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Calle Ocho

45 W. 81st St.

This enormous restaurant inside New York's Hotel Excelsior is named for 8th Street, the site of the annual festival in the Cuban area of Miami known as Little Havana. It has a long bar with dark red leather seats, red walls, and an open kitchen within the dining room that turns out Pan-Latin cuisine.

Executive Chef Rodney Mitchell provides a dozen ceviches to choose from, and the most popular appetizer is the Arepa served on a Colombian sweet corn cake, like a soft, sweet cookie with a mound of tender pulled beef (ropa vieja), marinated onions, and chopped tomato salad. Datiles are dates stuffed with almond and wrapped in crispy bacon. Bistec, a Cuban-style "steak frites"-type entrée with watercress and tomato salad, includes yucca fries made from the cassava, a potato-like root vegetable. They are just as addictive but a bit lighter than French fries. A very popular dish for the table is Chef Mitchell's version of Paella, meant to be shared.

The International Latin Brunch on weekends is so popular you will need to make reservations far in advance. With a pitcher of tequila-spiked sangria (red or white), enjoy a Cuban Sandwich of roasted pork, ham, cheese, pickles, and chimichurri fries; the latter are potato fries dressed with a tangy vinaigrette of green herbs and spices. Try fried eggs in a dish called Vaca Frita al Caballo, a Cuban skirt steak with Latin pork fried rice and avocado. Dinner daily from 6 to 10:30pm; Friday-Saturday to 11:30 pm; weekend brunch noon to 3 pm. -- Marian Betancourt

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