Before we dive into this one, “Mojo” is pronounced “mo-ho,” meaning “Caribbean garlic sauce” in Spanish. Local restaurateurs Nick and Alison Schaffer announced earlier this week that Mojo Cuban Kitchen & Rum Bar will open its doors later this summer.
The restaurant will be located at 1929 E. Grant Rd. — the former Viva El Caribe Restaurant & Lounge spot — and is the newest to join the growing slate of businesses that have collectively revitalized the block of Grant Road between Country Club Road and Campbell Avenue.
With a mission to bring “the culture, rhythm, attitude, and romance of Espiritu Cubano to Tucson,” the restaurant is an ancestral inspiration drawn from Nick’s relatives who would visit Cuba before the revolution. One of those was his great grandfather, who fought alongside Cubans in their fight for freedom from Spain during the Spanish-American War.
“We always wanted to open a Cuban-themed establishment and Tucson seemed to be in need of one,” said Nick Schaffer, Mojo Cuban Kitchen’s co-owner.
Aside from the traditional cuisine coming out of the kitchen, expect to taste a dash of modern expression, too — a line-up of Cuban comforts like ropa vieja, empanadas, fried yuca, mojo chicken, and the quintessential Cubano sandwich.
“With my family’s background, our love of Cuban food, culture, and traditions, and the opportunity to respectfully build this concept in one of Southern Arizona’s treasured historic neighborhoods, we felt that this was the perfect time and place to launch our new business, one that will transport our guests from midtown Tucson to the heart of Havana.”
At the full-service bar, prepare yourself for a collection of rums designed both for sipping and for mixing up traditional cocktails, all prepared against the backdrop of what the Schaffers refer to as “a regionally-inspired soundtrack intentionally curated to accompany the shaking and stirring.”
Concoctions will include Mojitos, Cuba Libres, Pina Coladas, and, of course, Daquiris, precisely the way Ernest Hemingway would’ve prescribed during his time living near Havana.
Helmed by decorated Tucson chef Janet Balderas, the culinary team and their menu will be a true collaboration among local and national talent. Oh, and the authenticity doesn’t stop there either because the signature touches from sous chef and native Cuban Patricia Espinosa and national Cuban-American and James Beard Award-winning chef Douglas Rodriguez are aboard, too.
Plus, James Diedrich, who brings more than 20 years of hospitality experience, including some time with Fox Restaurant Concepts, Prep & Pastry, and other local restaurants, is taking the general manager role.
The Cuban background of lead architect and interior designer Miguel Fuentevilla of FORS architecture+interior, will be apparent in the materials, craftsmanship, and style, both inside and out.
Perhaps you’ll begin calling it a “midtown oasis” because of its walkable distance from many nearby neighborhoods, and the fact that it’ll be open daily for lunch and dinner with a “Sleep-In Breakfast” on the weekend.
For those in the mood to eat elsewhere, a pick-up window is also being constructed when ordering online for pick-up or when grabbing a quick Cuban coffee and pastry — much like the traditional “las ventanitas” one would find in Little Havana.
Stay tuned for the actual opening date, which will be sometime this summer.
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