Let me start this piece off by putting to rest once and for all any rumours you may have heard about Cuba not having good food. It’s utter nonsense. I ate well the entire time I was there and for very reasonable prices by American standards(of note, and be sensitive to this, by Cuban earnings the prices are astronomical), as in $12 for Grilled Lobster, $2 for a Ropa Vieja sandwiches and $3-5 for Mojitos. The key is to eat at Paladars(privately owned restaurants) vs Government run. I only ate at Paladars, as should you.
My first meal was enjoyed at El Litoral, I literally stumbled upon this place while walking along the Malecon. I saw a bunch of blue umbrellas and women wearing black vests and white dress shirts with no businesses nearby either way. I had to check it out. So after hitting The Nacional Hotel for a Mojito I stopped in and was floored by what a good looking restaurant it was.
I started with a Cristal beer, Hogfish Ceviche to start and Breaded Snapper in a almond yucca crust with spinach gnocchi in a four cheese sauce for my entree. My waitress asked if I enjoyed my meal. I told her the chef ruined my trip(with a smile) because now I’m going to compare the rest of my meals in Havana to this one.
The next morning I had my first breakfast at my home for my time in Havana, Tu Habana. It was huge and delicious. Breakfast at Tu Habana starts with fresh fruit and mango or pineapple juice, toast with homemade marmalade(my host Arapey’s mother makes it, I told him he needs to bottle and sell it), fried eggs with bacon or an omelette with ham and cheese and of course Cuban coffee. Since they have a menu with prices on it I think non-guests can enjoy breakfast here.
My first meal in Old Havana was at La Moneda Cubana. My tour guide for the day recommended it since it’s rooftop terrace has great views, a nice breeze and good food. It’s a Prixe Fixe menu with about 8 choices, mostly seafood. I had the Fish with Lobster and Shrimp plate. It came with a very tasty Pumpkin soup to start. Crystal beers to drink. The food was good here as well as the service, though at 20 CUC it’s clearly geared towards tourists vs locals.
After my extensive guided tour (stay tuned for an upcoming blog on this) running around from 10am till about 8pm all over Old Havana when I finally got back to my room I was shot. For dinner I needed somewhere close by which was no problemo since Tu Habana is located near a number of very good restaurants within 5-10 minutes walking distance.
New George’s was up the stairs (this is very typical of the Paladars) of an old home that opened up into a very hip looking new restaurant. Their menu is ginormous. I drank a Cuba Libre as I read through their tome and eventually decided on Plantains with Chorizo to start (which did need a hit of hot sauce) and the Aji Shrimp for my main. The local Cuban cola is so-so so I ordered up a Cristal Beer to finish my meal and flirt with my waitresses in broken High School Spanish.
Calle 3 btwn A y B
Nely’s is a cute little diner like spot that looks brand new. Their Vieja de Ropa sandwich (it was only 2 CUC’s) was one of the best things I ate in a trip full of good food. I washed it down with a Lemonata. This place was so good that when a group walked by trying to decide if they should try it…I told them you found your lunch spot, get a table. They did and thanked me.
Stop me if you heard this one before…a Jew from Brooklyn walks into an Iranian restaurant in Havana, Cuba. How could I not eat at Topoly? It’s space is all al fresco on a large wrap-around terrace. The Persian menu has plenty to choose from and a full beverage selection. The place is decorated with lots of kitsch and an interesting mix of political figures and movie stars on the walls.
Calle 23 off D
Atelier was recommended by a friend who heard it was great but didn’t get to go. It’s a beautiful space with indoor and outdoor seating with Art adorning the walls. The menu is handwritten since it changes daily based upon what they can get at the market.
I started with the Piquillo peppers stuffed with Tuna and for my entree Shrimp in a Bleu Cheese sauce with rice and black beans. I was going to go with a Daiquiri but they ran out of Maraschino liqueur….(“It’s Cuba”…they said it not me) so I had to suffer through more Mojito’s. Atelier is one of Havanas top restaurants so make reservations in advance.
Calle 5 #511 Paseo y 2
Chacon is not the easiest street to find, but Chacon 162 is well worth the search. Some of the best food and drinks I enjoyed in Havana. Great space that looks like it belongs in Williamsburg Brooklyn with Motorcycles and Pop Art themes on the walls. Drinks are served in huge jars (check out that Watermelon Mojito!) with fresh fruits and the ceviche and grilled lobster are great.
Calle Chacon 162
Piscolabis, this place looks like it belongs in Brooklyn. It’s a store that sells gifts, home goods and clothing while also serving very good Cuban Coffee. Drink it on their comfy couch or people watch outside.
La Chucherria Sports Bar is right across from the Malecon and a good spot to watch the waves crash against the seawall, take in a sunset or watch a game. I thought I might have found a Cuban sandwich when I saw not one but two Media Noche’s on the menu but it turned out to be a cold Italian sandwich that was pretty good. I ordered up a Kermato (their tomato with clam juice) with a Crystal beer their version of a Bloody Mary. Mixed them in a glass with some lime juice. Might sound odd but taste very good.
On Monday morning after getting some sun it was a last breakfast and off to the airport. How anybody could come here and not eat well even on a budget…I just don’t get it. I will say that Havana may not be a Gourmet destination quite yet, but it’s definitely a Foodie one. The food isn’t spicy but most places have hot sauce(or bring your own) if you need some heat. For Vegetarians and Vegans I will admit it will be challenging.
I highly recommend you download the Havana Restaurant app Ala Mesa. It’s free and you can download the content so you can use it without Wi-Fi, it’s built for Havana’s harsh Wi-Fi free conditions. Please feel free to post any spots you enjoyed in Havana in the Comments section. Now remove “bad food” off your cons list for Cuba, put it on the Pros list and book that flight…