Cafe Havana – Two Peppers

Cafe Havana offers incredible food, fast service, and a great value. Conveniently located to downtown, Cafe Havana is a great place to stop for lunch or pick something up and head back to the office. The menu offers a several choices, any of which are delicious. For me, it’s yellow rice and black beans. I keep saying I’ll try the yucca, but the plantains are as sweet as hard candy. I even have to pick them out of my teeth in the same manner. So yummy!

The Cafe is just that a cafe. It’s a speed line with a cooler full of drinks and a choice of one meat, rice, beans, and plantains or yucca. All at a reasonable price. After a short wait in line, you’ll make your selections. Then find a seat. I recommend ordering to go, just in case you can’t finish. Trust me. You’ll want to take the rest home.

Cafe Havana is one of the few places in Ocala, perhaps Central Florida, that carries Ironbeer, a softdrink a light cream soda taste. Cuba’s national beverage hasn’t changed its original flavor since it was introduced in 1917. I like it. It’s light, sweet, caffine-free and made in Miami.

Cafe Havana also has flaky pastries with a sweet guava jelly inside. Try the one with jelly and cream cheese. Relax is comfortable rattan chairs at simple tables while enjoying these dainty treats. Come early for breakfast.

Most Cuban restaurants pride themselves on their pressed Cuban sandwiches. The Cafe has a couple. Unfortunately, this is where my expertise stops. It’s not that I don’t like a good mixto; I just don’t like what a grocery store calls a Cuban sandwich. So I am looking for an expert to take me on a week long tour of Ocala’s best Mixtos. Then I’ll update my review of Cafe Havana.

For now, drive as far as your work break allows to find this little slice of Cuba’s capitol. It’s healthier than and more tasty than McDonalds, and perhaps just as fast.

823 N. Magnolia Ave. Ste 300
Ocala, FL 34475

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Published in: | on July 21st, 2008 | Comments Off on Cafe Havana – Two Peppers

Pepe’s – Three Peppers

Pepe’s is probably a 2 pepper restaurant. In fact, it’s a great place for lunch with friends or co-workers. It has a typical menu with a few specialties. But Pepe’s offers something more.

What makes this a great restaurant for a date is the mystique. This is one of those special gems, where you have to have a password to get in. A friend whispers the directions. You wear sunglasses for the drive over. So Romeo’s here’s your line: “You like Mexican food? I know a great little place.”

Let me explain. Pepe’s is a grocery store, complete with cereal, meat, fresh bread, and cd’s from Mexican bands. But in the back of the store, past the bread, and an invisible barrier that scares the Olive Garden crowd away, and just about the time your date grabs your arm, you’ll be seated in a tastefully decorated restaurant with delicious food.

Pepe’s offers a mix of Mexican dishes from tacos and enchiladas to savory meat and Spanish rice. The recipes are very authentic with a personal twist. Refried beans come with a crumble of queso for color and flavor. I had a great dish with steak slathered in a spicy tomato sauce. Warm corn tortillas came on the side.

The salsa is fresh and spicy. Not too hot, with plenty of onion and cilantro. The chips are thick and crunchy and go perfectly with a glass of horchata, a sweet rice water beverage. Pepe’s is knows for having particularly good horchata. If you want to go all the way to Mexico, try the syrupy guava juice. It comes with a glance from the waitress. I think I heard the kitchen stop when I ordered it.

I always get the sense that this is a big family operation, because the servers are so friendly. They will happily explain anything on the menu. Their accent and tone is very reassuring for those who gave up bread sticks and marinara.

Go to Pepe’s. Have an adventure. Travel to a little store on the outskirts of town. And step into a delicious world all its own.

7915 W Highway 40
Ocala, FL 34482
Google location is incorrect. Take 40 past I-75. On right, before intersection of SW 80 Ave.
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Published in: | on July 19th, 2008 | Comments Off on Pepe’s – Three Peppers

El Taxco – 2 Peppers

With any Mexican restaurant you run the risk of creating menus that have the same 5 items rearranged into different combinations. To my surprise and pleasure, El Taxco is more than big bean plates and drink specials. They balance the usual numbered combo’s with fancier modern Mexican dishes. By modern, I mean using traditional ingredients, but departing just enough to give the dish new interest. Case in point, my pollo tropico plate had beans, rice, and glazed chicken breast topped with pineapple chunks. Delicious.

The expansive menu includes enchilada and taco combos, as well as chicken, steak, and seafood dishes. The full bar provides plenty of domestic and import beers. On tap brews can come in an impressive 32 ounce glass. Lunch portions are a little smaller and priced accordingly, but only available till 3pm.

The salsa is tasty and fresh. It is served in a small carafe to refill your dipping bowl and accompanied by a basket of crunchy tortilla chips. The salsa is far from ketchup, but almost as smooth. It is a puree. Thankfully it has enough cilantro. I recommend ordering the queso, a white American cheese served melty and flavored with a little jalapeƱo for a spicy kick. By the way, queso is where nacho cheese comes from. Sadly, something was lost when it was translated over to the movie theater and bowling alley.

Everything is big at El Taxco. It is possibly the largest Mexican restaurant in Ocala. It is divided into standalone tables, booths, a full bar, and pool table area. There’s still plenty of room. The walls are decorated in Mexican folk style depicting a border town. Each booth sits at a house complete with a mock Spanish tile awning. The feeling is fun and relaxed. El Taxco is perfect for large groups, especially lunch with co-workers. My dinner party of 7 was seated immediately. I also saw couples tucked away in their booths.

We received our food promptly. A mistake in the order was corrected quickly with compliments of the house. Our server was friendly and kept our drinks filled and chips stocked, but she seemed a bit overwhelmed by the 5 page menu. I can’t blame her, I was still overwhelmed by my friend’s 32 ounce beer.

4901 E Silver Spgs Blvd # 800
Ocala, FL 34470

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Published in: | on May 23rd, 2008 | Comments Off on El Taxco – 2 Peppers
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