It’s always Island Time in southwest Missouri

This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Missouri Life magazine.

For me, Cuba has always evoked an alluring image of sultry nights, cool breezes, Latin jazz, and exciting flavors. That is why I was intrigued when a Cuban-style restaurant opened in Springfield.

La Habana Vieja, which is named after Old Havana in the capital city of Cuba, features a menu that focuses on traditional Cuban favorites. Co-owned by Ted Tabor and Freddie Flores, the restaurant celebrates its first anniversary this month. It is housed in a renovated former bank building on historic Commercial Street that dates to the mid-1800s.

The Cubano sandwich, laden with roasted pork and ham, is a favorite with La Habana Vieja diners.
The Cubano sandwich is laden with roasted pork and ham and is a favorite with La Habana diners.
Photo—Freddie Flores

The restaurant’s decor features open spaces and a rustic interior with sublime lighting and dark blue fluorescent highlights that evoke the spirit of Havana. The walls are adorned with portraits of the neighborhood friends and family members of Freddie’s Cuban wife.

According to Freddie, the cuisine is meant to be a return to a time before the Fidel Castro regime, when Cuba enjoyed a wider variety of foods that were more available.

Most of the menu offerings served at La Habana are not spicy hot like many dishes served in other Latin American restaurants, which for me is preferable because I enjoy milder heat profiles with limited use of capsicum. Whenever I eat food that is so spicy it makes my eyes water, it masks the taste of the dish, and I cannot enjoy layers of flavors found naturally in the food.

In the cuisine of Cuba, the Cubano sandwich may be the most well-known dish. The enthusiastic young chefs at La Habana stay true to tradition in the way they prepare the popular griddled sandwich. Prior to grilling, they fill the Cuban bread with generous layers of thinly-sliced roasted pork and ham, gouda and raclette cheeses, topped with yellow mustard. They serve it with yucca fries and house-made pickles.

Among other menu favorites is Ropa Vieja, a national dish of Cuba that is made of shredded, slow-cooked beef brisket served with white rice and vegetables. Empanadas Picadillo is seasoned ground beef, sun-dried tomatoes, and caramelized onions baked in pastry. Tostones—fried green plantains that are cooked soft and then smashed into disks before being deep fried and served—are popular throughout the Caribbean. Pollo Asado is spiced chicken breast with congri (white rice with black beans) and plantains.

Mojito lime is a classic flavor profile hailing from Cuba. This well-known spice mix is so popular in this country that the spice company McCormick makes a version of it. At La Habana, it is featured in a tasty dish of sautéed pork topped with red cabbage that I had for lunch on a recent visit.

To cap off the meal, try the slow-baked flan, which is a Cuban-style custard with caramel. Or satisfy your sweet tooth with churros dipped in caramel or chocolate sauce, or a scoop of house-made gelato. The bar at La Habana serves perennial favorites, such as the mojito, sangria, and margarita.

With its decor reminiscent of the art deco shades and lighting of Miami’s Little Havana district, La Habana Vieja gives you a Cuban dining experience with authentic tropical vibes.

Explore La Habana Vieja’s latest offerings and specials at 

LEFT: La Habana Vieja co-owner Freddie Flores toasts the flavors of Cuba.

About the author: Daniel Pliska is a certified executive chef and author. He teaches culinary arts at Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield.