A Taste of Havana in Indianapolis
Traditional Cuban music, a tropical vibe and the aroma of authentic eats greets diners at the door as they enter Taste of Havana. The eatery, located in Indianapolis’ lively Broad Ripple neighborhood, has been serving up Cuban cuisine since 2013, specializing in Cuban sandwiches, pastelitos and coffee.
It was family that inspired Taste of Havana’s owner Jorge Chalgub to become an entrepreneur.
Chalgub grew up in Cuba but moved to Miami at the age of 14. When his youngest daughter was preparing to start elementary school, he decided he wanted her to grow up in a safer city.
“I use to travel for work and stop in Indianapolis, and I liked the city,” said Chalgub. “When we moved here it was one of the lowest crime cities in the United States, it was a no brainer.”
When his daughter completed her second year of college and was in the process of figuring out her career goals, Chalgub, who managed food for Miami International Airport before moving to Indianapolis, wanted to expose her to the restaurant business.
“We opened it up. It started really small, just half of the space we have today. We didn’t have a lot of capital, and I figured if it works we could keep growing,” said Chalgub.
His gamble paid off. Taste of Havana has rave review on both Google and Yelp and attracts a diverse mix of clientele in an area known for quirky shops, bars and entertainment venues.
“I like to think we are very original,” said Chalgub. “This is not a cheap Cuban meal, it’s old school, the way it was when I was a teenager.”
Taste of Havana manages to stay affordable without sacrificing quality. Cuban sandwiches start at $7.50 and include ham, turkey, and vegetarian options. Chalgub says the most popular menu item is the pork.
“Pork is all about the seasoning, and one of the reasons our pork is popular is because it is extremely tender.” said Chalgub.
While at Taste of Havana, I had the opportunity to try their fall-off-the-bone pork, as well as one of three Cuban lunch bowls.
I selected the Pollo En Plancha, which consisted of grilled chicken marinated in lime juice, seasoned with pepper and garlic and served with white rice and black beans. I also has the opportunity to try Cafe Con Leche, a bold and rich Cuban coffee made with steamed milk and espresso shots. Not only was the food flavorful, but the prices were reasonable and the environment was friendly.
Leaving a Legacy
Through his restaurant and the relationships he has built in its surrounding community, Chalgub hopes to educate Hoosiers about Cuban culture. Decorations on the walls map the seven provinces of Cuba, and the radio plays a steady mix of Cuban music.
“It’s mambo, cha cha cha, and everybody loves salsa, but salsa back in the day was about enjoying the music. We have Afro-fcuban, some of the country music, and boogaloo,” said Chalgub. “I want people to feel like they are not in Indiana anymore when they come in here, especially in the winter. I want something bright, loud and proud.”
To Chalgub, operating Taste of Havana is his way of honoring his family name while educating the community about his culture.
“Not everybody has the same dream, and I know profit is very important, but in my case it’s all about my name, my reputation, my quality,” said Chalgub. “People need to know that Cuba is a a beautiful, gorgeous island with great people in it … It’s a tropical paradise with upbeat, very happy people.”
815 Broad Ripple Ave,
Indianapolis, IN 46220
Tel: (317) 559-4369
Keshia McEntire is an Indianapolis based journalist. She loves covering the arts and the humanities, and has a soft spot for activism and youth issues. She enjoys stories that make people do a double take or rethink preconceived notions.
Check out her website here.