What began as the dream of two Cuban immigrants is now serving up authentic Cuban cuisine daily in the East End.
Leo Lopez and Rafael Hernandez opened Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant two weeks ago at 2813 N. Hurstbourne Parkway, and the unique tapas concept already is drawing fans.
“It’s a social place. You don’t focus on one dish like you would at a typical restaurant,” said Lopez, who is the restaurant’s general manager. “Each person orders two or three dishes, and you don’t get the whole meal at one time. As each dish comes to the table, you’re tasting it, you’re eating and drinking and having a conversation.”
Tapas is the name of a wide variety of appetizers or snacks in Spanish cuisine, and Hernandez, who serves as executive chef, has adopted the tradition by creating tapas with a fusion of foods from all over the world.
Favorite dishes include: Guacamole con Chicharritas – avocados, tomatoes, cilantro, jalapenos, lime juice and red onions. Served with plantain chips ($8.25); Solomillo al Cabrales – grilled beef tenderloin served over garlic mashed potatoes, topped with Cabrales bleu cheese and finished with a port wine reduction ($8.50); and Pescado a la Plancha – grilled mahi-mahi served on top of garlic mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus and topped with a fresh mango salsa ($8.50).
While known for its hot and cold tapas, the restaurant also serves salads, soups, paellas, sandwiches and desserts. The Paella Valenciana takes 45 minutes to prepare, but it is worth the wait. The traditional Spanish dish for two includes saffron rice, chorizo, chicken and mixed seafood ($32.50). Habana Blues’ wine list features Spanish wines exclusively.
“It’s big city concept, but Louisville loves to eat out,” said Hernandez, who previously was the chef at Mojito’s, which was owned by Lopez’s brother. “Habana Blues is the best new Latino addition to Louisville dining.”
Dishes are made with fresh ingredients that Hernandez purchases daily. He will change the menu every six months by adding more hot dishes during cooler months and cold items during warm months. But don’t worry, the favorites will stay on the menu.
“The tapas concept allows Rafael to create new things,” Lopez said.
Lopez and Hernandez have created a casual atmosphere with lively Cuban music playing in the dining room, which is decorated with Cuban art and a colorful mural depicting Cuba and the United States. The mural, which was painted on sound-absorptive panels, fills most of one wall and depicts how Lopez and Hernandez came to Kentucky from Cuba.
Lopez came to the U.S. by raft; Hernandez came by plane. The Coast Guard picked up Lopez in a homemade raft, and after being detained at Guantanamo Bay, he immigrated to the U.S.
Hernandez’s mother won a lottery to get a visa to the U.S.
The Hurstbourne restaurant is the second location of Habana Blues. Lopez and Hernandez opened their first location in New Albany a year ago.
Habana Blues Tapas Restaurant
2813 N. Hurstbourne Parkway
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon-8 p.m.
Happy hour: Sunday-Friday, 4-7 p.m.