Eating in a restaurant in Cuba is a curious adventure, for lack of another expression. The island’s cuisine has long suffered from a lackluster reputation, which is not surprising considering the Special Period era when food was rationed, but modern developments mean that the change is felt here.
Privately run restaurants have created a buzz around ‘New Cuban’ cuisine, and dining has become one of the best things to do on this most fascinating island. From fancy restaurants in plush apartments to trendy tapas bars, here are Cuba’s best restaurants.
What is this ? In its three opulent rooms, you can enjoy contemporary Cuban dishes among old movie props.
Why go there? If it’s good enough for Sting, Jack Nicholson and Prince Albert of Monaco. It’s the grandfather of paladares in Havana, which has been around for 75 years and is still sold out most nights. The city views alone are worth the trip, but luckily the “signature” dishes like papaya lasagna, suckling pig and chocolate fondant are just as impressive.
What is this ? A couple of artists and sommeliers left the Costa Brava to launch this gourmet restaurant, which nods to its roots with its Spanish-Cuban fusion menu.
Why go there? Sommelier Alvaro Diez was trained at legendary Catalan restaurant El Bulli, and as you can imagine, Otra Manera’s wine selection is excellent. The menu uses organic produce from a local farmer. One of Havana’s stylish newcomers to the private dining scene, Otramanera offers seating in its minimalist interior or in its tropical garden.
Sol Y Son Restaurant, Trinidad
What is this ? Sol Y Son serves seafood and meat specialties cooked over charcoal in one of Trinidad’s quaint colonial houses.
Agroecological Paradise Farm, Viñales
What it is: What could be nicer than a meal at an organic farm in the hills of Viñales?
Why go there? Given that it is family run, Finca Paraiso Agroecologica is the kind of place you should feel at home. Sit back, relax and focus your full attention on the magnificent view and the wonderfully fresh ingredients of the meal you are eating.
The Cook, La Havane
What it is: El Cocinero’s loft-style dining room and rooftop terrace is in what was once a cooking oil factory, next to an art gallery and a a nightclub.
Why go there? It’s the pinnacle (literally) of the trendy Vedado district. After climbing the iron spiral staircase, you are assured of impeccable service, contemporary artwork and fine dining. Tuna carpaccio and duck blinis can be followed by grilled lobster or creamy pumpkin filet mignon.
Villa Lagarto Restaurant, Cienfuegos
What is this ? A guesthouse on the edge of Cienfuegos Bay with a popular restaurant, this place serves hearty portions of pulled pork, kebabs (shish kebabs) and more.
Why go there? Talk about dining with a view, Villa Lagarto’s waterfront setting is sensational, with alfresco tables right down to the water’s edge.
His meat dishes are an attempt at pared-down perfection, simply sprinkled with herbs and grilled, steamed or barbecued. The fruits and vegetables are all sourced from nearby organic farms.
What it is: Charm is the order of the day at this lovely cafe.
Why go there? Enjoy coffee and cake with a difference at Café Arcangel. The tables are all made from old Singer sewing machines, Charlie Chaplin movies are shown on a centrally placed (but not intrusive) TV, and there’s a house cat called Buona Fortuna (“good luck”).
The Cafe, Havana
What is this ? Good things come in small packages at this all-day restaurant in Habana Vieja. There is no sign, just follow the aromas of coffee beans and bacon.
Why go there? This is where the best breakfast in Havana is found: everything from toast and granola to a plate of eggs, homemade sourdough bread, cheese, tomatoes and Cucumbers. Fresh juices and coffees are delicious (the owner cut his teeth at Allpress’ London flagship), and there’s a resident cat to keep you company.
The Writing, Trinidad
What is this ? Located in Trinidad, the French owners of Redaccion work with “whatever the fisherman or farmer brings” to concoct their daily menu which changes daily. Do the old newspapers hanging on the wall intrigue you? These are clippings from the local newspaper El Liberal, which was once edited and printed in the house.
Why go there? Travelers can swap stories and form friendships around the huge communal table. In addition to the daily specials, a few must-try options are always on offer: lamb burgers with sweet potato fries, stone-oven lobster tails, and spicy pork belly.
Why go there? Unless you’re a die-hard foodie, we think you’ve probably never tried Swedish-Cuban fusion cuisine. Well, you’re in luck, here’s your chance. This place is owned by a Swedish music video director, and the menu is just as quirky as the decor (chairs on the walls that hold up nicknames and a stage made out of old Coca-Cola commercials). Try the traditional Swedish meatballs with lingonberries.