LAKEVIEW — The owner of new restaurant Cohiba Cuban Cuisine may be from Mexico, but she is infatuated with Cuban food, culture and people.
In fact, Elida Soria followed Sabor Cubano from suburban Addison to its Lakeview location at 3132 N. Broadway for its food, she said. But it's eventual shuttering and "really embarrassing" reputation for allegedly overcharging credit cards made her want to open her own Cuban restaurant in the neighborhood.
Soria, 37, rounded up a staff of Cuban friends — including a Cuban chef — and opened Cohiba on Thursday at 2835 N. Broadway. And she wants people to know that she has no relation to Sabor Cubano.
"People can come with the confidence that it’s all honest in here," she said.
The Mexico native moved to Chicago after visiting her brother here in 1998. She had a fiancee back home, but upon seeing the city, she ditched him to stay in the U.S.
"Forget about the engagement," she said. "I loved it here."
She ended up marrying a Greek man here instead and working at a company where her manager was Cuban. Soria met the manager's wife, and then their friends, and then their friends.
A 2010 visit to Cuba cemented her long-standing crush — she fell in love with Cuban food, culture and the friends who introduced her to it.
"For everything, they make it a party," she said. "They dance all the time. They love music. They're just always happy. It's about the culture."
Her restaurant aims to have the kind of warm, family atmosphere that she's experienced at parties with her friends. Her Cuban friends are "just family people," Soria said.
Her Mexican family thinks she's "crazy" for being so in love with Cuban culture, she said with a laugh. At the restaurant, she's the only non-Cuban.
She just loves dishes like the churrasco, a skirt steak marinated in garlic and fresh herbs, and the rollito de camaron, shrimp stuffed with cheese and bacon.
"It's gorgeous," she said. "The rollito de camaron, it's unbelievable."
Cohiba is BYOB and will have a live music on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It's open on Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.