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Arts & Entertainment

Lunch, Anyone? Doña Habana

A taste of Cuba within walking distance of the Medical Campus

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When Doña Habana, Boston’s newest Cuban restaurant, opened in September, it arrived to high expectations. Owners Hector and Nivia Piña also run Merengue, a longtime Dominican restaurant in Roxbury, as well as the popular South End eatery Vejigantes, specializing in Puerto Rican cuisine. This latest, within easy walking distance of the Medical Campus, has already attracted a loyal following, drawn by its authentic Cuban cuisine and playful décor, which evokes life in Havana circa 1950.

With an extensive lunch menu of bocadillos (Spanish-style sandwiches), entradas compartidas (appetizers for sharing), empanadas stuffed with chicken, pork, beef, or goat cheese and spinach, and delicious soups and salads, Doña Habana is a great place for a memorable lunch.

We timed our arrival just right, getting there about 1 p.m. on a recent weekday to a relatively empty dining room that was soon buzzing with a lunch crowd of professionals, families, and young couples.

The large lunch menu offers numerous options, most notably the shareable appetizers. The namesake plate, surtido de la Habana (Havana sampler), is a more than ample serving of chicken, pork, and beef empanadas, ham croquettes, pork skin, plantain chips, cassava chips, and sweet potato chips ($25). It’s plenty for a table of two or three.

For a simpler but equally generous dish, try the tabla de jamón y quesos, serrano ham and a sampling of manchego, Brie, Swiss, and Gouda cheeses with fruit and olives ($20). Meat lovers will be filled by the La Caleta (The Cove), plantain cups filled with shredded beef, ground beef, and fried shredded beef, with garlic shrimp ($22). The Cuatro Esquinas (Four Corners) is another dish for sharing—black beans, habanera, and guava BBQ served alongside enchiladas with plantain, sweet potato, and cassava chips, all topped off with Doña Habana’s famous dipping sauces ($18).

The chicken empanadas are stuffed with a blend of meat and vegetables and served on a bed of lettuce.

The chicken empanadas are stuffed with a blend of meat and vegetables and served on a bed of lettuce. Photos by Lauren Frias

Despite the numerous shareable options, we settled on a couple of the restaurant’s individual snacks (bocadillos individuales), which range from stuffed potato with ground beef ($8) to grilled octopus ($13) to sweet potato chips with black bean hummus ($8). These dishes, too, are great for sharing.

We ordered the chicken empanadas ($8) along with the chicharron de puerco ($8), crispy pork belly bites topped with grilled onions and bell peppers. The empanadas were stuffed with just the right ratio of chicken to vegetables and served on a bed of lettuce, which added a fresh crunch to the dish. The chicharron de puerco could have benefited from more peppers and onions, giving the dish more texture and offsetting the meaty flavor of the pork bellies.

It would be a mistake to leave Doña Habana without dessert. The sweet Cuban flans are well worth the calories. We ordered the flan de café con leche (coffee and milk flan, $7). It was easily the highlight of the meal. The custard was smooth in consistency, and its sweetness was offset by the slightly bitter flavor of the coffee. It was a harmonious accompaniment to the Cuban coffee we ordered to finish our meal. Among the other desserts worth mentioning are a guava-stuffed pastry ($6), churros ($7), a classic confection of fried dough dusted with sugar, and pudin de pan y dulce de leche, a Cuban-style bread pudding ($8). We intend to sample each one during future visits.

The flan de café con leche (coffee and milk flan) is just one of the mouthwatering desserts on the menu.

The flan de café con leche (coffee and milk flan) is just one of the mouthwatering desserts on the menu. Photo by Lauren Frias

Plan to visit with a group of people. It’s the best way to sample the restaurant’s vibrant tastes. This is especially true at dinner, with its more extensive menu. The service is excellent, and the waitstaff are happy to help you navigate the various appetizers and entrees.

Doña Habana is on the ground floor of the Hampton Inn, 811 Massachusetts Ave., Boston; hours: Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; phone: 617-708-0796. The restaurant accepts cash and all major credit cards. Take an MBTA Green Line B trolley to Hynes Convention Center and then the #1 bus from Massachusetts Avenue and Newbury Street.

This is part of a weekly series featuring Boston lunch spots of interest to the BU community. If you have any suggestions for places we should feature, leave them in the Comment section below.

Lauren Frias (COM’20) can be reached at lnfrias@bu.edu.

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