Empanada Heaven Serves Up Authentic Cuban Cuisine In Winter Haven
by James Coulter
If you’re hungry for authentic Cuban food, whether it’s a freshly-pressed Cuban sandwich or a piping-hot beef empanada, you can always take a trip to Cuba; but even though America lifted travel restrictions there, the country is still several hundred miles away. Rather than booking a cruise or flight to Havana, why not instead take a short drive over to Winter Haven to visit its newest Cuban eatery, Empanada Heaven.
Located along Cypress Garden Road off of Cypress Gardens Boulevard, Empanada Heaven is the newest and hottest place to stop by for lunch or dinner in Winter Haven if you’re craving authentic Cuban cuisine.
While you won’t find the traditional beans and rice there, you will find a diverse assortment of empanadas, whether you prefer meat such as beef, pork, or chicken, seafood such as tuna, tilapia, or shrimp, or fruit such as apple, guava, or cherry. These small pastries pack huge flavor and make for a great treat to take and eat on the go.
Of course, what self-respecting Cuban restaurant could call itself such if it didn’t serve the traditional Cuban sandwich? Even if you’re not in the mood for a sandwich freshly-pressed with pulled pork, ham, and cheese, you can opt for an ordinary pulled pork sandwich instead, or another specialty such as a stuffed fried potato ball or a shrimp stuffed plantain cup.
If you’re looking for a refreshing beverage to savor all this good food with, then order one of their specialty shakes, whether you prefer all-American selections like vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry, or if you’d like to try something more “tropical” such as papaya, mango, or wheat puff (which tastes just like cereal!).
Most everything on the menu is extremely affordable. The empanadas are all under $2 to $3 each, while the Cuban sandwich is the most expensive at $5.90. This is a great place to eat if you’re looking to save on pocket change without sacrificing flavor or quality.
Every week has a new sandwich special, and every day offers specials for seniors and local heroes. For $6, seniors can order three empanadas, chips, and a drink; while veterans, first responders, nurses, doctors, fireman, and other local heroes can order a sandwich, chips, and drink.
“I try to offer affordable prices because everybody is on a budget nowadays, so I try to offer affordable food and prices for everyone,” said owner Mayra Sanchez.
Sanchez arrived with her family from Cuba when she was four years old. She has lived all of her life in America since then, yet she still remains proud of her Cuban roots, especially when it comes to cooking.
Her mother taught her how to cook, and she would often help out with her catering business in Miami for nine years. Sanchez would later serve as a McDonalds manager for a brief time during her younger years.
She visited Central Florida 11 years ago while on vacation to one of the big theme parks. So enthralled was she of the local area that she decided to move there with her family and start a business. And what business would be better for her to start than a Cuban restaurant?
“Just for the mere fact that there is no authentic Cuban food here in this area,” she replied. “I have been to several restaurants that have claimed to be Cuban, and once I taste the food, I know it is not Cuban at all. So I wanted to offer that authentic Cuban food to the neighbors around here in Winter Haven, and I knew that they would like it. I know they would like my cooking.”
Helping her out with her endeavors is her son, Orlando De La Paz. Orlando often helps out with the repairs such as with the sign or the kitchen equipment, while his wife works the front cash register. Both of them love the at-home atmosphere that the workplace has to offer.
Best of all, of course, is the authentic Cuban cuisine. Nowhere else can customers expect better food served up traditional Cuban style than at a restaurant run by a bunch of Cubans such as themselves, Orlando explained.
“It is not imitation stuff,” he said. “It is not any of the fake stuff. It is real empanadas, real flavors that bring out the Cuban in Winter Haven…I have co-workers that have come here once it first opened. They loved it. They said they would come back. A lot of their families have come here too already. I also love that we are growing quickly.”
The eatery has only been open for little less than a week, and yet not only have customers been flocking there in droves, but their reception has been nothing short of excellent, with plenty of five–star reviews on Yelp, Google, and Facebook.
“I found my new favorite spot,” one Facebook reviewer boasted. “The food is delicious. The prices are affordable and the atmosphere is relaxing. The moment you walk in you are greeted by a friendly staff who demonstrate amazing customer service. I would definitely recommend this to anyone that is looking for authentic Cuban food.”
Sanchez not only hopes that her business continues to grow, but she already expects to open up a second location either in Lakeland or Haines City. Her eatery now remains open week long due to popular demand, and she hopes that popular demand will continue on in the near future.
“I try to have the best service that I can with good quality food, and everything is fresh every day, and so far, everyone is liking it,” she said. “The love that I put in it, I cook it with love, and I try to make it perfect.”
Empanada Heaven is located at 3290 Cypress Gardens Road, Winter Haven, Fl 33884. For more information, call 863-280-6260, or visit their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/empandaheaven/