Some Like it Hot! Azúcar Cuban Cuisine and Cigars: Tasty Cuban Dishes and a Smokin’ Cigar Room

Restaurant Views

By Sally Deering

 

Azucar restaurant manager Lauren Vazquez
Lauren Vazquez, Manager Azu’car Restaurant

Inside Azucar restaurant Azúcar Cuban Cuisine & Cigars’ owner and Executive Chef Nick Vazquez was just a kid when his family moved to the states in 1960 and settled in Hudson. Vasquez attended local schools, but learned he had a passion for cooking while watching his mom create traditional Cuban dishes in the family kitchen. Years later, Vazquez rekindled his passion and in 1995 opened Azúcar, his first restaurant in Edgewater. He closed the business ten years later and opened Azúcar Cuban Cuisine & Cigars in Jersey City, where his mother’s recipes highlight the menu.

Azucar has a cigar room for their patrons
Azucar Cigar Room

Step inside Azúcar and it’s like a step back in time to a 1950s Cuban bistro where above the reception area a huge “Cuba” poster showing a Latina dressed in a 1950s cabaret costume catches your eye. Stroll to the right and you’re in the bar, an inviting, low-lit atmosphere with black tables and chairs upholstered in faux leopard. The room is cozy and cool especially with the large overhead fan that creates wafting breezes below. To the left, there are two dining rooms that seat 120 comfortably.

From the bar you can either step outside to the patio and drink under the stars or take the stairs to the second floor’s cigar room where cigar aficionados retreat to the only smoking lounge in Hudson County. This dark cozy hideaway with big comfy couches invites guests to stretch out and smoke one of the many cigar choices that range from $10-$30. (Sorry, no Cuban cigars; they’re still embargoed.) Drinks and food are served in the cigar lounge and smokers can choose from a menu of rums from around the world. There are tables for dominos and chess, too.

Azúcar’s manager Lauren Vazquez is the daughter of owner Nick Vazquez and she oversees the family’s Jersey City restaurant. (There’s also an Azúcar Cuban Cuisine & Cigars in Coral Gables, Florida.) Lauren upholds her father’s high standards of hospitality and ensures Azúcar’s guests are well fed and their experience is so memorable they’ll come back again and again.

“We have a nice clientele,” Lauren says. “We’ve had customers follow us for years. They’re loyal – at least 25 regulars come back once a week.”

Azúcar is the only multi-cultural restaurant in the area and that has a lot to do with its popularity. Lauren says: “People from all over the world, China, Germany, London, Brazil come here to eat. We just had the Mexican National Soccer team. All the coaches and reporters came here and had dinner. They won 4-to-1.”

Lauren attributes the success of the family restaurant to her father’s talents as a restaurateur.

“My father was the first chef, he did everything,” Lauren says. “He never went to culinary school; he just studied his mom in the kitchen and that’s how he learned.  My grandmother is about sticking with Cuban traditional food and my father follows that tradition.”

On a recent afternoon, I visited Azúcar and Lauren shared some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes like the Tipicos Antojos Cubanos – three tiers of appetizers that are out of this world and include Ham Croquetas, Chiccarron de Pollo, deep-fried marinated chicken morsels on the bone; Yuka Frita, golden cassava fries served with cilantro dip; Beef Empanada; Masitas, morsels of deep-fried pork; and Tamal en Hoja, corn meal cooked with pork and onions.  We also shared Azúcar’s traditional El Cubano Grande – Cuban Sandwich. Lauren says lots of people come to Azúcar for the El Cubano Grande and it’s clear to see why – it’s one of the best in town.

Azúcar’s menu is quite extensive with Tapas de la Madre Patria (appetizers) that include Chorizo La Union, Spanish sausage pan-roasted with onions, peppers and finished off with a white wine; and Gambas Catalan al Ajillo, classic Spanish shrimp cooked in garlic infused extra virgin olive oil. Carne de la Finca (meat dishes) feature “La SolteraDona Rosita, a grilled double-cut marinated center-cut pork chop; and the Bistec Empanizado Campestre, breaded and deep-fried lime-marinated sirloin steak called “El Grande” and Chef Nick’s favorite. Pescador Del Mar dishes include the Camarones Enchilados (seafood), jumbo shrimp cooked in a spicy tomato creole sauce; and Pollo Classico (chicken) dishes feature the Pollo en salsa de Enchilados, boneless chopped chicken cooked in a spicy shrimp-based creole sauce.

A wine connoisseur, Nick Vazquez designed a wine list that won Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence three years in a row.

Azúcar Cuban Cuisine & Cigars is a divine place to wine and dine and savor a fine cigar. That seems to be Nick Vazquez’s philosophy and he even put words to that effect above the chef station’s window. It reads, “Come y bebe la vida es breve,” which in English means:

“Eat and drink because life is short.”

If you go:

Azúcar Cuban Cuisine & Cigars

495 Washington Blvd

Jersey City

(201) 222-0090

www.Azúcarcubancuisine.com

Hours: Tues-Thurs, 11:30 am to 11 pm

Fri, 11:30 am to 12 pm

Sat, 3 pm to 2 am

Closed Sun and Mon

 

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