After opening five Lucharitos restaurants within 10 years, chef Marc LaMaina switched things up for his sixth eatery.
LaMaina’s new LuchaCubano concept took over a 90-year-old Riverhead diner and reopened the location’s doors on Feb. 18.
As just the fourth tenant in the building’s nine-decade history, he has fused the old with the new. The Cuban eatery serves breakfast all-day, balancing classic French toast with sweet plantain chocolate chip pancakes.
What’s more, LaMaina added a vintage jukebox loaded with 45 rpm vinyl records in the dining room.
The venture into Cuban cuisine marks a significant shift for the chef, who opened his first Lucharitos in Greenport in 2012.
“The other ones are very Tex Mex, tacos, burritos, that kind of fare,” Joe Taffurelli, the Lucha brand’s corporate executive chef, said, seated at LuchaCubano’s diner counter. “Here it’s still Latin American, but it’s slightly different. There’s sandwiches, there’s more breads and less tortillas.”
The perfect Cuban sandwich
LuchaCubano’s chefs cook up more than 50 pounds of pork each day, most of which lands on Cuban sandwiches.
“At least one person at every table gets a Cuban sandwich,” Taffurelli said. “We’re a Cuban sandwich shop, so it kind of makes sense. If you’re a Cuban establishment, everyone’s going to judge your food based on the Cuban sandwich first. I think we hit the nail on the head.”
Taffurelli took the task of nailing the perfect savory and succulent Cuban sandwich to heart. He said the sandwich he’s offering now is his 12th iteration of the classic. He tweaked everything from the ratio of cheese to meat to perfecting the method of making pickles in house.
Taffurelli believes success at LuchaCubano — and at the five Lucharitos joints — hinges on a love of comfort food.
“Cuban food really goes right to the roots of the family. Everything’s slightly different from family to family,” he said. “I can relate to that with my Italian grandmother’s sauce. It’s a very home-cooked comfort food feeling.”
Taffurelli believes the ropa vieja, the shredded flank steak served with rice, beans, plantains and avacodo, is “the dish” for those longing for Cuban comfort food.
There’s plenty of other offerings in lunch- and diner-sized portions. Chefs marinate the lechon overnight before roasting it for up to seven hours, fry mojo ribs and add a pineapple flair to the piña shrimp kababs.
Taffurelli said community feedback has been overwhelming during the new restaurants first weeks open, and he has been most pleasantly surprised by the response from Cuban diners.
“I’ve had six people either born and raised in Cuba, or born in Cuba and spent a lot of time here, thank me for putting out quality food that they haven’t had in a while, or that they can’t find as close as they want,” he said.
LuchaCubano is located at 87 E. Main St.
Top photo: Joe Taffurelli, the Lucha brand’s corporate executive chef.