The sultry, Havana-style restaurant sizzles with new décor after its Covid closure. If you are in New York City this winter and need a suggestion for a pre-theater restaurant or need a reason to dine out, Victor’s Café at 236 W.52nd Street is a perfect choice.
Victor del Corral and his wife Eloina Ruiz emigrated from Cuba and opened Victor’s in 1963 on the Upper West Side. The restaurant moved to the theater district in 1980, where the business has been inundated with theatergoers and celebrities for over 40 years. While the restaurant was closed because of COVID, it has reopened with breathtaking new décor and a splash of vivid colors in the three dining rooms.
For those of you who have dined at Victor’s in the past, the skylight with hanging plants and modern lighting is still in the center space, but the dance floor is now a dining room (much to my dismay), and the lounge is smaller, with seating at the bar and several high top tables and other small tables.
The last time I was at Victor’s, I stopped in without a reservation and sat in the lounge with my sister while we waited for a table. Bodyguards flung open the double front doors with a noisy commotion, and singer James Brown entered with his entourage. He sat next to us, and we chatted for ten minutes. Then, as they called him to be seated in the dining room, he ripped off a piece of the white paper tablecloth and signed, “Sis, I feel good.”
The decor may have changed, but the quality and choices of the food on the menu have not. The menu reflects the native food of Cuba, which was influenced by the Spanish, African, French, and Chinese who came in the 19th century to work on docks and sugar plantations.
There are several special drinks on the menu, like the traditional Mojito ($21), and there is sangria and a fine wine list.
There are 13 appetizers on the menu, and I suggest if you are dining here for the first time, order the “1492 Aperitivo Cubano” for two, an assortment of classic Cuban appetizers ($32). You can also order a la carte. The ensalada de aguacate y berro (avocado and watercress with red onion and mango vinaigrette) was perfectly chilled and the portion was enough for two ($15). Three empanadas de pollo arrived filled with braised Bell & Evans chicken and accompanied by a mild mango-habanero sauce ($11.) The Havana Guac was large enough for two, served with fried tropical cheeses and tropical root chips ($13). I admired the Ceviche served at the next table, comprising Florida Red Snapper, citrus marinade, red onion, mango, and avocados ($18), and will order it on the next visit.
The house’s specialty has always been ropa vieja ($32), described on the menu as “slowly braised and pulled Grass-Fed Angus Beef skirt steak with garlic, tomato, onion and peppers” served with traditional black beans and white rice. The dish was mouthwatering. My guest had the Salmon Carnaval ($31) seared and served with charred pineapple salsa and creamy Cuban polenta. Delectable is the best way to describe it.
There are several traditional and satisfying rice dishes, seafood, and meat choices, but it’s best to leave room for dessert. There are seven choices, but I consider the Flan de Huevo ($9) the best. A caramel sauce that tempts you to drink it from the plate surrounded by the Cuban-style egg custard.
Reservations are a necessity, and please remember the outdoor dining area does not have heaters, with the recent prohibition of propane heater use in the City of New York. Although some diners have complained about the noise level in the dining room, Victor’s Café is an alluring place to spend the evening and dine.
236 West 52nd Street
Camila Cabello – Havana