Chances are your not going to Cuba for the food. And if you’re a foodie like me, there’s the possibility of being very disappointed. Here’s a guide to highlight some of the best places to drink and dine in Havana.

The majority of restaurants we ate at the first couple of days were mediocre at best, but by the end of my week in Havana I found some excellent restaurants (thankfully!)

The discrepancy in food regarding freshness and availability was one of the most eye-opening issues to me during my time in Cuba. The country STILL uses a rationing system for food.  Most of the Cuban people can’t afford much besides vegetables and eggs for themselves, meat is considered a luxury, and milk can be the hardest thing for locals to find. Cuban’s even at times have to resort to buying food on the black market. This article is very enlightening on the food situation in Cuba, as well as this one.

Restaurants have limited options for what ingredients they can get ahold of,  and regularly run out of staple menu items. The rationing system leaves Cuban cuisine to be unimaginative.

We tried restaurants all over Havana, most of the time the food was pretty bland and not fresh. Be prepared for lots of rice and beans, plantain chips, bread, and a plate of lettuce and tomato served at most meals in State-run restaurants.

You are much better off going to privately owned restaurants (paladar’s) as opposed to State-run. Before 1993 privately owned business were illegal in Cuba, but nowadays paladar’s are becoming more common, giving tourists the chance to have a more authentic and better tasting homemade meal.

I ordered a side of vegetables from the restaurant at our hotel, what I got was something similar to warmed lettuce and celery, it didn’t taste great either.

A side of vegetables consisted of a mixture of lukewarm lettuce and celery :/

 

This lobster or “fancy food” as the locals call it, was delicious! It also was $25.

Fortunately, we had a few restaurants that came highly recommended to us before arriving. Here’s a list of some of the best!

 

Espacios

Do not miss the tapas restaurant Espacios in Miramar barrio. This mansion turned restaurant and bar is very hip and trendy! They have a stylish backyard patio and outdoor bar,  lively atmosphere, yummy food (and affordable), and the BEST mojitos!

The Chef Enrique also offers cooking classes, which are pricey, so the best alternative is having dinner here for much less. The ceviche was to die for, we ordered the croquettes twice, and the shrimp dish was delicious! I highly recommend this spot!

Shrimp in garlic and oil served with bread became a staple of my diet while in Cuba
One of my absolute FAVORITE meals in Cuba, at Espacios in Miramar
Don’t miss the mojitos at Espacios!

La Guarida

La Guarida is an elegant paladar located in Centro Havana. The restaurant sits at the top of an old decrepit building and is somewhat of an adventure to find.

The dramatic entrance to the building has art painted across the walls leading to a grand marble staircase. It is the perfect photo opt, however, even pictures can’t even begin to do it justice. After climbing three sets of spiral stairs, passing what seems to be a construction zone and a common laundry area, you reach the restaurant. And surprising its decor is very stylish. There’s both indoor and outdoor seating, with a rooftop patio featuring a stunning view of Havana.

The backdrop of this restaurant is the perfect photo op!

Reservations are required, and it’s best to book weeks in advance. They have an adorable little bar, which incase you can’t get a reservation in time, you can still stop by just for drinks.

The food was outstanding; we ordered the pesto gnocchi (my favorite), marlin fish tacos, and ceviche. We were pleasantly surprised the menu pricing wasn’t as expensive as we had thought. We had meals in Old Havana for more!

The gnocchi was so good, we ordered it TWICE!

El Templete

A local mentioned that Jimmy Carter once ate at El Templete and since then the prices went through the roof. When we saw that Anthony Bourdain had recommended this place, we figured we had to give it a try. Surprisingly it still wasn’t as expensive as some of the not so good places we ate at in Old Havana.

When we arrived, the entire patio was full with the lunchtime rush of cruise ship passengers stopping through. I was surprised to see hummus on the menu, and even happier when it was delicious! If we had to pick one restaurant located in Old Havana to go back to, this would be the one.

While the food may be questionable, the drinks are top notch! And there are plenty of places to drink the night away!

Bar Mezzanine

We stopped by Hotel Saratoga (infamous for Jay-Z and Beyonce staying here) in hopes to check out the gorgeous rooftop bar. Unfortunately, it had closed for the season. Instead, we had a snack and drink in the lobby bar, Bar Mezzanine. The shrimp dish was yummy, and a bottle champagne reasonably priced. This spot became a staple for us to start our nights out at.

La Reliquia

Walking distance from Hotel Florida right in Old Havana, we found the small bar and restaurant La Reliquia. When everything else closes, and you need a late night drink or snack, this is the place to go! It has a happening atmosphere with a DJ as well as cheap drinks and food. I had my first Caipiroska drink here, similar to a caipirinha but with vodka. It has since been my latest obsession! (Turns out they are very popular in Brazil too!)

The Floridita

You can’t visit Havana and not stop by Ernest Hemingway’s old watering hole, The Floridita. According to Hemingway, this is the best daiquiri in Havana. And while super touristy, it’s also a fun experience. They also have live music most nights of the week.

La Fabrica del Arte

One of the coolest spots we checked out at night was La Fabrica del Arte. I was not expecting anything nearly this edgy in Havana.

In the Vedado area (just minutes from Espacios’ restaurant) this hotspot is in an old warehouse space turned in an art gallery that has live performances (theater and fashion shows), live music, bars, a big screen for movies, a hipster food court, and art!

While it attracts a younger crowd, I was surprised to see people of all ages entering. A $2 cover charge gets you a tally card that tracks your consumption, paying upon exiting. Unlike most of the museums in Havana which seem a little bit stuck in time, the art here pushes political boundaries and shows a more modern depiction of Cuba. I highly recommend visiting! Try to go early in the night to avoid lines.

Hemingway House Bar

 

Another fun experience was drinking the signature “Hemingway Coctel” at the tiny bar outside at the Hemingway House Museum. Freshly squeezed pineapple juice, sugar cane crushed on the spot, and your choice of rum or no rum (is that a choice?!). The outside bar is just a makeshift stand with minimal seating by the parking lot, but can make the tour of Hemingway’s House all the more exciting!

I’m excited now that the ban has been lifted what the next few years will do to help cultivate the food scene in Cuba.  Privately owned restaurants are becoming more common allowing an opportunity for diversity in restaurants.

 

A few suggestions?

  1. Bring snacks! They are hard to come by once there and will come in handy
  2. Drink bottled water
  3. Bring anti-diarrhea medicine, travelers diarrhea is not fun
  4. Make sure you see the prices in writing before ordering food or drinks, Cuban’s tend to over charge the tourists
Jenny Habdas
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