Cafe Havana – Two Peppers

Cafe Havana offers incredible food, fast service, and a great value. Conveniently located to downtown, Cafe Havana is a great place to stop for lunch or pick something up and head back to the office. The menu offers a several choices, any of which are delicious. For me, it’s yellow rice and black beans. I keep saying I’ll try the yucca, but the plantains are as sweet as hard candy. I even have to pick them out of my teeth in the same manner. So yummy!

The Cafe is just that a cafe. It’s a speed line with a cooler full of drinks and a choice of one meat, rice, beans, and plantains or yucca. All at a reasonable price. After a short wait in line, you’ll make your selections. Then find a seat. I recommend ordering to go, just in case you can’t finish. Trust me. You’ll want to take the rest home.

Cafe Havana is one of the few places in Ocala, perhaps Central Florida, that carries Ironbeer, a softdrink a light cream soda taste. Cuba’s national beverage hasn’t changed its original flavor since it was introduced in 1917. I like it. It’s light, sweet, caffine-free and made in Miami.

Cafe Havana also has flaky pastries with a sweet guava jelly inside. Try the one with jelly and cream cheese. Relax is comfortable rattan chairs at simple tables while enjoying these dainty treats. Come early for breakfast.

Most Cuban restaurants pride themselves on their pressed Cuban sandwiches. The Cafe has a couple. Unfortunately, this is where my expertise stops. It’s not that I don’t like a good mixto; I just don’t like what a grocery store calls a Cuban sandwich. So I am looking for an expert to take me on a week long tour of Ocala’s best Mixtos. Then I’ll update my review of Cafe Havana.

For now, drive as far as your work break allows to find this little slice of Cuba’s capitol. It’s healthier than and more tasty than McDonalds, and perhaps just as fast.

Website: Click for Map

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Published in: on July 21, 2008 at 2:01 am  Leave a Comment  

El Taxco – 2 Peppers

With any Mexican restaurant you run the risk of creating menus that have the same 5 items rearranged into different combinations. To my surprise and pleasure, El Taxco is more than big bean plates and drink specials. They balance the usual numbered combo’s with fancier modern Mexican dishes. By modern, I mean using traditional ingredients, but departing just enough to give the dish new interest. Case in point, my pollo tropico plate had beans, rice, and glazed chicken breast topped with pineapple chunks. Delicious.

The expansive menu includes enchilada and taco combos, as well as chicken, steak, and seafood dishes. The full bar provides plenty of domestic and import beers. On tap brews can come in an impressive 32 ounce glass. Lunch portions are a little smaller and priced accordingly, but only available till 3pm.

The salsa is tasty and fresh. It is served in a small carafe to refill your dipping bowl and accompanied by a basket of crunchy tortilla chips. The salsa is far from ketchup, but almost as smooth. It is a puree. Thankfully it has enough cilantro. I recommend ordering the queso, a white American cheese served melty and flavored with a little jalapeño for a spicy kick. By the way, queso is where nacho cheese comes from. Sadly, something was lost when it was translated over to the movie theater and bowling alley.

Everything is big at El Taxco. It is possibly the largest Mexican restaurant in Ocala. It is divided into standalone tables, booths, a full bar, and pool table area. There’s still plenty of room. The walls are decorated in Mexican folk style depicting a border town. Each booth sits at a house complete with a mock Spanish tile awning. The feeling is fun and relaxed. El Taxco is perfect for large groups, especially lunch with co-workers. My dinner party of 7 was seated immediately. I also saw couples tucked away in their booths.

We received our food promptly. A mistake in the order was corrected quickly with compliments of the house. Our server was friendly and kept our drinks filled and chips stocked, but she seemed a bit overwhelmed by the 5 page menu. I can’t blame her, I was still overwhelmed by my friend’s 32 ounce beer.

Website: Click for Map

Published in: on May 23, 2008 at 3:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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Ay Jalisco – 2 Peppers

With an enchanting and almost whimsical atmosphere, Ay Jalisco offers great Mexican food in large portions. This a fine place to take a friends for lunch. You can split anything on the menu. The prices are reasonable.

They offer burritos, enchiladas, and tacos. Also they have a good flan and fried ice cream. Yum!

The salsa is mild and comforting. It is made from a tomato paste base, with perhaps mixed vegetables pureed into the mix for a hearty taste. It’s different and not quite ketchup.

Since this is still a new restaurant (only a year old), it still has that start up feel. The servers work hard to make sure your experience is a good one.

The atmosphere is quiet and intimate. There are plenty of seating options to accommodate any size party, whether dining alone or taking business lunch with the whole office.

Published in: on April 22, 2008 at 3:21 am  Leave a Comment  

Taco N Madre – Two Peppers

This restaurant with a baffling name is only slightly larger than a taco stand, but the food is excellent. They use cilantro instead of iceberg lettuce, steak instead of ground beef, flavorful rice, and their own horchada. They also have a cooler of imported Mexican soft drinks.

They offer two sauces – green and red. Green is like a tomatilla with a fresh, tangy flavor. Red has a rich, smoky flavor. Both have plenty of heat. Gringos, go sparingly your first time, but try both. Over due pregnant women, pour on both until the baby kicks his way out.

The servers are friendly and prompt, which makes up for the quaint atmosphere.  It’s cramped, warm when busy, and sparsely decorated with sombreros or other such wall hanging. The seats are sturdy Formica and hold up well to the construction crews that frequent here. The TV suspended in the corner let’s you  catch up on your daytime Spanish soap opera or cheer for the soccer game on Sunday afternoons.

Speaking of Sunday, that’s the best time to try their signature dishes of an untypical cactus or a whole fish that’s deep-fried for a crunchy crust and flaky, tender middle.

Taco N Madre is a great place for a quick lunch with a friend or coworker.  It’s close to downtown, across from the court house. No chips or salsa here, but it was 5th visit before I noticed. I order to go and eat at the office.

Best Item: Quesadilla, perhaps the best in town.
Worst  Item:  Sopes, great for healthy eaters. I prefer the flat tortilla.
Website: Click for Map

Published in: on December 18, 2007 at 6:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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