Havana Bar & Grill

Try This: Paella
3701 S. Cooper St., Arlington | facebook

Much of Arlington's new-restaurant action over the past two years has taken place in an innocuous strip mall just north of the Parks Mall. There, within feet of one another, several of the area's best ethnic restaurants have opened, from Ahi Poke Bowl (North Texas' first restaurant devoted to the Hawaiian raw fish bowls), to Puerto Rican hotspot El Mofongo, to this gateway to spectacular Cuban cuisine.

Opened last winter, Havana Bar & Grill comes from good pedigree, as it's owned and managed by a trio of Cuban emigres. In the kitchen is executive chef Miguel Mendez, who adheres to classics as much as he toys with them. His paella, in particular, nails every ingredient: rich lobster, plump shrimp and soft scallops all swim in a fragrant, addicting stew of tomatoes, rice, onions and green olives; it's his spin on the traditional Spanish version.

Elsewhere on the menu, bistec de palomilla will beckon to meat-lovers. The thin steak, shrouded in sautéed onions, is so tender, a baby could slice it. Squiggly fried plantains are the must-get side, if only to drink — I mean sample — the accompanying cilantro garlic sauce. No, I take that back. I mean drink.