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The Dish: Havana South

Havana South

4060 Buford Drive, Buford

678-546-2252

havanasouth.com

Open since: June 6

Location: The restaurant sits at the end of a small shopping center at the corner of Satellite Boulevard and Ga. Highway 20 in Buford.

Owners: Ray and Marie Diaz, Carmen Borja

Hours: Havana South is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The restaurant plans to extend its hours and open on Monday in the future.

Atmosphere: With Cuban music playing throughout the restaurant, Havana South has a festive atmosphere with red walls and a colorful bar. There are Cuban mementos throughout, including Cuban cigar boxes and a large mural on the wall, painted by a local artist, to represent the Cuba of the past.

"We want to provide great food in a family environment where people can experience how I grew up," owner Ray Diaz said.

"When I moved here (Suwanee) from New York I wished I had two things - an ocean and a good Cuban restaurant. I couldn't do anything about the ocean, so I decided to open a restaurant."

The menu: The goal of Havana South is to provide authentic Cuban food with no variations or twists. The menu boasts everything from the traditional churasco to Cuban sandwiches, plantains and black beans with rice. Ray Diaz convinced his uncle, Rene Diaz, to come out of retirement and move to Gwinnett to help him with the restaurant. Rene, known as "Tio" to most customers, has been a chef for 45 years, has owned his own restaurant and was the head chef at a popular Miami Cuban restaurant.

He brings that background to Havana South with his popular dishes. Entrees are primarily divided into five sections: carne (beef), lechon (pork), arroz (rice dishes), pollo (chicken) and mariscos (seafood).

The bistec palmilla, a grilled Cuban style steak and the chicharon de pollo hueso, or fried chicken chunks with the bone, are customer favorites.

The restaurant makes everything in-house except for the Cuban bread, which is imported from a bakery in Miami three times a week.

"We simply don't have the space to cook our own bread right now," Diaz said.

Beverages: Coca-Cola products, beer, wine and a full liquor bar are available. The restaurant also serves several Latin drinks, including Malta Hatvey, a non-alcoholic malted beverage.

Dessert: Diaz's mother, Angelina, is 82 years old and walks to the restaurant every day to make her specialty desserts, including flan, natilla, arroz con leche (rice pudding) and bunvelos.

Things you might not know: Ray Diaz was born in the United States four months after his mother moved from Cuba.

Havana South has several ideas for the restaurant as it grows, including live music on Friday and Saturday and a delivery service.

Diaz has a 102-year-old aunt who still lives in Cuba.

SideBar: On the menu

Tostones Relleno: Plantain cups filled with your choice of beef or shrimp. (beef: $4.25, shrimp: $5.25)

Sandwich Cubano: Slices of smoked ham and roasted pork, Swiss cheese, sweet pickle and mustard served on Cuban bread and grilled. ($6.95)

Bistec a la Milanesa: Breaded steak topped with Criollo sauce, melted cheese and ham. ($13.75)

Grilled Mahi Mahi in Mango sauce. ($16.95)