Giving a salute to its Mexican cousins, Ahwatukee Foothills Cuban restaurant Havana Café is planning special menu items next week  in observation of Day of the Dead.

“It’s really a celebration of life and not of death,” said BJ Hernandez, owner of Havana Café. “It’s to remember the people who have passed on in a happy way.”

Some of the special menu items include a pork posole, a stew made from large white corn, pork and chilis, and mole negro, which translates to “black sauce.” Havana Café makes its mole negro from more than 50 ingredients, such as chiles and nuts, which must be roasted and ground very finely. The sauce is served with turkey on Mexican rice.

In addition to the food, the restaurant, located at 4232 E. Chandler Blvd., will have a traditional “ofrenda,” or altar, and is encouraging its staff to bring pictures of past relatives in remembrance.

The Ahwatukee Foothills location has been open for five years, but Hernandez has two older locations in Phoenix that she and her husband, Gilbert, opened more than 20 years ago. Hernandez said some of her staff has been with the restaurant since she opened her doors, and now has their children working for her.

She said she sees many of her regular customers celebrate milestones in their lives at the restaurant as well.

“A lot of people have come on first dates and then they come back for their wedding rehearsal dinner and then they bring their children,” she said.

Havana Café has happy hour every day from 3 to 6 p.m. in which most appetizers are half price and mojitos are $4, except on Mojito Madness Mondays when they’re $3. The restaurant also features live music from bands like the Cuban Connection on Fridays and Saturdays.

Now that the weather is getting cooler, Hernandez roasts a pumpkin every day to make her seasonal pumpkin bisque from scratch. Closer to Thanksgiving, Havana Café will be offering a Caribbean take-home turkey dinner and in December will be cooking whole roasted pigs, a traditional Cuban Christmas meal.

Hernandez said her restaurants have been able to sustain themselves for 20 years because she knows consistency is key.

“Cuban food is not the most well-known cuisine,” Hernandez said. “But our customers have said they don’t come here because the food is Cuban, they come here because the food is good.”

For more information, call (480) 704-2600, visit www.havanacafe-az.com, or follow them on Twitter, user name “havanacafeaz.”

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