Many new restaurants that have opened in South Florida recently feel like real-estate transactions with food on the side: Gleaming new building goes up with obligatory ground-floor retail space that becomes home to a flashy kitchen serving the “authentic” (pizza, steak, pastrami, ice cream) you treasured in (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Austin).
But sometimes the transaction is about other things: an appreciation for local memories and tradition, for the humble and the quirky, and for personal connection.
If you have been wondering about the fate of 925 Nuevos Cubanos, a funky word-of-mouth favorite on the edge of downtown Fort Lauderdale for nearly 50 years until it shuttered in May, the answer is not all grim and does not involve bulldozers.
Within the next three months, the colorfully muraled building at 925 N. Andrews Ave., just south of Sunrise Boulevard, will become La Mexicana Taco Bar, a new location for a restaurant that is one of several businesses being displaced by a six-story, residential-retail development on the drawing board at The Yard at Wilton Manors.
La Mexicana owner Diva Name says she will continue to operate the original restaurant until construction on the Wilton Manors site — set to begin next year — is more imminent. Two other local favorites at The Yard, The Alchemist Café and Voo La Voo Cafe, also remain open for business.
After an extensive renovation of 925 Nuevos Cubanos, Name expects to open the new La Mexicana as a breakfast-lunch taqueria in January, with plans to begin dinner service in February. By that time, the outdoor restaurant will have added a 25-seat indoor dining room, to go with about 120 on the patio.
Being on the property as renovations got underway has allowed Name to speak with visitors who stop in thinking that 925 Nuevos Cubanos is still open, and who share memories of dining with their families at the restaurant.
“Families and generations of families, not just Cuban, but Latinos, have been coming to this place. We’re a different family, but we’re going to keep bringing that,” says Name, who grew up in Colombia.
If it is possible for a restaurant painted in bright tropical colors and festooned with Cuban flags on busy Andrews Avenue to be considered a “hidden gem,” 925 Nuevos Cubanos fit the bill. Surrounded by car dealerships and repair shops (and recently a Wawa and an Aldi grocery store), the restaurant was an offbeat rite of passage for any Fort Lauderdale-area resident who wanted to be considered “a local.”
The building was once the family residence of Cuban immigrant Luis Valdes Sr., who began serving Cuban and Caribbean food out of the home in 1976. Over the years, the sidewalk takeout window attracted lines of loyal lunchtime customers, and a tented backyard patio became a popular outdoor hangout.
When Valdes retired in 2014, the restaurant was passed down to son Luis Valdes Jr., who made the decision this year to close the business and sold the property to Name.
“It’s very important to honor what they did here. Because this started as their home. Then they built this (restaurant) from scratch,” Name says. “That’s what I love so much about the property, because I did the same with my other property. I literally started from scratch. It was literally built by me, my boyfriend, my mother. We didn’t have the money to hire people.”
Name had been looking for another location for La Mexicana and learned 925 Nuevos Cubanos was available from one of her customers at the Wilton Manors restaurant. She calls it “the perfect location for us.”
Both restaurants share a colorful, casual design — Frida Kahlo is the patron saint of La Mexicana — and Name expects her renovation of the new location to retain some of the earthy vibe of 925 Nuevos Cubanos.
The menu will draw from her original restaurant, known for signature tacos, quesadillas and other Mexican fare. Chef Dafna Londono, a native of Colombia who trained in Mexican and Japanese restaurants in New York before joining Name in South Florida three years ago, will supervise both kitchens.
Name’s team also includes partner and boyfriend John Whelden, mother Recy Vega and manager Raul Ferret.
“This place has a very, very good energy — you can feel it here — and I’m big on that,” Name says. “I’m happy that somehow we’re going to continue with the tradition of having good food, Latin food, in a family place.”
La Mexicana Taco Bar will open at 925 N. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale. For more information, visit lamexicana.online.