My wife and I love Cuban food, and I’m from Miami, so I grew up eating some of the best Cuban food in the world. My parents definitely weren’t into exploring new cuisines, but we often feasted on Cuban delicacies, and as a result, I feel like my standards are high. I’m always on a quest for the best Cuban food in Orlando, and my latest discovery has been Rey’s Cuban Cafe (https://www.reyscubancafe.com/), a small and unassuming restaurant in Fern Park, not too far from where we live. Rey’s has about eight indoor tables and a few more on an outdoor patio, but I’ve only ever brought home takeout from there. It’s ten minutes away, so the food is always nice and hot by the time I get it home. I went three times before writing this review.
My wife’s favorite dish from any Cuban restaurant is bistec empanado (which I’ve seen as empanizado on other restaurants’ menus): tender steak pounded flat, breaded, and deep-fried ($9). This is served over white rice with fried yuca.
Here’s her bistec empanado from our second visit. This time it came with garlicky boiled yuca, which she prefers:
I am a sucker for liver dishes, which are rare enough on most menus, but Rey’s has two different versions. This is higado Italiano ($10.99), strips of tender beef liver sauteed with onions and green and red bell peppers in a tangy tomato sauce. I usually order yellow rice instead of white when there is a choice, and I can never refuse maduros, sweet fried plantains, which are one of my favorite foods in the whole world. The onions are from my wife’s steak, since I love them and she most definitely does not.
This past weekend, my wife was craving bistec empanado again, and I had just donated blood, as I try to do every eight weeks. Liver sounded awesome, probably to help replace some of the iron I had just gladly given up, so I ordered the regular bistec de higado, liver steak ($9.99). It was very thin and tender — a perfect consistency. I wish they had really slathered it in onions, like gone to town with cebollas.
I always like to get red beans when I have a choice between black and red. Rey’s red beans are served like a stew, with chunks of potatoes and little bits of onions and pork. I wish they had a little more smoky flavor and spice, but I’ve always gotten takeout, so I add my own hot sauce at home. I realize Cuban food is rarely spicy.
I am a huge fan of Jon Favreau’s wonderful movie Chef, about an L.A. chef who finds new inspiration for cooking after a trip to Miami. He buys a food truck and drives back home with his buddy and his son, selling Cuban sandwiches and bonding as they drive cross-country. I can’t believe I never saw it until this past summer, so I was a little obsessed with Cuban sandwiches that particular weekend in July. I remember stopping by Rey’s for the first time for my own inspiration as I prepared to marinate and roast my own pork shoulder for homemade Cubanos. (That ended up being the best thing I ever cooked.)
But before I made my own, I enjoyed Rey’s Cuban Deluxe ($7.99), with the usual sliced roast pork, ham, and Swiss cheese, plus the additions of salami, Spanish sausage, lettuce, tomatoes and mayo. Did I add one of the many mustards from my collection when I got this sandwich home? Long-time Saboscrivnerinos will know the answer is YES. (My homemade Cuban sandwich was better, but this wasn’t bad at all. I’d skip the lettuce and tomato next time, for sure.)
You can’t go wrong with buttery Cuban toast on the side of any meal:
One of these times I brought home takeout, I was in the mood for good empanadas (although as comedian Jim Gaffigan once said, there’s no such thing as a bad empanada). I ate them too quickly to take pictures of their fillings, but two of them were stuffed with picadillo, or seasoned ground beef, and the other was a pizza empanada, stuffed with hearty tomato sauce and melty mozzarella cheese.
There are many kinds of empanadas, with many Latin-American countries specializing in their own versions. However, Cuban empanadas, with their flaky fried flour crusts, have always been my favorites.
And on our last visit, pastelitos (pastries) were two for the price of one, so I brought home a quesito filled with sweet cream cheese and a pastelito with guava and cream cheese. These were perfectly fine, but not on the level of Versailles and La Carreta from back home in Miami (also known as “The 3-0-5”). I was also craving croquetas de jamon, crispy fried croquettes stuffed with a soft, yielding filling of diced ham and bechamel sauce. Those always hit the spot!
I don’t think Rey’s Cuban Cafe is elevating Cuban food to new levels or putting gourmet twists on anything. It’s comfort food, pure and simple — hearty food that reminds me of home (even though the food was one of the only things I liked about growing up in Miami). My quest for the best Cuban food in Orlando certainly continues, but you could do a lot worse than Rey’s. You can see the generous portion sizes and extremely reasonable prices. Everything is fresh and tasty, and they accomplish everything they set out to do.