As with many good restaurants, Cuban Breezes is as unassuming as the strip center where it is located. But inside, they are working up little gems of good to great Cuban dishes at affordable prices.
Cuban Breezes is on Hillsborough Avenue, near the border between Hillsborough and Pinellas counties in a strip center with ample parking.
It's clean and bright inside, with a Caribbean theme — a thatch awning runs the length of one side of the room, a brightly painted wooden skiff hangs from the ceiling and colorful prints of mid-century Cuban travel posters adorn the walls.
There are about 10 booths, 10 tables and 10 additional stools at the bar. Televisions are scattered throughout the room, as they are almost everywhere you go these days.
On both visits, the restaurant was at least half full. One early Saturday evening found several tables of adults fueling up with Cuban food on their way to the University of South Florida game at Raymond James Stadium. Another Saturday at lunch found several tables of large multi-generational families.
We were greeted by smiling, clean-cut young ladies and told to seat ourselves. The restaurant includes a limited wine and beer selection, some Cuban sodas and a popular mango-flavored iced tea.
The menu offers a wide variety of sandwiches as well as Cuban staples such as Arroz con Pollo, ropa vieja and picadillo.
We started with the sampler appetizer plate. It includes two croquetas. The breaded and fried mixture was creamy on the inside and had a smoky ham flavor. The half-dozen yucca fritters were well seasoned with garlic and also served with a garlic mayonnaise. The pan con queso was about six inches of Cuban bread and white American cheese pressed until crispy on the outside and warm and gooey on the inside. It also came with a choice of empanada, either chicken, beef or steak and cheese. It was flakey on the outside with a well-seasoned filling and large enough to cut into thirds.
From the sandwich menu we had the Cuban and were impressed. It was about a foot-long pressed sandwich with mustard and pickle, ham and cheese, but it was the moist and well-seasoned roast pork that raised the flavor profile.
Another stellar sandwich was the BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger Melt. Listed toward the back of the menu and costing only $7, we weren't expecting much but wanted to see what kind of non-Cuban fare the place could dish up. We were blown away by the 8 oz. medium-well burger served with BBQ sauce, cheese, bacon and grilled onions. It was moist without being messy and came with a side of seasoned fries.
Hungry diners can choose from the platter section of the menu. Platters are served with two sides. We tried the Guava BBQ Ribs, a half-rack of trimmed pork ribs smothered in the house-made Guava barbecue sauce. They tasted mildly sweet with a spicy kick and were so tender the meat fell off the bone.
Another great platter we had was a special on Saturday — a fork-tender pork tenderloin with a chimichurri perfect for garlic lovers. We also tried the palomilla, a half-pound steak that is marinated, grilled and then served with onions on top and lime wedge on the side. It went well with a side of black beans and rice and tostones.
Speaking of black beans and rice, we got some of the best black beans we've had in a while. The savory beans held their shape, and the gravy had a nice thickness. It's served with your choice of yellow or white rice.
For dessert we loved the cappuccino flan. Although not authentic Cuban, it was creamy in texture and went well with the café con leche served in bright Fiestaware.
Cuban Breezes provides above-average fare in a central location for north Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. It's a staple in the area for a reason and, if you're in the mood for Cuban food in a relaxed atmosphere, it's worth the trip to find out for yourself.
Bottom Line: Above average Cuban food in a central location for north Hillsborough and Pinellas counties
Where: 13980 W. Hillsborough Ave., Tampa
Hours: Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday noon to 8 p.m.
Credit Cards: All major
Children's Menu: Yes
Alcohol: Wine and beer
Wheelchair Access: Yes
Price: Entrees range from $6 to $12
Contact: (813) 814-2822