On the side
Zaza New Cuban Diner
Beloved bakery serves classic Cuban comfort food and some of the best café con leche north of Key West.
Published: October 31, 2012
If a packed-house weeknight visit is any indication, the new location of Zaza on Curry Ford Road will prove to be just as popular as the first (aka Yaya's Cuban Café, now closed), with the same classic renditions of Cuban comfort food.
A brilliant red-and-yellow sign welcomes patrons to a tiny '70s-style building that once could have been a convenience store. After Tino's Cuban Bistro closed – Tino himself retired and sold the building to his nephew, owner-operator of Yaya's/Zaza – the restaurant retained its classic diner feel and flawless service, while updating the decor.
Don't expect sit-down sophistication, though. While the food is top-notch, Zaza is set up more like a quick-service joint – customers order at the counter, and food is delivered to the table. But there's some full-service flair thrown in as well. Servers make sure to come by for the much-appreciated two-bite check-in and bid patrons farewell as they exit the restaurant. They're also knowledgeable about the menu and can illuminate some of the lesser-known island staples, like the vaca-and-cheese sandwich ($7.25): sliced braised beef with sautéed onions, fried potato sticks and Swiss cheese on Zaza's homemade soft Cuban bread.
Any knowledgeable diner will tell you that it's the bread that makes or breaks a sandwich, and Yaya's sells their excellent bread for $1.50 a loaf (a no-brainer buy when compared to the comparative dross you'll get at the supermarket). You'll find four slices of it lining the lechon asado platter ($7.75), pork tenderloin that's roasted, sliced and grilled with onions. Zaza's proves that juicy meat can be lean, too.
That affordable and bountiful dinner plate comes with Zaza's black beans – thick, saucy and well-seasoned – and either maduros or tostones (two versions of plantains: one soft and sweet, one crispy and savory) and your choice of three different variations on rice. You won't leave hungry, for certain. Pick some small, crunchy bites for the side, like the golden-brown, lightly breaded croquetas (70 cents each); or a papita rellena (85 cents each), fried mashed potatoes shaped into a golf-ball-sized morsel and filled with seasoned ground beef.
Finish dinner with a cup of Zaza's café con leche ($2.05), the best cup of coffee I've had since leaving Key West last year with a 5 Brothers café Cubano in hand. Zaza's café con leche is made in the traditional style, with a shot of espresso, steamed milk and sugar perfectly dissolved and distributed throughout the high-octane mug, topped with a little foam. Alongside a homemade flaky, buttery guava-and-cream cheese pastry, it's a great ending to a meal that fills your gullet without emptying your wallet.
Though we didn't visit for breakfast, the staff at Zaza let me know that breakfast service on the weekends is always full up, with breakfast specials teeming with eggs, bacon and Cuban toast for just $5.35 (and that includes a cup of their memorable café con leche). We're looking forward to getting a taste of Cuba on a chilly fall morning, now that those have finally appeared.
Zaza New Cuban Diner
3500 Curry Ford Road
> Email Holly V. Kapherr