By virtue of sheer proximity, Florida has always been home to good Cuban restaurants, and Central Florida has had a pretty good share of them, though certainly not as many as South Florida.
Now a popular South Florida restaurant, Padrino’s Cuban Cuisine, has opened a Central Florida outpost. To distinguish it from its Hallandale, Plantation and Boca Raton siblings, the new restaurant is called Padrino’s Cuban Bistro, and it’s presenting Central Floridians with a stylishly creative rendition of Cuban food in an atmosphere that is classy yet festive.
I'm prepared to call this the best Cuban food is Central Florida; it's really that good.
The menu is a mix of classic dishes, old family recipes and imaginative interpretations. My guest and I started our dinner with the classic empanadas, crisp, flaky pastries filled with a spicy ground beef mixture. They were served with a wonderful guava chutney that I could have eaten by the spoonful.
We also had a selection of tostones topped with ropa vieja, ground beef and chicken. The shredded beef of the ropa vieja was a favorite.
For my entree I chose Mayi’s mahi mahi, a colorful dish of red, green, orange, yellow, golden and white that featured a fresh-tasting fillet topped with fresh mango and pineapple chutney, served with mashed sweet potatoes and fresh vegetables.
My companion had the lechon asado, which was a study in browns. But what it lacked in color it made up for in flavor, a roast pork seasoned with a tangy citrus mojo. The meat was accompanied by arroz moro, a blend of fluffy white rice and black beans, and boiled yuca. The rice could have used some broth and was a bit under spiced, but the yuca, or casava, was delicious, specifically because it wasn’t too over-seasoned. Many Cuban restaurants tend to douse their yuca with so much garlic sauce that it takes on a acidic taste. Here there was just enough garlic to still enjoy the mild flavor of the root.
We couldn’t decide which of the desserts to try, so we sampled all three. And I still can’t decide which one I liked best. Pudin de pan, which I usually order just because I like saying it, was a perfectly custardized bread pudding with coconut and raisins graced with a rum-tinged dulce de leche. Tres leches featured white sponge cake soaked with three sweet milks. And the flan -- one couldn’t possibly have a Cuban restaurant without flan on the menu -- had a creamy yet firm custard topped with sweet caramel sauce.
Service was friendly and helpful. Our waitress was able to answer questions about the menu with authority, and she kept the meal moving at a casual, unhurried pace.
One of the more distinctive things about Padrino’s is its decor, a bright and tidy spot that earns it the bistro designation.
The restaurant’s logo, a simple palm frond motif, is incorporated into the busy carpet. Colorful Cuban paintings that look like a form of cubism -- Cuban cubism? -- adorn the walls and lively Latin music plays at just the right volume in the background. Tabletops are bare, dark wood, decorated with a simple candle in a crackle glass lantern.
Padrino’s is very much a family business. Diosado Padrino opened the first Padrino’s Cuban Cuisine with his wife, Candida Rosa, in 1976 a few years after the family emigrated from Cuba. In 1982 their son, Mario, joined the business, and soon his wife, Nayade, did too. Mario and Nayade have relocated to Central Florida to oversee Padrino’s Cuban Bistro, and Nayade, who graduated from culinary school in 2006, is spearheading recipe development. They are usually at the restaurant tending to the customers and making sure that everything is first-rate. And it usually is.
Padrino's Cuban Bistro is at 13586 S. John Young Parkway, Orlando. The phone number is 407-251-5107