From my book, Visit Cuba knew I have a great affection for Havana and asked me to report on a restaurant where you could impress someone, perhaps even a romantic getaway. So I pulled up my sleeves for the assignment and asked friends, Cubans and foreigners alike, for recommendations. I got so many that by the time my recent Cuba visit was over, I’d only tried about half of them.
For the article, I considered the more obvious ones as well as complete new eating spots that have surfaced mainly due to the recent regulation changes in Cuba, such as offering cuentapropista [self employment] licenses as well as up to 50 seat paladares [restaurants in private homes]. Yet I have chosen one of the more established ones because there is a really great story here that captivated me, not to mention great atmosphere and very tasty food.
I arrived at La Guarida around 7 pm on a weekday. As soon as the coco taxi dropped me off and I’ve stepped into the grandiose building entrance, I froze on the spot and could not believe my eyes. The entrance was the exact location where the cover photo of the book I authored, My Seductive Cuba, was taken by Sven Creutzmann. I was so delighted by this discovery that I could not believe that I’ve never been here before after so many years of visiting Cuba. I had simply never heard of it before.
The host at La Guarida’s entrance told me that several scenes of a very famous film called ‘fresa y chocolate’ was filmed at this restaurant. The movie marked a major change in Cuban culture because it was the first film, as Cubans indicated, that talked openly about homosexuality and discussed some of the issues involving the limitations imposed by the communist government. The movie came out in the 90s and La Guarida has been around since, aside for being shut down for one year in recent years, as I was told by people in Havana, due to jealousy concerning its owner, a Cuban guy named Enrique.
The host asked me if I had a reservation and I indicated that I did not. He said to try but that at La Guarida you always have to reserve ahead of time. I climbed to the second floor, a beautiful space with unique architecture, and then continued to the third floor. A sign on the door told me to buzz but as was expected they were full and asked me to call ahead of time.
A few days later, I returned with a fleet of friends in tow – a singer, a dancer, Sven himself, and an English guy living in Cuba, Matt Pickles – but this time we had a reservation in place. The cover shot location beckoned and before you knew it we initiated a spontaneous photo shoot trying to recreate the cover photo with me in it. We created quite the commotion.
When we were done our photo moment, we climbed upstairs and were seated in the main room facing the doors leading to the terrace. La Guarida is a beautifully designed location with dark wooden furniture, warm yellow walls, and soft white tablecloths. The design reminded me a bit of a Spanish location. The restaurant’s walls were covered with photos of famous people who have visited the paladar, but we got a kick out of one featuring a famous Hollywood actor that was completely blurred. You’d think that they would make every effort to capture a perfect picture showing off the important guest, but not here. It was perfect being imperfect.
We sat down and ordered food and drinks. I ordered the Pollo con Salsa de Miel y Limon [Chicken with honey and lemon sauce]. The food was so delicious that I wished I could simply lick the plate.
The terrace seemed like a perfect backdrop for a romantic and classy evening. The service was superb covering every detail. It was like a Swiss clock. My dish cost 14 CUC and was worth every penny. For desert I ordered a baked apple with saffron and vanilla ice cream. The apple just melted in my mouth and would have not shamed a great restaurant in Europe.
La Guarida was a great choice and even if a very well known one, I believe that it deserves to be honoured for maintaining such a consistent paladar that delivers atmosphere as well as quality for so many years in a row.
La Guarida is located in Centro Havana in the area between Galiano (the big street where Casa de la Musica is) and Belascoain (where the hospital is), just a few blocks away from the Malecon. For reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org, 866-9047, Concordia # 418 e/Gervasio y Escobar, Havana. www.laguarida.com.