The prevailing misconception of the food scene in Cuba is that it’s no bueno, largely because of the limited trading and access to fresh produce. But since Raul Castro’s economic reforms in 2010 that stripped the limitations on at-home restaurants in Cuba, paladars have been changing the game, creating innovative dishes and working around the restrictions placed upon them.
If you can’t find drool-worthy meals then you didn’t do your homework. Lucky for you, dear readers (all two of you), I did the digging for you and scoured the internet prior to my trip, finding feasts all over Havana to satisfy all types of foodies.
FOR THE FILM BUFF FOODIE
Where: La Guarida, 418 Concordia
We Got: Carpaccio Pulpo / Octopus Carpaccio (9 CUC) • Tiradito Atún / Tuna Tiradito (9 CUC) • Caviar de Berenjena / Eggplant Caviar (8CUC) • Tartar de Atún / Tuna Tartare (11 CUC) • Cochinillo / Suckling Pig (18 CUC) • Sopa de Coco / Coconut Soup (8 CUC)
Lauded as one of Havana’s most infamous paladars, La Guarida’s crumbling statues and grand staircase resembles a 1940s film noir that will charm the socks off of a film buff foodie. This majestic mansion is known for it’s culinary excellence as much as it’s known to be the setting for the Oscar-nominated film, Strawberry & Chocolate so enjoy a pineapple daiquiri while you peruse the gold-foil menus.
Everything we ordered was as pleasing to the eye as it was to the tastebuds, being expertly plated and flavoured but the standout for me was the refreshing octopus carpaccio (I’m a sucker for octopus…#tentaclepuns) and the tuna tiradito. The dessert was really interesting, if unconventional – a coconut “soup” poured out of a little kettle over coconut ice cream, and some spongey cake. After your meal, explore the decaying building and climb the spiral staircases for an impressive panoramic view of the city.
FOR THE HOMESICK FOODIE
Where: Paladar Doña Eutimia, #60-C, Callejon del Chorro
We Got: Coctel de Camarones / Shrimp Cocktail (3.50 CUC) • Albondigas / Meatballs (8 CUC) • Arroz a la Cubana / Cuban Rice (4 CUC)
Still acclimatizing to our new surroundings, we headed over to a popular section of Old Havana to the tucked away Paladar Doña Eutimia for some comfort food. The intimate space and the simple yet authentic and flavourful dishes will soothe the weary travelling soul, craving a home-cooked meal.
We enjoyed an extremely Cuban dish, Arroz a la Cubana, which consists of a couple of fried eggs, rice, fried plantains, and a tomato-based creole sauce. I also can’t resist albondigas (meatballs) and these were smothered in the same plate-lickingly good sauce. Rum flows freely here as a server brought over an entire bottle of it for a customer who wanted their drink to be más fuerte.
Conveniently situated right in Plaza de La Cathedral where many Cuban artists established studios such as El Taller Experimental de Grafica which is right next door. After settling your bill, check out the local art scene before swinging by La Bodeguita del Medio, the birthplace of the mojito and one of Hemingway’s favoured watering holes.
FOR THE COCKTAIL AFICIONADO "FOODIE"
Where: Creperie Oasis Nelva, Calle Havana Esquina Muralla
We Got: Jamon y Queso Crepe / Ham and Cheese Crepe (3.50 CUC) • Caiprioskas, Caiprissimas, Frappés, Mojitos, Daiquiris, etc….
Have you ever been so dedicated to happy hour libations that you’re a half dozen drinks in before you realize you completely forgot to eat dinner? Oasis Nelva is the ideal, leafy hipster spot for those who prefer liquid meals, although they also serve fantastic vegetarian-friendly crepes (to line the belly for more alcohol).
I spent many a happy hour (and beyond) people-watching from my little, plant-filled corner and admiring artful cocktail creations by the friendly staff who indulged my request to play “Despacito” on repeat. From pineapple mojitos and watermelon caipirissimas to mojito daiquiris and guava caiprioskas, the drinks were the best I had the entire trip and served with a beautiful aloe leaf or mint and fruit garnish.
FOR THE PLANT-OBSESSED FOODIE
Where: Cocina de Lilliam, Calle 48, No. 1311
We Got: Tamal en Cazuela (7CUC) • Escabeche de Mariscos /Seafood Escabeche (12.50 CUC) • Spaguettis con Camarón / Shrimp Spaghetti (11CUC) • Cordero Guisado / Lamb Stew (13.50 CUC) • Mousse de Chocolate /Chocolate Mousse
Complete with a wooden gate at the entrance, Cocina de Lilliam is like dining in The Secret Garden with zen koi ponds and birdbaths encompassed by an abundance of verdant greenery. If you ever wondered what it was like to enjoy a fancy picnic in the thick of a leafy jungle then visit the paladar that has been leading the pack since Raul Castro’s economic reforms in 2010 that stripped the limitations on at-home restaurants in Cuba.
If you can go wrong with dish choice here, then I don’t know about it because everything we had was amazing. The traditional Cuban-style polenta, Tamal en Cazuela, was so smooth and creamy and the hearty servings of shrimp pasta and lamb stew were so indulgent that we ALMOST couldn’t order dessert of chocolate mousse paired with a fifteen-year old rum.
FOR THE TRENDY AF FOODIE
Where: San Cristóbal Paladar, San Rafael No 469
I Got: Sopa de Fideos / Noodle Soup (3 CUC) • Pescado a la espalda San Cristóbal / San Cristóbal Fish (10 CUC) • Pudín San Cristóbal / San Cristóbal Pudding (3.50 CUC)
Are you the type that’s always in-the-know about the city’s hot spots? San Cristóbal Paladar has welcomed the likes of the Obamas, Jay-Z and Queen Bey past their floor-to-ceiling front gates. Hanging plants flourish from lighting fixtures and vintage soda advertisements adorn the cracked walls of the ground floor of this eclectic early 20th century mansion while the upper floor is occupied by the owner’s family.
The service was very friendly and attentive but that might’ve been because I was female, solo, and breathing…The food was traditional Cuban-creole style like the house fish that was served on a sizzling platter fragrant with minced garlic while getting more experimental with the desserts such as the Pudín San Cristóbal – a pudding made with eggs, fruit, milk and almonds.
What kind of foodie are you? Do you have other favourite spots in Havana to feast?