Located in the Great Neck area of Virginia Beach, Havana Great Neck is a locals’ favorite and doesn’t see much tourist traffic in the summer due to its location away from the Oceanfront. A Cuban themed menu features both tapas and entrée selections that are sure to satisfy any palate. Specials such as bacon wrapped, boursin stuffed flounder and seared swordfish decorate the menu boards on a nightly basis and the dining room is a lively place filled with food and laughter.
Familiar with the location’s popularity, our party of two chose to make a reservation rather than risk a wait. Using their website, online reservations were simple, but I did notice the web service mentioned they do not take same day reservations after 5pm. Because the restaurant doesn’t open until 5, my buddy and I were left hoping to have gotten it in. Upon arrival in the Mill Damn Crossing Shopping Center, plenty of parking allowed us to pull close to the front door, and we were promptly assisted by a friendly hostess who had, in fact, received our reservation, although at 630 it appeared we didn’t need one. The dim, but warm environment is dressed in chocolate leather booth coverings, turquoise tile work and dark hardwood floors. The dining room was little more than half filled, which explained the ease of parking, but when full, both the tables and parking lot become more difficult to navigate.
Seated at table with two chairs on one side and a bench seat booth on the other, we were immediately greeted by our knowledgeable, attentive and friendly server and placed a drink order. Quickly realizing it was difficult to hear, even in the yet to be crowded dining space, I was joined on the booth side by my dining partner. While we were now able to hear one another, leaning back against the leather cushions provided little comfort against the vertical wall. For those with poor posture, this is the place to work on improving it. Scanning the menu while waiting for an Alluring Apple martini to arrive, my eyes were filled with a wide range of Cuban inspired fare. A tapas menu to compliments the full-sized entrees, and the portion sizes for those who wish to share or sample several different options are a personal favorite.
Drinks arrived and our table started with a half order of the chicken nachos from the back page tapas menu. A plate heaping with shredded chicken and cheese smothered nachos was topped with diced tomatoes and plenty of shredded lettuce arrived without much delay. Delightfully seasoned, the fresh salsa was perfectly flavored to pair with melted cheddar and jack cheeses and Cuban barbeque chicken. I am a nacho fanatic, and these are certainly near the top of my list. A definite must at every visit. Without totally satiating our hunger, the half order of nachos left us ready for more of Havana’s offerings. Looking around the room, it was clear the entrée servings were larger than either of us was prepared for and we flipped the menus over to once again review the smaller sized tapas selections. Having looked on us several times while we enjoyed the nachos, our server was quick to take our dinner order and clear the used plates away.
Choosing the Chicken Tostada and Petite Casa Filet (medium rare), we waited with another round of beverages. The meals were delivered sooner than expected, coming out of the kitchen on warm plates. Served with a dark rum-peppercorn sauce over roasted garlic mashed potatoes, this Cuban take on steak and potatoes is done extremely well. The sweetness of my Alluring Apple accented the spice in the steak sauce beautifully and it’s hard to go wrong with a garlic mashed potato. The fist-sized portion was cooked magnificently and simply melted under my knife. Just right to fill my belly after the Chicken Nachos, the steak did leave enough space to taste my friend’s Chicken Tostada. Steaming hot when it arrived, the shredded chicken filled a corn tortilla that rested on arroz moro, the Cuban version of rice and beans. After a little time to cool down, the queso draped chicken was smokier than what had been on the nachos and rather delicious. Both plates cleared, I headed off the visit the facilities.
Crossing the almost filled dining room, I easily found the Ladies room. The restroom was a little brighter than the restaurant, and it was clean, though it would be a little tight in case of a line. Returning to the table, I took a moment to observe the bar area, where young professionals, adult families and well dressed couples were both standing and sitting on tall bar stools down its length. To the right of the bar is a second entrance to Havana, while the left side is capped by the kitchen entrance and open pantry kitchen area. Watching salsas and salads as they’re prepared surely fuels the hunger of those seated nearby and reassures those who aren’t about the freshness of their meal.
The go-to meeting place for locals when they want an after work cocktail or are out on date night, it’s no wonder Havana is a Virginia Beach favorite. Great service, an always varied menu and excellently prepared food highlight the easy to find restaurant’s qualities. A noisy dining space and tempting drink menu make it a less than ideal choice for the night before a big event but with protein rich selections that are sure to meet any post-race caloric needs, Havana’s relaxed, yet professional, might run into anyone atmosphere is a surefire way to turn a good race day into a great night.