Zaza New Cuban Diner is developing into a slick operation, one that has all the earmarks of a nascent franchise. And that’s just fine, because as it stands now, it’s also a pretty tasty operation, and one that offers good food at a bargain.
Zaza now has three locations (which qualifies it as an independent restaurant operation in my definition; I’ll explain why that’s important in the coming weeks). The original opened about this time four years ago in a drab freestanding building on Curry Ford Road that began its life as a Maryland Fried Chicken.
Actually, the restaurant that opened in 2012 was called YaYa’s Cuban Cafe & Bakery. But the name was changed to Zaza’s a few months later when someone else pointed out, politely, I’m sure, that they owned the rights to the YaYa name. (There had been another Cuban restaurant in that space before Ya/Za called Tino’s.)
I recently visited one of the newer locations of the restaurant, now called Zaza New Cuban Diner. The Waterford Lakes Zaza is in a corner spot close to the movie theater and next door to a Banana Republic Factory Store (don’t rely on the Google Maps that will drop you off at the entrance to Waterford Lakes Town Center; you have to go in deeper).
It’s set us as a quick-serve eatery: Order and pay for your food at the counter, then take the number the cashier hands you to a table and wait for someone to deliver your goods.
On a quick lunch visit I selected the Lechon Asado, the roast pork plato, which, for $10.25, came with a choice of three side dishes. I selected white rice, black beans and Soup de Pollo (for an extra 55 cents).
The roast pork, laden with lots of grilled onion chunks, was sufficiently tender and with the right amount of mouth-filling fattiness. The chicken soup had good bits of shredded meat and was dotted with vegetables in a well-seasoned broth — worth the extra nickels. And I liked spooning the black beans onto the fluffy white rice.
The beans had a familiar taste. That may be because at one time Tony Pace was involved in the development of the concept. Pace was the executive chef for Pebbles and other Davgar restaurants and spearheaded recipe adaptation when the company’s offshoot Culinary Creations began producing products, including the popular black bean soup from Pebbles, in mass quantities to be sold to other restaurants and food service providers.
Pace is no longer directly involved in Zaza but told me by phone that he still consults with owner Ruben Perez occasionally. He did not know if Zaza was still sourcing its beans from the same provider. (Culinary Creations was sold in February to Boston’s Kettle Creations, so it’s anyone’s guess what lines the new owner has continued or cut from production.) But I can tell you, the black beans sure tasted like the ones from Pebbles. (Good tastebud memory.)
The atmosphere at the Waterford Lake restaurant is bright and a bit too sterile. It has white subway tiles, stained-concrete floors and open kitchen. Those who choose to dine in can sit at wooden tables with bright red metal chairs or snag a comfier banquet. Dine-ins are also served on real plates instead of paper or foam, which is nice.
Also nice: all the people I had contact with. It’s a friendly atmosphere and a nice place to stop in for a bit of Cuban fare.
Zaza New Cuban Diner Waterford is at 417 N. Alafaya Trail, Orlando. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily (breakfast items, but not combos, are available at all times). The phone number is 407-986-5554.