A few weeks ago I had the delightful pleasure of meeting Raul Arias the owner of my favorite Cuban restaurant in Jacksonville, Mambos Cuban Cafe & Pizzeria. Raul first opened up his restaurant off of Mayport Road after retiring from the Navy in 2007. Raul is originally from Panama but moved to South Florida at an early age. He had joined the Navy straight out of high school and served for five years as an operations specialist, his crew was one of the first to engage in combat operations during the start of the Iraq war in 2003. His original plan was to open up a sports bar in Jacksonville, but with so many of them already operating in North Florida he decided to open up his own niche restaurant focused on authentic Cuban cuisine.
Luis Pitta is Raul’s head chef and is originally from the Dominican Republic. When Luis first moved the United States he worked in an Italian restaurant in Boston for ten years, but after being introduced to Raul in 2008 he came to work as his head chef. I asked Raul what some of his most popular menu items were and he told me that all his menu items are very popular but the “Churrasco a la parrilla” which is a charbroiled tenderloin skirt steak served with their classic homemade chimichurri sauce is a frequently ordered item. The “Chuletas de Oro” is also popular amongst regulars and features two grilled pork chops marinated in Cuban seasonings which is slow cooked in their specialty cayenne pepper sauce topped with fresh red bell peppers.
Even though their pizza’s are latin infusion style they are also a popular item that is frequently ordered. For the little one’s Mambos Cuban Cafe also offers a kids menu which has items such as chicken tenders and fries, cheese quesadillas, and cheese pizza. Raul also added that, “Everything we do in our kitchen is hand-made to order and we keep it fresh. We never do frozen.”
As far as drinks go, Raul said that their home-made sangria pitchers are a big hit. They don’t have a full bar, but feature several bottled beers for customers to choose from. Mambos Cuban Cafe also stays very busy in the realm of catering having an average of at least two pharmaceutical catering jobs a day. Raul has also started a secondary company called Bella Weddings & Events which is 100% event focused with the bulk of events being in the realm of weddings. Bella provides everything for table settings, DJs, event planning, and cakes for the events. Visit Bella Weddings & Events online at www.bellaeventsjax.com.
Raul and his team stay very active in the Jacksonville community, helping out where they can. At the end of each year they host a canned food drive and sell a $5 dollar tickets for people who don’t have cans to donate. Raul told me that all the tenants at the shopping center usually participate in this event and usually many players from local professional teams such as the Armada and Jaguars will attend. In addition many members of the city council will attend this event including our mayor. Mambos Cuban Cafe sets up a stage with live performances from local elementary schools and last year’s turn out for the event saw about 300 people. The event benefits the Community Connection for battered women in Jacksonville. Raul and his team also provide complimentary special meals around holidays and special occasions such as Valentine’s Day for senior citizens at local homes who may not have someone special to spend their day with.
For more information on menu items, events, and hours please visit Mambos Cuban Cafe & Pizzeria online at www.mamboscubancafe.com.
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Written and published for BUZZ Magazine, May 2016.