On The Menu: Latin American Café

By Sarah Jacobs | Photos by Joshua Jacobs

Serving up food as colorful as the rich culture it hails from, The Latin American cafe is sure to impress with its Cuban fair.

Food sustains us. Through cooking we are given the ability to care for one another in one of the most comforting of ways. Every culture has their own unique way of gathering around the table to feed the ones they love. Manny Camps’ family grew up with a mom who knew the importance of feeding her family. His mother was well known for her Cuban cooking, and with her authentic recipes, hard work, and resourcefulness, she was able to bring her family to America. Through cooking Cuban food, the Camps family has been able to find success.

Manny and his wife, Isabel Grisales Camps, have been in the restaurant industry for most of their lives. After selling The Charlie Horse in Dunnellon, Florida, Manny suffered a stroke. The couple was ready to slow down, but with health expenses piling up, they knew they needed to do something. Isabel was confident that if she could find a place to cook all the recipes Manny’s mother had taught her, the family would be able to make things work. They went all in on The Latin American Cafe 10 years ago and were able to bring a little piece of Cuban magic to Ocala.

The aim was to keep things simple: authentic Cuban food, great customer service, and a comfortable atmosphere. After years of hard work, the Camps were able to curate a cafe that fills a hole in Ocala’s culinary offerings. They opened in their new location three months ago and their claim of being “The house of the Cuban sandwich and the king of the Cuban steak sandwich!” remains as true as ever. Isabel’s recipes transform an average meal into a quick trip to Cuba. “Food is not a secret. We can all take the same ingredients and come up with something different. It takes a special touch to bring it together,” Manny said of his wife’s cooking. Every dish is prepared with the customer in mind and made with fresh, organic ingredients. The fresh Cuban bread is made in-house and is light and fluffy: the perfect start to any meal you order. The menu boasts a colorful array of dishes including ropa vieja, a shredded beef dish. It is served in a robust tomato sauce that will leave your taste buds wanting more. On Fridays, spicy Cuban oxtail is offered as a special and is worth a try for anyone desiring something a bit bolder. For breakfast, the Machito is a popular choice. The egg sandwich is packed with flavor and provides plenty of fuel to start your day off right. If energy is what you are after, you will want to take a look at the beverages that are offered. Cuban espresso, cortadito, and cafe con leche are all on the menu and prepared perfectly. With their rich smell and bold flavor, any of the cafe’s coffee offerings could easily find their way into your morning routine. Dessert is made from scratch, for those with a sweet tooth. You will not want to miss the tres leches or flan. Both options are a mouthwatering way to end the meal. No matter what you decide to try, one thing is clear: the spirit of Manny’s mother is very much alive in Isabel’s cooking.

If you allow the Camps to feed you at their restaurant, you will be getting more than a meal. Everytime the door opens, customers are greeted like family and often by name. Isabel pays close attention to each patron and knows them well enough to have their food started before they place their order. The moment you step inside, it is evident that you are appreciated as more than a customer. There is a sense of community that has been built, and dining at The Latin American Cafe is truly an experience. Conversation and laughter can be heard throughout the meal. As customers come and go, picking up their orders or pausing to chat while they wait for their food, the overall feeling is that you are invited to stay awhile. The new location makes great use of its space and allows diners to choose between sitting around a table or grabbing a seat at the bar. A mural pays homage to Cuba, while a few bright paintings round out the straightforward atmosphere. The overall effect is welcoming and relaxed.

Manny and Isabel believe in doing things with integrity and consistency, and it is apparent in the quality of their restaurant. They are excited to announce some upcoming changes that you will want to be on the lookout for. Beer and wine will soon be added to the menu, and an outdoor patio is in the works to provide more seating options. The cafe will also be opening its doors a bit later for customers to enjoy all it has to offer. The next time you want to eat out and try something new, stop by and visit the Camps. You will have a meal you are sure to enjoy and it will be delivered with heart and passion. 

To keep up with announcements about these exciting changes, you can follow The Latin American Cafe on Facebook and Instagram or visit their website at www.latinamericancafeocala.com.

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