Every good restaurant starts with a story. In the case of Versailles Cuban Food, it started in Cuba when Orlando Garcia learned to be a chef by working in a series of restaurants on the island.
As the story progressed, Orlando opened his first restaurant in 1977 in downtown Los Angeles. Then, in 1981, the story took an unexpected twist—one that has led to the careers of the third generation of Garcia’s and five restaurant locations.
‘It was my Dad’s dream to be in the restaurant business,’ says William Garcia, who now owns and operates Versailles with his own sons, Jovan and Jordan. ‘I was in the auto body business.’ He grins as he says, ‘This was my mistake—I helped my Dad build this restaurant. I came here for a few months, and never left.’
The restaurant is named in recognition of some milestones in Garcia’s life. ‘My Dad used to take me fishing in a town called Versailles,’ he recalls. ‘That always stuck in my mind. And when I got married, we stayed at the Versailles Hotel in Miami Beach. The main dining room on our cruise ship was the Versailles. When Dad wanted to open another restaurant, it would have been El Rincon Criollo #2. I said, â€˜no,’ we’ve got to change the name.’
It’s a name that has stuck through four additional locations, and the additional of his sons to the family business. Pointing to Jordan, William says, ‘He pulled himself in—he’s supposed to be in college. I said, â€˜Go talk to your mom, not me.’’
Jordan chimes in, saying, ‘When we turned 16 we each got a car, but no gas or insurance money, so we started working. I juggled work and college for two years and that was enough.’ He now manages the Venice Blvd. location, while his brother Jovan manages the one on Sepulveda Blvd. in Manhattan Beach.
‘It’s great,’ says William of his sons’ participation. ‘This is for them now, not for me anymore.’ That doesn’t mean the senior Garcia isn’t present. ‘I am in charge of quality control; I do everything that has to do with the restaurant,’ he says, including maintenance and pointing out needs to his sons along the way.
As for the food, Garcia says that the restaurants all have the menu items that were chosen by his own father. ‘They are his recipes,’ he says. ‘We have not changed the menu, rather than to cut it down a little.’
All of the menu items—from the deliciously strong Cuban coffee to the fried bananas to any of the entrees—are what Garcia calls, ‘true Cuban style. These are things you can’t get unless your mother or grandmother makes them.’
The most popular dishes on the menu are the Lechon Asado, a Cuban Style Roasted Pork marinated in Versailles unique garlic mojo criollo sauce, and the Famoso Pollo Versailles (Versailles Famous Garlic Chicken). It’s a house specialty that is a roasted half chicken marinated in garlic sauce and garnished with plenty of sliced white onions.
The garlic chicken has a crispy crust that could be addictive, served with rice, beans and fried plantains. Both are full of flavor—not a spicy heat, but beautifully seasoned with sauces that are different from the usual ethnic restaurants.
There is also a wonderful Sandwich Cubano, Pargo Entero Frito (whole deep fried red snapper), Camarones Enchilados (Shrimp in Cuban Creole Sauce), Ropa Vieja (Shredded Beef), and more. The Paella Estilo Versailles has huge chunks of scallops, shrimp, mussels, chicken, crab, halibut and calamari.
Try the Versailles Style Homemade Sangria or any of the Milk Shakes—the Mango and the Marney are both good choices, and provide a great counter balance to the vibrant flavors of the food.
Add a side dish of Platanos Maduros or Yuca Rellena, served with a cilantro cream sauce, and you’ll have something to write home about.
Don’t leave without the Flan Cubano with a Guava fruit topping, or the Dulce De Papaya Con Queso Crema, papaya chunks with cream cheese, and whatever you do, get a cup of Café Cubano.
‘What makes Cuban food distinctive,’ says Garcia, ‘is the Spanish and African influence. Within the last ten years there are more Cuban restaurants in L.A. County, but it’s still unusual.’
He adds, ‘This is not a gourmet restaurant. It’s a family style restaurant where anyone can come in. It’s a mom and pop store.’
And, over the years, many people have made it a regular stop. While some find their way to the counter or a favorite table, others have left their mark with one of the photos that lines the walls—like actor Jimmy Smits, who wrote in Spanish a tribute to the food and hospitality (“La Comido—Sabrosa!”), and former ‘American Idol’ star Paula Abdul, who wrote, ‘Your food is superb! Live! Love! Dance!’
It’s also where the locals eat, as demonstrated by their listing as one of the top restaurants at www.wherethelocalseat.com and www.myfoxla.com. And some just act like locals—the Garcia’s tell the story of one man who has been visiting from Boston for 25 years. ‘The first thing he does when he gets off the plane is come here!’
And, so, the story goes on. From generation, to generation.
Visit Versailles Cuban Food when you are in the Los Angeles area:
10319 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
1415 S. La Cienega
Los Angeles, CA 90034
17410 Ventura Blvd
Encino, CA 91316
1000 N. Sepulveda Blvd
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Universal City Walk
Universal City Walk Hollywood
This is a Raves & Faves Featured Restaurant.