Cattle drives, bar-b-q, and cowboy hats are not typical images that come to the mind of many Americans when we think of Cuba. However these elements of western cultural have roots in Cuba that go farther back than “Che” t-shirts and smoldering Cohibas.
Paladar Rancho del Boyero pays homage to the former image of Cuba by creating the ambiance of country life on the outskirts of Havana. Equidistant between the airport and downtown Havana it is a tasty stop over on your way in or out of the country.
The name of the restaurant comes from its location along the road between central Havana and the Boyeros municipality. Half a century ago Boyeros was the center of cattle and livestock exporting from Havana. Cattle would be driven to the outskirts of the city, sold at auction, and then taken to town for processing and export.
The temporal influx of ranchers and cowboys (which go by the generic term “vaqueros” or “guajiros”) left a lasting impression on the Boyeros area. Even though the cattle trail has been paved over and is now dominated by Russian Lada sadans and old Detroit iron the stockyards still host the National Rodeo and Livestock Show every spring.
Paladar Rancho del Boyero is also doing its part to make sure that rural Cuban lifestyles don’t get lost to the quickly changing cultural scene of the Cuba’s capital city.
Even though it is easily accessible from the city the restaurant will immediately make you adjust your senses. The seating is all in open air, under traditional Cuban style thatch pavililions called “ranchos”. Greenery dominates your field of vision. The palms, ferns, tropical hardwoods, and creeping vines stretch all the way up to the seating area.
Where the greenery ends the kitchen begins. Cuban country style cooking was traditionally done outdoors, under charcoal fires and in big iron cookware. Rancho del Boyero blends the traditional with the modern with their open air kitchen outfitted with contemporary gadgets. Which means you can watch the flames kiss your steak and enjoy the olfactory experience of rotisserie roasted pork.
The fare reflects the setting. Slow cooked black beans are served alone as potaje which you can then pour over your rice. Or ask for “moros y christianos” which is Cuban for “rice and black beans”. The secret to doing this dish right is knowing how to prepare the beans and then cooking just the right amount of rice into dish so the rice and beans fishing cooking at the same time. It’s a tricky culinary skill, but when its well-executed even taste buds unaccustomed to Cuban cuisine can tell.
The chef at Rancho del Boyero has taken his preparation of “congris” or “rice and kidney beans” to the next level by letting both the rice and beans finish cooking inside a whole roasting chicken. This “stuffing” might just be a great inspiration for you next thanksgiving.
Finally, in an homage to the old-country Rancho del Boyero offers a creole paella. This Spanish dish of vegtables, meat and seafood cooked into rice is served in the same giant pan it is prepared in. The perfect dish if you are feeding a lot of people and want to try a little bit of everything.
Paladar Rancho del Boyero is located on Avenue Rancho Boyeros Km 7 ½ No. 19319, between the Plaza de la Revolution and the airport. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations at 7646 6197 or [email protected].
Photos and Text by Graham Sowa.