New and Noteworthy

Mojo's Real Cuban Opens On S.R. 70

A second location will open soon in Southside Village.

By Judi Gallagher March 28, 2016

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Mojo's Real Cuban's name contains a loaded phrase--real Cuban.

Other than JR’s Packinghouse, which has been cooking up authentic Cuban family recipes for years, Sarasota and Bradenton have been lacking in restaurants that offer delicious Cuban food.

But now we have Mojo's Real Cuban on S.R. 70, with another coming soon to Osprey Avenue in Sarasota's Southside Village. Mojo's is fast, fresh and real-deal--and it offers a more comfortable experience than many of the industrial-looking, quick-serve pop-ups that have appeared in our region over the last few years.

After Castro took over in Cuba, residents were not allowed to own their own businesses, so many started cooking in their homes. Word on the street quickly spread about which homes to visit (for minimal money) to enjoy great, authentic food. Mojo's decor--built-in white shelving with homey knick-knacks and red bricks, for example--is an homage to those unofficial home restaurants, or paladares.

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But Mojo's isn't just about style and nostalgia. Let’s get to the food.

Mojo's Cuban sandwich might make Sarasota's Best of Sarasota list next year. It's huge, with grilled ham and pork, cheese mustard and pickles pressed between Cuba bread, which comes from a 100-year-old bakery in Tampa. 

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The lechon asado--marinated slow-roasted pork topped with sautéed onions, black beans and yellow rice--was my personal favorite, while my companion praised the vaca fritta, tender beef stewed and shredded in lime and garlic, then seared until crispy. Along with tostones (fried plantains), we ordered three empanadas--the most traditional was filled with picadillo, and the more modern interpretation was stuffed with cheese and fresh sauteed spinach. 

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Most diners we met that day raved about the potato croquettes, known as croquettas, which are filled with potatoes, ham and spices. They're best enjoyed with the numerous house-made sauces that I hope Mojo's will eventually sell by the pint. My personal favorites were the fresh pico de gallo and cilantro-lime garlic sauce. There is a also Cuban bowl that includes your choice of white or yellow rice or salad, red or black beans and one protein for $8.50.

Normally at a quick-serve restaurant I wouldn't order dessert, but at Mojo's even the desserts are authentic. Flan featured the traditional creamy custard and soft caramel sauce; the bread pudding and tres leches were similar in taste. There's also Cuban espresso and a café con leche.

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Chef William Marquez was a real find for the restaurant's father-and-sons team Albert, Adam and Austin Myara, who wanted someone local, with years of experience and Cuban roots. Chef Marquez grew up in Cuba, where he learned to cook; he then moved to Miami where he headed up praised restaurant Habana Vieja for 17 years.

I believe Mojo’s is destined to be a national player, and as long as it keeps its passion, authenticity and cool urban vibe, it will be one if the next big things. Right now, I am just happy they opened up in Bradenton and are heading to Sarasota soon.

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