, and if you take the time, that’s a very good thing.