July 30, 2013 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
I need to allot a portion of my paycheck to the owners of Havana Rumba Restaurant. I visit the restaurant’s Middletown location when I want to enjoy the weather on the lush patio. I go to Mojito Tapas Restaurant, a slightly different concept from the same owners, when I feel a little fancy. And when all else fails, I can count on the original Havana Rumba location in St. Matthews to provide consistently good Cuban food, strong tropical drinks and an atmosphere that will liven up any weekday.
Now, the creators of Havana Rumba have gone and opened another restaurant, or, as I shall call it, the Highlands Depository of Ashlee’s Hard-Earned Money.
Havana Rumba Express and Tapas Bar opened last month at 2210 Bardstown Road, close to Douglass Boulevard. This new branch of the Cuban food family is two restaurants in one — a fast-casual restaurant perfect for meals on the go and a tapas bar for a casual evening out.
The restaurant is split into two distinct dining areas to clearly divide the dual concepts. But there isn’t obvious signage to give direction to customers. I didn’t know whether to order at the counter, grab a seat or wait for a hostess.
The area in which you enter is the fast-casual side of the house, where you can order pressed Cuban sandwiches, desserts, or build your own entree (not literally, there’s people behind the sneeze guard that do that for you) by adding sides, meat and salad priced $1 to $5 per item. There’s plenty of seating in that area to enjoy your meal, or you can take your food to go.
I had just recorded a podcast with Melissa and Linda of the Louisville, Not Kentucky podcast, and we decided to keep the fun going by eating in the tapas bar area.
Tapas is a Spanish style of cuisine that involves small plates and sharing. It was hard to pass along the goodies at Havana Rumba Express. I didn’t want to let go of my patatas bravas (fingerling potatoes topped with truffle aioli, spicy sauce and mahon cheese sauce), and I hesitated to share the surprising deliciousness of the pintxo de morcilla (a black sausage patty and goat cheese topped with a fig sauce over a slice of tumaca bread). However, it’s better to give than receive, and it’s awesome to give AND receive a bite of lobster quesadilla and torta de camaron (a potato cake topped with pickled carrots, guacamole, shrimp and a sweet chili sauce).
Our table of three ordered nine small plates to share, which was enough to make a meal. However, the servers bring only one or two dishes at a time, so it can get kind of awkward eating your friend’s guacamole while you wait on your empanada (sorry, Linda).
Other than the taste, the price is the best thing about tapas dining at Havana Rumba Express. The small plates are no more than $4 each, and three will leave you pleasantly full. I spent $9 on food, an amount comparable to other fast-casual restaurants but with the added bonus of supporting a local business that consistently produces great cuisine. So great, in fact, that my money will continue flowing Havana Rumba’s way.