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Edible: Victor's Cafe Celebrates Half-Century Of Cuban Cuisine

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There is a taste of Cuban cuisine and history at Victor's Cafe in the heart of the Theater district. Rachel Wharton from Edible Manhattan magazine filed the following report.

You can go to the Theater District, not just to see a play, but to get a taste of Cuba. For 50 years, Victor's Cafe has served as a hub for Cuban favorites, like addictive black beans or the shredded beef stew called ropa vieja, which means "old clothes" in Spanish.

But the restaurant has long been more than just a place to eat, says co-owner Monica Zaldivar, whose grandfather Victor del Corral, opened the original in the Upper West Side in 1963.

"He and my grandma Eloina started the first restaurant on 71st and Columbus. And then it became extremely popular with Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand and John Lennon and Yoko Ono would go, and it just became a little cultural hub. And everybody loved it," says Zaldivar.

Not only was Victor a great cook, but he was also a great host, commissioning works of art for the restaurant, hosting bands and encouraging artists and celebrities of all kinds to come and eat or dance.

In fact so many people did that Victor's eventually moved to the current location, a much bigger space right in the middle of the Theater District, a neighborhood Victor loved.

"He just liked the theater, he loved music, so he just wanted to have something here in the heart of the city," says Zaldivar.

Victor passed in 2006, but today his restaurant still serves all of the classics he perfected, like shrimp creole and the roast pork called lechon.

The family has also added a few new twists over the years, including a menu called "Cocina Cubana Nueva." That includes lechon-stuffed tacos made with yucca tortillas and snapper ceviche with mango, avocado and crispy sweet potato.

The bar offers multiple varieties of the mojito, from coconut to mango, though most people still order the mint-and-lime classic.

"The mojito is definitely the best-seller. Everybody who comes here wants a mojito, and our mojitos are definitely the best," says Zaldivar.

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