After nine years of running Morro Bay restaurant Thai Bounty, Jorge Milanes wanted to bring authentic Cuban food to the Central Coast.
It doesn’t get more authentic than a Cuban sandwich served up by the Havana-born finalist of an Ernest Hemingway lookalike contest.
Milanes Cuban Cafe opened in late June at Thai Bounty, located at 560 Embarcadero.
According to Milanes, the cafe, which is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, offers “a very clean, very focused menu.”
Menu items include picadillo (ground beef), lechon asado (roasted pork), arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and a classic Cuban sandwich that features roasted pork, ham and Swiss cheese.
Fans of Thai Bounty’s Asian-inspired lunch menu don’t need to worry. The Cuban food items are offered in addition to Thai favorites.
“Quite frankly, I think it’s a beautiful thing when you see a Cuban sandwich and pad Thai side by side,” Milanes said.
Asked how a Cuban man ended up running a Thai restaurant, Milanes said Thai Bounty started as a venture he ran with a Thai woman he was in a relationship with at the time. While the relationship didn’t last, the restaurant has celebrated nearly a decade in business.
“She taught me everything I know,” he said.
Milanes said he had considered opening a Cuban restaurant instead. But, at the time, he said, “Thai was just much more popular from a business standpoint.”
Milanes Cuban Cafe is “something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” he added. “I’ve got a great kitchen now. I’ve got full confidence in the people I’ve been working with for nine years.”
Milanes said the response to the new restaurant has been overwhelmingly positive.
“The highlight of it all is I’m meeting Cubans that have lived in this area for some time ... and are coming in and just loving the food,” he said.
For some, Milanes said, it’s even brought tears of joy.
Milanes mentioned a regular customer, a Cambria woman, who called him after her husband picked up her order. “You made me cry,” she reportedly told him. “It brought back so many flavors in the food, you literally made me cry.”
Milanes said he used to visit his native Cuba regularly before he opened Thai Bounty.
“I was back, for the first time since I opened the restaurant, last year,” he said. “I miss it so much.”
It was during that visit, Milanes said, that he had his brush with Hemingway fame. While visiting a friend at a bar in Cojimar outside Havana, Milanes said he was approached by some tourists who wanted a picture with him because he resembled the legendary writer.
The following year, Milanes said, he enrolled in the annual Hemingway Look-Alike Contest in Key West, Florida.
“And sure enough, out of 183 contestants coming into Key West, I made it to the finals,” he said.
Milanes joked that his retirement plan is to drink mojitos at that bar in Cojimar and pose for photos with tourists.
For more information about Milanes Cuban Cafe, visit www.thaibountymorrobay.com/milanes.