“What are the three failings of the revolution? Breakfast, lunch and dinner.” This is an old Cuban joke from the “Special Period” when the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba entered into a period of severe economic hardship. Since the early 1990s Cuba has created a booming tourism industry, which attracts more than a million Canadians along to its shores each year. Still, until very recently the most common complaint about Cuba was its food. The common refrain would be, ‘great place, lovely people, spectacular beaches but shame about the food.’ No more, at least in the burgeoning private restaurant (paladar) scene in Havana where over the last two years literally hundreds of new cafes, bars and restaurants have opened their doors.
This is a true Dining Revolution and there is now no excuse for eating badly in the capital. Here is our list of the best places.
(7) 883 1216
Open noon-midnight daily
Bollywood is Cuba’s hottest new restaurant and it’s a solely dedicated Indian restaurant. That enough would be enough to ensure it a comfortable place in Havana’s burgeoning restaurant scene. As if this was not enough, it is also cute with tasteful décor–think carved wood panels, silk shawls draped on the door and incense burning. The publicity for this place is priceless: parked outside while we were there was an exquisite MG car with the Bollywood logo sprawled over.
The tables are set on a pleasant terrace in what can only be described as suburban Nuevo Vedado. It is a very quiet area. Finding the place can be a bit of a struggle, you need to go up Calle 26 and take a left just after the Acapulco cinema, add a couple more lefts and you are there.
The owner and chef is Sri Lankan. He is married to a Cuban lady and the time had come, so he says, to bring proper Indian food to Havana. The menu includes standard Indian fare from Tandoori chicken, dhal, pilaf rice etc. to some speciality Bollywood dishes. Qualitywise we liked it, decent, great for Cuba. The one grumble, which we have heard from a few people, is that it is not hot enough. Given that Cubans are notoriously sensitive to anything spicey, perhaps the lack of a scorching vindaloo is understandable but is something that should be addressed if they want to widen their appeal to more hardcore Indian food-loving masochists!
+53 7 872 8227
+53 5 276 0938
El Chanchullero has got to win the most surprisingly good place in Havana award. This looks like a hole in the wall place in a downright run down looking part of Old Havana. It is a hassle to get to by car and a little off the beautified Havana tourist track. It takes a while going in to realise what a find it is. A small bar and four wooden tables give little away. Settling in for a drink swiftly delivered by the attentive staff, the first clue is the music, loud, happy, European, modern without being pretentious or techno it sets the tone. The walls are covered with graffiti and photos, again the lack of pretension belie how well it has been thought through.
The first time I looked at the menu I presumed that I should order two or three dishes, at CUC 3-6 per dish I presumed that they would be small, insubstantial dishes. Actually the food is the real revelation. Shrimp enchiladas are huge, tasty and served in a large earthen bowl Spanish style atop real fresh and well cooked vegetables. It is a feast. The chicken kebab is great, the pork decent and all round about the best food you can get of this style anywhere in Havana let alone for the price.
Bear in mind that once the word gets out it may be difficult to get a table since they are limited and that there is no air-conditioning. This is not a VIP place but a Spanish style (think San Sebastian) tapas place of the first order.
Open noon-3pm / 6-11pm
Calle 10 has had a make-over. Back in the day this was somewhere you would come to for a huge portion of pork ribs cooked barbecue-style in the owner’s back garden under a thatched roof (ranchon). Now the restaurant has moved inside this beautiful Miramar mansion leaving only a couple of tables the small front porch.
I like the new décor and style. This is modern, stylish without being overly pretentious. Large paintings decorate the walls, filling the place. The air-conditioning is left to work while the doors are left open which manages to cool the place without putting you in the freezer. This has become a reliably consistent and popular place, especially for lunch. The international menu is excellent with a decent selection without following the trend to stretch to 20 pages. The soups are very good (we had the tomato and pumpkin) while the ribs and steaks were first rate.
Corte del Principe
La Corte del Principe has rocked up the charts in Havana on the back of quality authentic Italian fare. Located on a quiet street behind the lovely park (which runs from Calle 60 to 82 behind the Occidental Hotel) this is Sergio’s place. The seating, all outside under an awning is not fancy but comfortable. Typically busy but not packed there is an atmosphere about the place. Somewhere where no-one comes in a hurry. A place you stay to enjoy the wine, smoke that cigar and relax in a laid back atmosphere.
This is not to say that the food will take an eternity to appear, on the contrary service is attentive and quick. Simply that what is the rush, do you really have somewhere better to be? This is not the Italian version of a Tex Mex, there are no pizzas on the menu. Instead you have a range of pastas made as only an Italian could make them. Tagliatelle al funghi porcini/gamberi y zucchine/alla marinara. Great spaghettis. Take care that you don’t over indulge in the starters (prosciutto, anipasto and bruschette) since you will want to leave room for the main course. And did I mention the desserts!
(near Parque Lenin on the way to Autopista Nacional)
Il Divino gets our vote as the absolutely best place to eat in Havana with the family at the weekend. 6 stars out of 5. Simply brilliant, superlatives trip off the tongue. The place is huge with plentiful seating on the terrace as well as (our favorite) a number of ranchons. It boasts its own impeccably maintained botanical gardens which kids will love while you lounge the afternoon way. This is out of town past Hemmingway’s Fince Vigia just before you reach Lenin Park. Take a map and spend the afternoon – there is no-where else you need to get to on at the weekend!
The house itself is a beautiful Mediterranean style villa, which has nicely decorated air-conditioned rooms as well as a large terrace and various places to eat in the garden. Deep in the vaults of the house lies a great wine cellar/smoking room where you will find a selection of some of the best wines available in Cuba. [This is home to the Italian association of oenologist for the Caribbean].
The range of available food is extensive, from quality pizzas and pastas to pork ribs, steaks, roasted chicken and an incredibly tasty lamb shoulder to more delicate chicken dishes with garlic and herbs. It is all quality, mostly uncomplicated, but cooked in the large well-organized kitchen in an efficient and capable way.
Ivan Chef Justo
There is only one problem with Ivan Chef Justo and that is describing to people how to get there. Actually it is not that complicated, opposite the Museum of the Revolution on the Old Havana side. Consistency of what to call it would help, currently it runs by the name of its chef, Ivan Chef Justo but their are ruors afoot that it will change to Aguacate 9 (its address) which would at least help you find it the first time.
The style of the place is thoroughly Mediterranean, located on the second and third floors of a building that must be 200 years old and seems to be made of wood and stone there is a comfortable airy feel to the restaurant. It is elegantly decorated with a tasteful simplicity from old pictures of Marilyn Monroe to old pictures of the city. The view out across Prado is relaxing and there is a space small upstairs you can also eat with a little more privacy.
The food is nothing short of spectacular. Ivan, the chef used to run the kitchen at Havana Chef and he has taken many of the best dishes from their. Offerings include an excellent salmon salad, gazpacho and lamb soup as appetizers and a mouth watering rack of baby lamb ribs as a main as well as cheese risotto and excellent fish.
The service is excellent, professional, attentive and quick.
Milano Lounge Club
Ave 3ra No 2404
E 24 y 26, Miramar, Playa, La Habana
(53) 7 203 4641
While Milano may be the new kid on the block, opening in mid April, 2013 in Miramar’s burgeoning entertainment district, there was nothing modest about the smart party that announced its arrival loaded with bling-bling. This is a beautifully decorated art deco home in Miramar, which could have walked in straight from South Beach, Miami. All white lines, minimalist and stylish.
You can eat inside the main house, on the smallish terrace (our choice) or out in the pleasant garden (watch out for chairs sinking into the ground though!). There is a small chill-out space inside although truth be told this is a place for a party, get your DJ and fill out the garden with the glitterati of Havana.
The menu is well put together if somewhat lacking in a theme and definitely on the pricey side. Look for standard international fare: appetizers include Serrano ham, bruschetta and mozzarella salad while main courses include an excellent Fillet Mignon, several lobster dishes (all about the bling-bling remember) and an interesting sounding chicken with yoghurt as well as a range of pastas (the ravioli was great).
We hear there were a few growing pains the first weekend as the place got slammed and food took forever to be served. The night we went perhaps they were overcompensating with staff everywhere you looked. Give the place a little time and we are sure it will be up there with the very best places to eat in Havana.
For our VisitCuba feature review of Milano Lounge Club click here
537 830 07 11
Located in a sleepy residential neighbourhood of Vedado in a two storey colonial house, Starbien has an update and modern feel, which seems a little out of sync with the neighbourhood. Historically this was somewhere, which was a meeting point, a gathering place. This was a tradition, which was maintained during the construction, and there is still something of a community feel.
There are various eating areas of which the large comfortable terrace outside is our pick. Upstairs there is a cute bar and lovely small terrace, which is perfect for sunset cocktails. The food is good without being spectacular. I liked the mixed board of tapas as an appetizer, especially the Serrano ham that was great. Main courses include your standard fillet mignon as well as homemade spinach ravioli and stuffed peppers. Desserts were unavoidable once we had seen the neighbors chocolate torte (with dried fruit).
The service was excellent and the manager/owner are young, dynamic and enthusiastic. The place is cool, although I still don’t get whether it is an implant to the area or something organic.
Jaimanitas 5 286 7039
Santy’s is a sushi restaurant located in Jaimanitas on the Western outskirts of Havana just shy of Marina Hemingway. It is located in a clapboard single story wooden house next to, in fact, right on one of the outlets to the sea. Perhaps it is a floating houseboat so integral it is to the boats parked up alongside outside on the ample terrace. Perhaps, although I am not quite sure.
The large outdoor terrace is all wood; there is space for maybe 40 people on simple plastic chairs and tables. This seems a world away from the hustle of Havana, the feng-shui of the water and the boats ambling out to sea take you away onto the sea, into another place.
The service is efficient, competent. This is not a place where you are fussed over, where you can preen and take the VIP table. That is not the style, there are no uniforms for the waitresses, and have a nice day. Fast, Cuban, real. Each morning Santiago Alvarez, the fisherman who owns the shack, goes out and catches tuna and Spanish mackerel. He kills and guts the fish just minutes before he serves it, with a little olive oil, coriander and soy.
Simply put the food is spectacular. From the start to the end and everything in between. While specialized in sushi and sashimi they do a great baby lobster, the shrimp are to die for and even the salmon and the chicken tastes great. It is best simply to have two of everything, sit back, enjoy and be assured that you just had the best meal in Cuba for actually a very reasonable price.