Thursday, December 22, 2011

Beautiful Cuban Food at Bella Cuba

Bella Cuba
3930 S. Bristol Ave. #114
Santa Ana, CA 92704

The corner of Bristol and Sunflower is quickly becoming the United Nations of eateries. This corner, directly across from South Coast Plaza, features Peruvian, Vietnamese, Mexican, Greek, and Japanese restaurants. Now you can add a Cuban place to that long list of cuisines that can be found on that corner. As soon as we heard there was a new Cuban place here, we could not wait to try it.

Bella Cuba opened about a month ago, and the food blogs have already given some glowing reviews. There is also some mystery surrounding this place. It is rumored that the owner and manager of Bella Cuba are defectors from the most famous Cuban restaurant in LA, Versailles. I have never been to Versailles, but it gets an 88% approval rating on Urbanspoon, four stars on Yelp, and gets rave reviews from others that love Cuban food. So needless to say, I had very high hopes for this place.

We arrived at about 2 on a Sunday afternoon. Kind of the limbo time before dinner and after lunch. A time when most restaurants are slower than normal. That was not the case at Bella Cuba. Almost all of the twenty tables were filled with parties large and small. There seemed to be lots of large families eating here. The decor was warm and inviting. Even with the crowd, we did not feel cramped. With the crowd here, I guess the secret was out about this place. Let's see if the food can match the hype.

After being seated we were brought this Bread Basket. The bread had a nice crunch to it, and was buttered nicely.

Whenever we are in a Cuban restaurant I always have to try the Cubano Sandwich. This might be one of the best ones we have had outside of Miami. This sandwich features pork, ham, pickles, cheese, and mustard, all on Cuban bread. This sandwich was greasy, but that just made it full of flavor. I would have liked this with a little more mustard or pickles on it to break up the saltiness from the meats, but it was a very good start to the meal. The bread had a nice crunch to it. I was a little surprised that they did not offer a media noche sandwich, which is one of my favorite sandwiches of all time.

Katie had heard great things about the Pollo al Ajillo or Garlic Chicken. This half chicken is marinated in mojo sauce and served with black beans, rice, and plantains. The sauce was a little too citrusy for our taste. The citrus taste really overwhelmed the garlic here, but the onions helped to cut the citrus taste.. The chicken was as advertised, as being very tender, and fell off the bone easily. She would have liked a little less bone and more meat,  but she would definitely get this again.

It has taken sometime for me to find my go to meal in a Cuban restaurant, but I may have found it with the Macitas de Puerco Fritas, Fried Pork Chunks. This delicious plate had fried and marinated pieces of pork. The pork tasted great, and had a wonderful simple flavor. Reminded me of a sweet and sour pork chunk, without the sweetness. Really tasty, but I thought the portion size here was a little weak. Only about six or seven pork chunks on the plate. The black beans and rice were great when mixed together, and the plantains added a sweetness to the meal, almost like dessert. I would for sure get this meal again.

No trip to a Cuban restaurant would be complete for us, unless we had a Tres Leches slice of cake. Bella Cuba was no exception. The cake here was not as damp as some of the others we have had. The icing was not as sweet either. Still with all of these factors going for it, this was still a great item to finish our meal off with. The tres leches at Felix's is still better, but that will be the only part of the meal that is better.

I am sure you can tell by this glowing review, we really liked our trip to Bella Cuba. The food here was very good, and I was very happy to have found my new favorite meal in a Cuban restaurant. The vibe here was very casual, but the restaurant when full, like it was when we were here is very loud. The service on this day was pretty good. I thought the portions were a little on the small side, but what they lacked in mass, they more than made up for in quality. Bella Cuba is for sure going to be on our heavy rotation list.

Out of five boxing gloves, (one of Cuba's favorite sports), five being best to zero being worst, Bella Cuba gets 3.5 boxing gloves.

For more information on Bella Cuba, click here:

Bella Cuba on Urbanspoon


  1. Wow! I had this place on my "to-dine" list and because of this review, I'm definitely putting on the top of it! I absolutely love Cuban sandwiches! Porto's Bakery has a great Cuban so we'll see how this compares to it!

  2. This place will be high on my to-do list now, too.

    I like Versailles, but when I am in that area, usually for work, by myself, I tend to favor a small "mom and pop" place "El Rincon Criollo" (!__2) on Sepulveda Blvd., just south of Culver, in Culver City. It's small, unobtrusive, and low-key. Not a place you would drive out of the way to go to, but if you're in the area it might be worth it (although Versailles is fairly close). I don't go all that often so I always get the same thing, the garlic chicken lunch special, which is always exactly what I want when I go there.

  3. Johan - I have never been to Porto's. That is on my list as well. Hopefully I will make it there early in the new year. Let me know what you think of Bella Cuba after you eat there.

    Mikehu - Thanks for the info on El Rincon Criollo. I very rarely make it up that way, but we have been on a real Cuban kick lately, so we might trek up there.

  4. At twelve dollars each for your meals, the serving sizes look extremely stingy.

  5. Anonymous - You are right on with your comment. For a big eater, like myself, I was a little disappointed with the portion sizes. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. I finally got a chance to go to Bella Cuba and here's my quick review of the place. I ordered the garlic chicken and you're spot on with your take on it. Way too much citrus and garlic. It was just too overwhelming. The plantains were delightful as well. I tried some of my friend's roast pork and it was alright, nothing too special.

    The thing that these guys really have going for them are the portion sizes! While the price is a little high, I definitely felt like I got what I paid for. One thing that I did not like about the place was that the service was very slow. The servers kind of just ignored us after they served us our food and never came back to check on us until they wanted the check. Kind of a disappointment on that end. I'd definitely like to see this place do a quick service format, instead of a sit down format. While my first time was not incredible, I am really looking forward to trying it again. Maybe the fried pork chunks would be a better choice, definitely not a better choice for your cholesterol hahaha but hey! That's being a foodie for you!

  7. Johan - Thanks for letting me know what you thought of the place. You might be on to something there about the quick service format. We did not have any problems with service on our visit, but I have heard that the service can be spotty. Go for the pork chunks next time, cholesterol be dammed! Thanks for the comment!

  8. I finally got to Bella Cuba and really liked it. I liked my garlic chicken and was OK with the citrusy taste and especially the garlic. My wife had the Platanos Rellano - stuffed plantains with pork on the appetizer list for her main dish and loved them. We shared the beans and rice that came with my meal. I'm not a big Plantain fan, but these were good. Although i still love the little Culver City "mom and pop" El Rincon etc. for lunch, Bella Cuba, I would say, is a small step up. We also had good service and it was pretty crowded here on a Saturday night.

  9. Mike - Glad to hear this place is doing well. We went to the Cuban place in Burbank, and it was good, just not as good as Bella Cuba. The Platanos Rellano sounds great. I'd like the saltiness of the pork to go along with the sweet of the plantain. I will have to get this on my next trip here. Thanks for the info.