Havana Cafe: A Taste of Cuba Hits the Streets of Fresno

Jun 10, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Food Fun, Molly Eide Marquez

by Molly Eide Marquez

Lazaro and Niermin Santana

In the heart of Fresno, California, Lazaro and Niermin Santana have embarked on a flavorful journey with their local food truck, Havana Cafe. This husband-and-wife duo are bringing the vibrant and delicious cuisine of Lazaro’s Cuban heritage to the Central Valley, and have quickly captured the hearts and taste buds of the community. Through hard work, family support, and a dedication to authentic flavors, Havana Cafe has become a beloved hotspot for those seeking a taste of Cuba.

A Delicious Journey Rooted in Family

Lazaro’s love for Cuban cuisine stems from his childhood, where the comforting aromas of his mother’s cooking would fill their LA home. He fondly recalls his favorite childhood dish, arroz con pollo, which is what ultimately sparked his interest in cooking. After moving to Fresno and discovering the absence of Cuban food, Lazaro took it upon himself to recreate his mother’s flavors. After countless trials and errors, Lazaro eventually created a version of arroz con pollo that tasted just like his mom’s, gaining the approval of his family, and igniting his passion for cooking.

From Co-Workers to Community

Around a decade ago, Lazaro was working at American Ambulance, where he would often share his homemade Cuban sandwiches with his partners and co-workers. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and his colleagues encouraged him to share his culinary talents with the wider community. Starting with small catering gigs for birthday parties and other events, Lazaro’s sandwiches became a hit. As fate would have it, an opportunity to purchase a food truck presented itself, and he gradually transitioned from his job in the medical field to pursue his culinary dreams full-time.

A Family Affair with a Whole Different Vibe

Cooking up great food!

Today, Havana Cafe is a true family-run business, with Lazaro and Niermin at the helm. Their son and nephew actively help out on the food truck, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for their customers. While the majority of the team is family, they have also expanded to include three non-family employees. The Santanas express gratitude for the way the community has embraced their venture, with customers not only enjoying the food but also taking the time to share their personal stories and reminisce about their own family traditions. “It feels good to be able to do this. Mom would definitely be proud,” said Lazaro.

Spreading the Cuban Flair

Since officially starting their food truck journey in March 2022, Havana Cafe has made its mark at various local events and venues around the Central Valley. They have become regular participants in Fresno Street Eats and the River Park Farmer’s Market, as well as catering for corporate events and weddings. Their standout moment was the recent celebration of their one-year anniversary at Tioga, where they cooked a mouthwatering 100-pound pig on-site, accompanied by lively salsa music. Havana Cafe’s vibrant truck, colorful aesthetics, and Cuban tunes create a captivating experience that has earned Lazaro the nickname “The Cubano” among fellow food truck operators. “We like to be visible and loud!” expressed Lazaro.

Ambitious Goals and Faith in the Journey

Havana Cafe’s ultimate goal is to introduce more people to the wonders of Cuban cuisine. Lazaro is determined to educate locals about the diverse flavors and unique dishes of his heritage. Their signature Cuban sandwich, a fan favorite, serves as the perfect starting point for those unfamiliar with the cuisine. While the couple dreams of eventually establishing a brick-and-mortar establishment, they find joy in the freedom and flexibility of the food truck scene, allowing them to bring their delicious offerings directly to the people.

Lazaro and Niermin’s strong Christian faith guides their path, and they are confident that when the time is right, the perfect opportunity for a physical location will present itself. This belief in divine timing is what led them to their food truck, a 16-foot mobile kitchen that they transformed into Havana Cafe. They trust in the process, and over the past year, it has certainly proven successful. “We don’t want to rush it,” says Lazaro. “We’re just trusting God’s plan and letting things play out as they go.”

To find this delicious truck, head over to Instagram @HavanaCafeFood. Here they post their weekly schedule for their fans and followers. You can also find them on Facebook. The Santana family wants to expose the whole Valley to all that Cuban culture has to offer. Says Lazaro, “ It feels really good when I make something that reminds me of my mom, then someone else comes to eat it and says ‘Oh my gosh, this is so good!’ ”

Molly is a Central Valley native, where she and her family live, work, and play. A graduate of CSU Fresno, she is actively involved in the local community and is proud to lift up those around her, shining light on the many wonderful people and organizations that make the Central Valley such a great place to live.


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