Before traveling to Cuba I had to research the food scene and figure out what all the stigma about eating at some not so great spots in Havana was coming from. I learned that the restaurant industry in Havana is actually marvelous, as long as you know where to go! There are two main types of places to eat; government owned restaurants and Paladares, or privately owned restaurants usually found within homes. There’s a good chance you can find some good spots within both categories but you need to be sure you make plans ahead of time because many paladares will work on their own schedule and can close randomly or be fully booked way before the date you’re visiting. Some of the places we had the privilege of eating at were recommended by family and friends so I’m sharing them with you, you’re welcome.
El Del Frente
First on the list was the hip little restaurant tucked away in Old Havana with a beautiful patio, rooftop and some of the best cocktails I have ever had in my life. El Del Frente had all the perfect colors and vibes of a LA spot with the culture and flavors of beautiful Cuba. Our mouths were watering just while reading the menu so we made the executive decision to try a little bit of everything. The cocktails are freshly made very, generous size and paired with swoon worthy eats all at an incredibly reasonable price. A few of the things we tried was the fried octopus, lobster, chicken & shrimp tacos, Churrasco steak, croquetas, pasta and more. We were lucky enough to have the first floor to ourselves for the majority of our meal but nonetheless, the service was great and we felt beyond satisfied by the end of our trip.
Casa De Lilliam
This is one of those Paladares I was telling you about, ran by Lilliam herself, this is one place that cannot be missed on your visit to Havana. Lilliam not only cooks all the food but has transformed her home with her family into a beautiful space with a majestic garden, live piano music and the chance for visitors to experience more than just a meal as they are allowed to step into her home and appreciate the delicate details and décor of this Paladar that has been in business for decades. Not going to lie, I had the best Paella ever at this gem, every item that came out hot and fresh tasted like Lilliam put all the love she had into it. Both impressive and delicious, be sure to reserve your spot in advance and double-check their hours of operation.
Holy crap. I honestly didn’t think restaurants like this even existed in Cuba. Spiral stairs that lead you up to a beautiful terrace with the option to go even further up the tower like building to a small exclusive bar, greenery surrounding the beautifully lit bars and modern décor leaves you speechless as you make your way to your table. The ambiance of this restaurant alone is enough to make you fall in love but those vibes are paired with unparalleled dishes, leaving your heart and your taste buds happy. Don’t forget to plan your visit ahead of time, this joint stays busy 95% of the time during business hours.
Hotel Ambos Mundos Rooftop
Although I can’t speak too much on the food offered here at the café, the coffee and cocktails are a perfect afternoon or evening cap and the view of Old Havana from the rooftop makes it easy to see why this was Hemingway’s favorite spot to right. Panoramic views of Havana, a cup of café bonbon and a great pastry would be a great addition to your Havana itinerary.
A lot like the last recommendation, this little gem is not exactly known for its cuisine but it is hailed as the best cup of coffee in Cuba! If there was anything close to a Starbuck’s in Cuba as far as popularity and quality, it would be this marvelous Café. Nestled in the center of Plaza Vieja in Havana, the prime location and the first sip will not only guarantee your return to this great space but the complimentary cigar with your coffee will solidify all the great things I’m telling you about this café.
For a quick bite in Havana we stopped at two places on separate occasions but both were more of a fast dining experience and not quite as elegant as the restaurants mentioned above but still just as savory.
El Chanchullero can be found in a little slot in Havana and is hailed by many tourists and travellers as the best “hole in the wall tapas bar” in Havana. It’s layout includes several floors, a sun deck and funky art and quotes all along the walls. Along with the great design, the food and cocktails are at an extremely reasonable price and I HAD THE BEST CROQUETAS EVER. PERIOD. Right here at this great little bar.
The least visually pleasing of all my recommendations, this tiny spot is located near some of Havana’s great bars and lounges and is the perfect late night stop after lots of salsa dancing and rum. The owners hail from Santiago, located on the other side of the island and offering a plethora of different cooking styles and flavors in comparison to the same dishes made by Havana natives. This little bar is soccer themed but do not let the size or décor fool you, I have some amazing ropa vieja in my day but none as good as the one we enjoyed here. If you happen to walk past here or see your taxi passing it up, give it a try.