Columbia Restaurant Ybor City

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Columbia sign

Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City has been around for more than 114 years, longer than any other restaurant in Florida. The menu features an item called the 1905 Salad to commemorate the year it opened. Actually, when the restaurant was anticipating celebrating its centennial in 2005, the owners found documentation that it had really opened in 1902, but they decided to stick with the 1905 date. There would be the whole salad problem to deal with, after all.

A restaurant has to be doing something right to last that long. But if my recent experience is indicative of the way the restaurant operates now, it may not see another anniversary. It has a whole lot more problems than a misnamed salad.

Cafe Madrid Deli & Bakery

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Cafe Madrid wall

Cafe Madrid is gone; long live Cafe Madrid.

Cafe Madrid, you may recall, was the Cuban restaurant that occupied a corner of a strip mall on Curry Ford Road at Conway Road in Orlando for 28 years. I revisited it in January of this year to do an update review, and a week later it closed. (I swear it was a good review; here, read it yourself.)

In September, a new restaurant moved in, conveniently keeping the Cafe Madrid name but adding Deli & Bakery to it. As you might expect, it’s no longer a full-service restaurant as the old CM was, and selections aren’t as fulsome, either. There are no longer complete dinner entrees, for example. But the food I sampled at the new iteration is good and worth visiting if you’re in the area.

Cafe Madrid

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Cafe Madrid ext

In my yearend wrap up recently, I noted the many restaurants that closed last year. For good number of them, the distance between their opening date and going out of business was relatively short.

So I'm especially in awe of the restaurants that have shown great longevity. Cafe Madrid, a Cuban/Spanish restaurant on Curry Ford Road, is one. It's been serving its simple but reliable food for 28 years.

It couldn't be plainer, occupying a corner space in a strip mall at Conway Road. There are bare-wood tables and simple chairs. There is a bar at the far end of the small dining room, but it doesn't appear that anyone is expected to sit there.

Copacabana Cuban Cafe

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Copacabana tamal

Copacabana, a Cuban cafe from Mount Dora, has opened a second location in Altamonte Springs. It's a bright and spiffy spot with friendly service and decent food.

The Altamonte location opened only recently, and I have to wonder if the owners knew that the parking lot would be nearly nonexistent when they first planned the new place. The small strip mall, which also is home to longtime Indian restaurant Kohinoor and two breastaurants, Twin Peaks and the Winghouse, is undergoing some sort of construction on the central parking lot. People who wished to eat at Copacabana had to hunt for parking along the sides and hike to the restaurant.

It should be testament to the quality of the restaurant that many people did just that. Copa was doing brisk business when I stopped in recently for lunch.

Old Cuban Cafe East Orlando

Written by Scott Joseph on .

OldCuban bar

There’s a new Old Cuban Cafe. It’s similar to the old Old Cuban Cafe, though I admit I haven’t been to the oldest Old Cuban Cafe.

The newest is on Colonial Drive, east of Alafaya Trail, in eastern Orlando. It’s much bigger than the one I visited on North Goldenrod Road four years ago (there’s another location on South Goldenrod; I don’t know which is the older Cuban). This is the same strip mall where Kreyol Kafe & Bakery is located.

Zaza New Cuban Diner

Written by Scott Joseph on .

zaza ext

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).

Heber's Cuban Cafe East Orlando

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Heber interior

Heber’s Cuban Cafe in East Orlando was my destination, but apparently I was the only one seeking it out..

That is, I was the only customer in the place while I ordered my food — and then asked for it to go so I wouldn’t be sitting in the big space all by myself.

It’s not like other people weren’t out dining at the time. As I approached the restaurant in a plaza on Chickasaw Trail, I heard a lot of commotion just a few doors down at a Mexican restaurant. It felt as if all of those people knew something I didn’t. Maybe they’d already tried Heber’s and decided to eat elsewhere that night.

Havana Bistro & Cafe

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Havana Bistro platter

This is not a review of Napa Venezuelan Cafe. True, it’s also not a review of four thousand or so other restaurants in the area, but those restaurants aren’t the one that I set out to visit the other day. Napa was my destination, however, even though I showed up at a time that the website said it would be open, it was not.

Luckily, right next door, Havana Bistro & Cafe was. So in I popped.

Cafe Caobana

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Caobana Counter

I was driving down Semoran Boulevard the other day and passed a nice looking place called Cafe Caobana, so I made a u-ey and headed back to check it out.

It was nice looking on the inside, too, and in fact was bigger than I expected it to be with a spacious and tidy dining area in the back of the place. (Actually, it looked bigger because it’s well mirrored, but there were still more seats than I thought there’d be.

I arrived at just a few minutes before closing time, so not wanting to be one of “those” people, I placed my order to go. I got a tamal for an appetizer and the shredded fried beef for my entree, with white rice, black beans and tostados.

Cindy's Cafe

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Cindys exterior

If you're in the vicinity of Florida Hospital Health Village, the medical complex on North Orange Avenue, you have another dining option besides the Panera Bread outlet inside the medical center or the Wendy's across the street. (And how a "Health Village" would allow a fast food joint to reside nearby is a question worth asking at its next town meeting.)

Cindy's Cafe, which used to reside on Virginia Drive moved into the space that had been a diner called Everybody's Mom. I always liked that name, but ultimately it seemed like Mom just wasn't up to pleasing everyone.