When we first included El Chanchullero in our Restaurant listings 2013 it was a tiny hole in the wall on Brasil that was the favourite of a few but unknown by most visitors to Havana. Today it remains the best kept secret of a lot more Cubans and visitors. Although the lines have gotten a bit longer longer, the interior decor has changed and the menu revised, it remains Havana’s pick for inexpensive great food, top music and friendly ambience.
Withe great tongue-in-cheek reverence, El Chanchullero proudly proclaims “aquí jamás esturo Hemingway” (Hemingway was never here) and that’s only the beginning of the irreverence.
The cooking area and its three seat counter/bar have been spruced up quite a bit with a tip of the hat to running a ‘proper’ restaurant. For me, the old set-up was fine, heat grease and all, but this is somewhat more health-inspector friendly, I guess.
Also gone are the signatures and graffiti all over the walls (that was getting old) replaced with a nice collection of signed foreign currency notes. The original stairway with its probably unsafe rope railing to the crowded eating area upstairs has been replaced with a much safer steel staircase.
The menu has changed a bit although the prices remain shockingly reasonable for the stir fry dinners, snacks and top-drawer cocktails and the no fast food hardline stance has been retained (hooray!). Added to the menu is a “Cheapest” section that features ‘Croquette of something’ paying homage to Cuba’s penchant for the tasty snacks and the wonderment of what they contain.
Gone alas is the lobster stir fry, certainly the best plate in Cuba for the price. This year, lobster seems to have vanished from menus – the catch, riddled by conservation rules and legalities is apparently hard to come by this year.
The menu, like most in Cuba concentrates on chicken and pork but adds shrimp in yummy dishes to0. You can even have a salad but I feel that’s the wrong choice when the main dishes are so well done. As well, on the side of every plate there’s a large helping of avocado and a stack of thinly sliced cucumber that contributes a bit of healthy to the spread.
With delicious cheap dining, crowded tables that ensure that you’ll meet some friendly fellow diners every time and a happy gang of cooks and servers, it’s no surprise that the little cafe is packed with diners from the time it opens to long into the night. A few superficial changes thankfully haven’t changed much at all.