Genuine Cuban cuisine is served fresh in Broad Ripple

Writer / Jon Shoulders

Photographer / Michael Thierwechter

Authenticity. It’s the name of the game at Taste of Havana on Broad Ripple Avenue, and according to owner Jorge Chalgub, it’s been the key to the Cuban eatery’s success for the past four years.

A Cuban native, Chalgub grew up hanging around the family kitchen observing his mother as she brought her sandwich, soup and desert recipes — many of which are used today in the Taste of Havana kitchen — to life.

“I was one of those kids that was always in the kitchen and my mom used to kick me out all the time,” Chalgub recalls. “Eventually, she just got tired of kicking me out and started showing me how to cook. So, a lot of the recipes at the restaurant are hers. We try to offer as much authentic Cuban food and ingredients as we can.”

Chalgub’s family moved to Miami in 1972 when he was a teen, and by his early 20s he was working as a manager and food supervisor for a restaurant company based out of Miami International Airport. The work occasionally took him through Indianapolis, of which he grew increasingly fond.

“I decided to get out of Miami when my kids were starting school, because I didn’t want to raise them down there,” he says. “I always liked Indianapolis when I would travel through here. I haven’t regretted a minute of it.”

When Chalgub began considering the idea of opening his own Cuban eatery, Broad Ripple Village struck him as the ideal setting for the venture, having reminded him of a distinctive Miami neighborhood he spent time in as a teen.

“Back in the day when I was kid, there was an area called Coconut Grove that used to look a lot like Broad Ripple,” he says. “It was a very Bohemian place and very laid-back with little shops. The residential areas had a lot of older homes from the ‘20s and ‘30s. It felt right to open the restaurant in Broad Ripple.”

On August 15, 2013, Chalgub opened Taste of Havana to the public in a small space on the Broad Ripple commercial strip previously occupied by Fat Dan’s Deli. While modest in physical size, the establishment’s reputation for flavorful Cuban sandwiches, pastries and coffees soon grew large.

Chalgub says the classic El Cubano sandwich and black bean soup have been customer favorites from day one, although his own sandwich preference is the pan con lechon, which comes teeming with roasted pork, mayo and caramelized onions. A case on the front counter typically displays house-made flan and a variety of pastelitos, which are flaky pastries stuffed with assorted fillers like guava, cream cheese, chocolate, coconut and even ground beef.

“I get a little frustrated with a lot of restaurants being real pretty, and the food being mediocre at best,” Chalgub says. “We went in the other direction. I decided I’d make a nice-looking restaurant, but not spend all my money on that and then come up with very low-cost food and small portions. We make our own beans, we roast our own pork and turkey. We basically try to make everything from scratch that we can.”

This laser-focus on quality and authenticity has garnered Taste of Havana widespread recognition, including a consistent five-star TripAdvisor rating and a presence in Yelp’s “Best Coffee Shop in Every State” listing, released earlier this year.

Last year, on the third anniversary of Taste of Havana’s grand opening, Chalgub expanded his restaurant into an adjacent space formerly used by United Repair Service, a clothing alteration business whose owners retired. Taste of Havana doubled its seating capacity, and Chalgub says the expansion had been long overdue given the establishment’s ongoing popularity. 

“We used to be puny,” he says. “If you had 15 people in here we were already bursting. It was starting to hurt us because people didn’t have a place to sit at the busy times and they would sometimes leave.”

Don’t think for a moment, however, that the expansion has changed the emphasis on quality cuisine that remains vitally important to Chalgub and his small staff of four employees.

“We’re progressing, but we continue to make everything we can from scratch,” Chalgub says. “Even Cubans here say to me, ‘We can’t even get this kind of food in Miami.’ I just try to give the best service and the best quality food I can. It’s been baby steps, but so far that formula has worked.”

Taste of Havana is located at 815 Broad Ripple Avenue. Call 317- 559-4369 or visit tasteofhavanaindy.com for more information.