Today New York's Cafe Habana opens its first L.A. outpost with the help of Malibu resident and Gerber Group head honcho Rande Gerber, who originally approached Habana owner Sean Meenan with the idea to come west. As Southern Californians once exiled in Manhattan for a decade, we can confirm the restaurant's Caribbean Latin and Mexican menu is inspired and fresh enough to appeal here much as it justifies waits up to an hour at its flagship. And how does it look?
Whereas the original Habana is a slim, crowded, centrally-located dinette open to a fashionable street of boutiques, this new Malibu location has been placed rather out of reach for the kind of cool clientele that defines the East Coast eatery almost as much as its cotija-coated corn. While Venice would have been the perfect neighborhood to plunk down in--and there have been rumors that Havana will land there eventually--the Malibu space still tries hard to connect with a youthful clientele. This is best evidenced by a large outdoor mural by Shepard Fairey (sort of a cliche at this point for an upstart business trying to appear hip) that combines his faux-revolutionary wheat-paste poster art with images of Pre-revolutionary Cuban currency.
Elsewhere, the space is kept simple and rootsy, resembling one of Hemingway's polished dark wood Havana hangs rather than Nolita's throwback cafe. An imposing old school bar supporting a collection of explorer's gee-gaws crowns the dining room of just a few wood tables and chairs. Outside, a spacious patio of wood table and chairs is complimented by climbing bougainvillea and an open roof with slatted beams providing shade, all looking like a natural evolution of Malibu Lumber Yard.
It is here, on the patio, that we see Habana's biggest strength outside of its food: An outdoor expanse with a tropical feel perfect for nursing cafe con leche in the morning haze or a chicken diablo sandwich in the scorching midday sun. It feels like Malibu but yes, much cooler and better utilizing the seaside charm. We predict Cafe Habana's patio will temporarily transport Angelenos to another shore once they choose to dally here--and we certainly don't mean New York's. Stay tuned for a menu and to see if Cafe Habana can truly take off locally.
Open Today, Malibu Lumber Yard, 3939 Cross Creek Rd. Malibu. 310-317-0300