In all my years living in New York City, there were just some days that I had to eat Café Habana’s Famous Corn: a grilled ear of corn served Mexican style with chili powder, lime and Cotija cheese. I would travel miles to their NoLIta location when I lived in Manhattan and even still when I moved to Brooklyn (although now they have a Fort Greene, Brooklyn, Habana Outpost location). The sweet and savory niblets were heaven in my mouth. Just this May, owner Sean Meenan and Rande Gerber (husband of Cindy Crawford), decided to debut the beloved Cuban eatery in Malibu.

Fitting right in with the rows of shops and food spots already resting in the Malibu Lumber Yard, Café Habana is much larger than the Manhattan location, with a colorful, foliage-filled outdoor patio sporting benches made from repurposed wood from New York City’s Coney Island boardwalk. The seaside eatery has other eco features as well: It’s the city’s first solar-powered restaurant, server uniforms are made from recycled denim and organic cotton (and some are created by up-and-coming local designers), there’s cold cathode lighting, which uses 80 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs, the cutlery is made exclusively from sugarcane, potato and/or corn and the restaurant’s cooking oil fuels Meenan’s 1965 Lincoln Continental.

Not only is the place cool (its look and feel, i.e., a nice ocean breeze), but the atmosphere oozes super hip for a few reasons. There is artwork from Los Angeles-based artists, including original artwork by Shepard Fairey, and a salvaged antique wood bar picked up by Meenan himself in Deadwood, S.D.

Café Habana’s whole vibe screams vacation. Whether you have a Mojito, Margarita or Cuba Libre in hand, listening to Latin rhythms and eating sweet plantains immediately sets the dial to festive. And it won’t even matter if you had to wait on line, which is often the case. Even the waiting area makes you feel like you’re about to board a party boat.

But enough about the good times; let’s get to the meat of the matter: the menu. Each of the Dinner Specials offers unique bursts of flavor. I feasted on 1/2 pollo al limon: pan fried crispy lemon chicken with yellow rice and sweet plantains. Of course, I drooled over the plantains and gobbled down the piquant chicken, but it was the yellow rice that made my head spin. I think the server said something about saffron. Who knew?

The other specials are Alaskan Halibut “a la plancha” (grilled) with guajillo sauce, Pork Chop with chipotle mushroom “au poivre sauce” and Camarones al Ajillo, made with giant “Maya” shrimp sautéed in a spicy garlic tomato sauce.

A few of their signature dishes and customer favorites are the Cubano sandwich – pulled pork, smoked ham, Swiss cheese and half sour pickles; Carne Asada – grilled skirt steak served with rice and black beans; and Tacos de Pescado Malibu Style – grilled Mahi with chipotle crema, cabbage, cured onions and salsa.

There are a few tasty options for vegetarians, including the Tofu Enchiladas with mole rojo, yellow rice and black beans and the Aguacate sandwich with radish sprouts, cucumber, queso blanco and a side of salad.

New to the Malibu location are salads like the Ensalada de la Casa, with mixed greens, corn, avocado and orange drizzled with lime dressing and the Ensalada con Calamares, fried calamari, basil, mizuna and red leaf lettuce topped with lime dressing.

After all is eaten and imbibed, save room for dessert. And maybe a Mexican Hot Chocolate or Café con Leche.

Soon to follow their successful opening will be brunch service (a big hit in Manhattan!) and a rooftop garden of herbs, including mint for the restaurant’s signature Mojitos.

And stay tuned for more beachfront activity, as Meenan and crew plan to open a Habana Outpost in Venice.



For more information, call (310) 317-0300 or visit cafehabana.com.