You don’t go to Cuba for the food.
Well, at least, you never used to go to Cuba for the food.
But after decades of economic restrictions on state and privately-run restaurants, the island – and most importantly, its taste buds – have finally started to open up. And the city at the heart of Cuba’s culinary revolution?
Cuba’s lively capital is often described as having one foot in the past – and it’s true. One look at the architecture will tell you that. But when it comes to food? There’s so much more to it than just rice and beans. A new wave of private restaurants have swept the capital, offering exciting cuisine in atmospheric surroundings that’ll have you reaching for your passport in no time at all.
And to show you just what we mean, here are a few of our favourites.
When it comes to Havana’s food scene, you’ve probably already read about the cosy paladares with home-cooked arroz con pollo. Or even the state-run restaurants with their tablecloths and soggy spaghetti. But we bet you’ve never read about a boutique Basque bistro situated in a fourth-floor penthouse. Until now, of course.
Around the corner from the famous Hotel Nacional, a small antique elevator takes you up to Café Laurent, the frontrunner in a new wave of private eating establishments, and like nothing you’ve ever seen in Cuba. Think of superb service. Retro vibes with old newspaper cuttings papering the walls. And the food? Well, with a menu full of strong European influence and specialising in seafood, this is a restaurant you won’t forget in a hurry.
And we didn’t forget it either, with Café Laurent’s signature dish – red snapper with clams and shrimp in green sauce – inspiring the rich flavours of our delicious Seafood Cataplana dish.
It’s safe to say, breakfast and brunch restaurants are not so easy to come by in Cuba.
Still beautifully un-Americanised, things like ‘breakfast to go’ just don’t exist. So instead, take a seat and make a meal of it at El Café. Situated in the heart of Old Havana, and with platters of eggs, crispy bacon, banana pancakes, and yoghurt with granola, this chic little joint is worth taking your time over.
If you want to chow down like President Obama, look no further than this taste of colonial Cuba.
Named after its owner, chef and driving inspiration, Carlos Cristóbal Márquez Valdés, this paladar has a museum-worthy interior crowded with old photos, antique record covers, religious artefacts and even a full-size zebra pelt. Just because.
And when you stop looking at the decor, direct your eyes to the sirloin steak and crispy tostones on the menu and don’t even consider ordering anything else. It’s not only the best steak Havana has to offer, but it’s also what President Obama ordered when he visited. And if it’s good enough for him…
Ropa Vieja, the national dish of Cuba, is a meal that’s steeped in history.
This rustic, humble dish so perfectly tells the story of the country’s culinary and cultural evolution over the last half-century, and for the best Ropa Vieja in Havana? Look no further than Restaurant Van-Van.
A bustling spot for large bites and late-night drinks, Van-Van is one of the most famous paladars in all of Havana, with multiple rooms and a patio off the back that will make you feel like you’re dining in someone’s home. And that’s because you are.
Near the waterfront, Nao (from the latin navis, which means ship) has a decor that imitates an 18th-century galleon, complete with ship memorabilia, under the building’s original wooden beams and Arabic arches.
One of Havana’s newer paladars, Nao Bar is renowned for its large international wine collection, as well as its piña coladas and powerful mojitos. But to really get the most out of this place, taste the house speciality Lechón Asado.
A roasted pork dish that has gained national fame since Nao Bar has been open, we loved it so much we took the vibrant flavours and exotic ingredients of this dish and added them to our very own Pork and Clams. And when you try it, you’ll see why.
If we’re honest, El Templete is a bit of a rare Cuban breed.
A state-run establishment, this restaurant competes with the highly regarded private restaurants in service, flavour and setting. In fact, the setting is SO good, you simply have to sit outside if you go.
Travel to the east end of the Malecón, Havana’s 5-mile seaside stretch, and find the Plaza de Armas – the city’s stunningly Instagram-worthy military square. Here you’ll find El Templete, the perfect place to watch the world go by in a colourful blur of retro American cars, all while digging into the signature paella. Does it get better than that? We think not.
On an industrial chic rooftop in Vedado lies a generous terrace packed with quirky seating; providing the Brooklyn-inspired backdrop for the Italian cuisine of El Cocinero.
Sit back, flick through the menu and whatever you do, make sure somebody at your table orders the seafood risotto. Rich, creamy and distinctly maritime, take it from us, this is the best risotto outside of Venice. And when you speak to Cubans in the know, they’ll tell you to return again and again to El Cocinero. Because in truth, one taste is never enough.
If you love coffee, you love coffee. And there’s no doubt about it, Havana loves its coffee. Seriously, it’s practically a religion here.
When you finally get round to visiting Havana, you’ll find there’s coffee in every house, you’re never more than ten yards from someone offering you a morning cup of java, and it’s nearly always served black – ‘cause milk is just an unnecessary distraction from the true depth of flavour on offer.
And for a coffee experience unlike any other? Hit up Pasteleria Francesa, a well-loved bakery near Galiano Street in downtown Havana for a rich, aromatic brew you won’t ever forget.
A decapitated statue at the bottom of a grand staircase leading you past washing lines to a heavy wooden door, where you’ll find the city’s most legendary private restaurant.
Translated as the hideaway, La Guarida is tucked away in the heart of the crumbling, yet majestic Centro Havana district, with a legendary reputation thanks an eccentric dining experience, intimate charm, and of course, Havana’s best cooked fresh fish.
International fame has meant La Guarida can be a little caro (that’s expensive!), but with fish tacos, tuna steak, watermelon soup and pineapple ice cream all options on this electric menu… It’s definitely worth it.
El Rum Rum de la Habana
The best croquetas in Havana? Well, that’s easy. Get yourself down to El Rum Rum de la Habana.
The name of this paladar may evoke the delicious spirit produced on the island. Or maybe the sound of one of those old American cars starting. But rum rum is also Cuban slang for gossip, and this famous eatery in Old Havana is the perfect setting for rum rum.
Best visited in the cool of winter, this ambitious new restaurant pays homage to Spanish gastronomy, throat-warming shots of the hard stuff, and little bites of heaven, A.K.A. their delicious croquetas.
If you want to travel to those Havana streets without even moving a muscle?
Feed your wanderlust with our brand new food menu.
We’ve travelled far and wide, explored every continent and talked to foodies across the world, to bring your our most exotic menu yet. And honestly, we could go on and on about the wonders of our new food menu, but it’s probably best you just taste it for yourself. So tell us, are you ready to escape?