Sazón’s Empanada Sampler: three flour dough turnovers stuffed with chorizo, crab, and ground beef and cheese.
A red neon sign glows from a storefront in a narrow shopping center along John Hawkins Parkway. Drivers rushing down the busy street might not realize it, but tucked inside the building is a rare taste of Puerto Rico.
“I wanted to be under the radar for a little while,” said Daniel Rubio, owner of Sazón. “But people are starting to discover us.”
In August, Rubio, originally from San Juan, opened Sazón, a restaurant specializing in Puerto Rican and Spanish cuisine. His mission was to fill the gap for Caribbean flavor in the Hoover community.
“I’ve been in Birmingham 25 years, and I haven’t found a Caribbean restaurant like this,” Rubio said. “I wanted to do something with my own food.”
The menu offers a variety of creative fresh dishes from Rubio’s home. Appetizers, or tapas, include the Empanada Sampler and the Tostones, which are double-fried, sliced green plantains. Mofongo is a house specialty dish of mashed green plantains cooked in chicken broth and garlic and served with chicken, pork, beef or shrimp.
The menu also boasts enticing cocktails such as the Cuba Libre and the Blue Margarita. Saving room for dessert is a must with tantalizing options like the tres leches cake, a sponge cake soaked in three milks and topped with homemade whipped cream, or a decadent chocolate ganache cake.
“It’s a family effort,” Rubio said. “I’m stealing recipes from my mother.”
The restaurant is only open during dinner hours and accepts reservations. Rubio welcomes families and hopes that the presentation of each dish will encourage guests to share with one another.
“I just love the idea of people sharing food,” Rubio said. “It’s so important to get that interaction.”
While the business can be exhausting, Rubio said he enjoys being surrounded by his family and watching people leave the restaurant with smiles on their faces. He is pleased with the warm reception of the community, including the City Council, and could not imagine being anywhere else.
“It’s been so easy and welcoming being in Hoover,” Rubio said. “It’s like the world has opened to us.”