Cuban cuisine has changed little over the last 45 years due to all the government-run restaurants coupled with severe food shortages on the island. The cuisine is a unique blend of ingredients and cooking techniques of Spanish, African, Portuguese, and Caribbean cuisines, with some Chinese influence as well. Cuba's complex history and its abundance of wide-ranging natural resources has brought together many varied elements to create a distinctive Cuban Cuisine.
In Cuban cuisine the most common spices used in cooking are cumin, garlic,cayenne, Coriander (Cilantro) oregano and laurel or bay leaves. Typical foods include black beans, white rice, yellow rice, citrus marinades, garlic, and fried sliced banana (plantain). Olive oil and garlic marinades are often used as sauces.
Sofrito is also very popular in Cuban cuisine, and is incorporated in a large variety of Cuban dishes. Sofrito is made by sauteing green peppers, onions, garlic, oregano and black pepper in olive oil until they are soft and translucent and the flavors blend together, and then used as a base for beans, stews, rices, and other dishes. Few sauces or heavy, rich creams are seen in Cuban cuisine; in fact, very few dairy products are used at all. The food is wholesome and well-seasoned, but generally not very spicy. Most foods are sautéed or slow-cooked for hours and few foods are deep-fried, other than plantains.
Desserts in Cuba are usually home made ice cream, covered with different sauces, carmel or chocolate, fresh grated coconut or Flan. A wonderful rich egg filled custard covered in carmel that is creamy and very filling. Flan is a famous sweet ending for meals in Cuba. Fresh local fruits will often be offered as dessert or a side dish to a meal. Of course no great meal in Cuba has a real ending unless accompanied with a cup of their famous expresso. It is always the final taste of any meal in Cuba.
But the simple fact remains that Cuba's traditional cuisine is defiantly, deviously fantastic and 100% made up of comfort foods. These recommended restaurants below will be a wonderful places to meet more locals, and dine in some of the most famous places in Havana.
(Casa de los Arabes), Calle Oficios #112, between Obispo and Obrapia. Phone: 863-0862
Al Medina is one of the only Middle Eastern-style restaurants in Havana. They usually have a small but good band playing traditional Cuban music. They serve good seafood and beef shish kabobs as well as hummus, salads and vegetarian dishes. They also have some comida tipica – traditional Cuban food.
Paseo del Prado #563, third floor, between Teniente Rey and Dragones, across from the Capitolio.
The menu is similar to Los Nardos (downstairs) serving traditional Cuban/Creole food with a wide variety of beef, seafood and chicken dishes. The grilled fish is always great and is only $3.50 with your choice of two sides like con gris (black beans and rice cooked together), fried plantainsor sautéed veggies. The portions are huge and the prices are low. If there’s a line at Los Nardos or you are on a budget, try it. You will be pleasantly surprised.
Best food on a budget
Calle Cuba #12 on the corner of Peña Pobre. Phone: 860-5670 This is an informal restaurant serving mainly Cuban Creole dishes. They have good roast chicken and the prices are reasonable. It is right near the Avenida del Puerto so there is a view of the bay. Its best feature is that it’s open 24 hours.
Bodeguita del Medio
Calle Empedrado #207 between Cuba and San Ignacio. Phone: 867-1374
The Bodeguita may be Cuba’s most famous restaurant. It has a long history of interesting clientele including famous writers, actors and politicians from all over the world. The walls are crowded with photos and signatures, adding to the bohemian feel of the place. The food is pricey and not deserving of the all the fuss, but because of its legendary history, we recommend popping in for a Mojito, especially on a first trip to Cuba. The Mojito is said to be invented here and was a favorite of Ernest Hemingway who frequented this spot.
*Café del Oriente
Calle Oficios # 112 corner of Amargura. Phone: 860-6686
This is one of the most elegant restaurants in Havana. They serve a creative variety of Spanish and international fare and there is also a good wine selection. The food is pricey but great, and the décor is absolutely luxurious. Best upscale restaurant
San Ignacio #22, on the corner of Calle Obispo.
Great place to stop for a sandwich and a beer while roaming around Havana Vieja. It has an authentically Cuban feel with a combination of Cuban and foreign patrons. There is always a great band playing traditional music (though with the same repertoire as other Old Havana bands). They don’t have an extensive food and drink menu, but this is still a cute spot to get a taste of the neighborhood and its music. Live Music
Café Taberna (Café Beny Moré)
Calle Mercaderes #531, corner of Teniente Rey. Phone: 861-1637
The food at the Taberna is average, but there is always a great traditional Cuban band playing son and old Beny Moré hits. There is a large dance floor where a Cuban couple is usually performing with the band. Others often get up and join in as well. It gets kind of loud, so this is not the place for a quiet dinner.
Calle Tacón #4, corner of Empedrado. Phone: 860-5979
Good Italian restaurant that serves a wide variety of pizza, spaghetti, lasagna, seafood and beef dishes. The setting is an ornate old colonial building with a center courtyard on the bottom floor and an upstairs dining area with a balcony and view of the bay. The food and wine list is reasonably good and, in combination with the atmosphere, it makes for a nice dining experience.
Calle Obispo #557, corner of Monserrate. Phone: 867-1299 / 867-1300
This famous bar was one of Hemingway’s favorite places to drink. Photos of him with stars like Errol Flynn, Gary Cooper, Ava Gardner, Tennessee Williams and Spencer Tracy cover the walls. It is said to be the birthplace of the daiquiri and they do make really good ones. They serve over 30 flavors of daiquiris at about $8 CUC each. The food is expensive (around $25 per entrée), but it’s good traditional Cuban food in an atmosphere rich with history. This restaurant was Ernest Hemingway's place to drink a daiquiri. This is its home of invention of the original daiquiri and the famous taste we know all over the world.
Calle Teniente Rey (Brasil), corner of Bernaza. Phone: 867-1029
Hanoi serves very inexpensive, reasonable Cuban food. It’s fairly close to the Capitolio and is easily accessible when you are cruising around Old Havana. They have combination plates with meat or seafood, rice, beans and salad for around $5 per plate. This may be the cheapest place to get a meal in all of Havana. Best food on a budget
(La) Lluvia de Oro
Calle Obispo #316, corner of Aguiar. 862-9870
Bar-café with live music, serving snacks and sandwiches, as well as some main dishes like pollo frito. There is often a full cast of characters from the Havana “jinetero” (hustler) scene. It’s an interesting place to stop for drinks and to hear some good music in Old Havana and spacious enough to dance if the music moves you. Live music
*Meson de la Flota
Mercaderes #257, between Amargura y Brasil (Teniente Rey). Phone: 867-3838
This is a great place to go for Spanish tapas and live Flamenco. The prices are reasonable and the sangria and the tapas are excellent. Some very talented Flamenco musicians and dancers perform nightly, often from re-known Cuban Flamenco group, Ecos. It can get a little loud so not a great place for a business dinner or if you want to chat. Best musical dining
Calle Obispo #109, corner of Oficios. Phone: 862-0216
La Mina is right in the thick of things in Old Havana at the end of Obispo near where the booksellers set up in the Plaza de Armas. Okay food for $7 to $10 a plate and good inexpensive cocktails. Mojitos are $2. They always have live traditional music and the outdoor patio in the front makes for good people watching. Colorful back patio with lots of plants and their signature peacocks running around. Open every day until at least 2:00am. Live Music
Paseo del Prado #563, second floor, between Teniente Rey and Dragones. Phone: 863-2985
Los Nardos has a lovely atmosphere and good food, but there’s almost always a huge line. Cubans love this place because of the elegant ambiance, good food and reasonable prices. It’s more crowded on the weekend and after 6:00pm, so if you don’t want to wait, go Monday through Thursday before 6:00pm or at lunchtime. Best food – moderate price
Hotel Sevilla, Calle Trocadero #55, between Prado and Agramonte. Phone: 860-8560
Located on the top floor of the Hotel Sevilla. The creative French-inspired menu and stunning setting make this one of the finest dining options in Havana. The dining area has massively high ceilings with windows lining the walls, marble floors and chandeliers. Entrees range from $15 to $35 and include dishes such as lobster stewed in rum and monkfish in basil-curry sauce.
Best upscale restaurant
*(La) Taberna de Muralla
La Muralla and San Ignacio Streets, Plaza Vieja.
This is the only microbrewery in Havana. The beer is excellent. They serve burgers and kabobs of meat and seafood cooked on an outdoor grill with their signature side of fufú (a Cuban dish of boiled mashed green bananas with garlic sauce). They have a traditional Son group playing live in the courtyard and, since the restaurant opens out onto the plaza, it can be a fun place to people watch. Best musical dining
Avenida del Puerto, corner of Narciso López. Phone: 866 8807
The bayside seafood restaurant, El Templete, is the newest on the list of Havana’s upscale eateries. The menu, prepared by Basque chef Arkaitz Etxarte, is sophisticated with choices like mango duck and tuna Marmitako (a Gallego specialty), accompanied by different tasty little side dishes. The wine list is excellent, mainly French and Italian and they also offer some very special deserts. Try the brownie! Best upscale restaurant
(La) Torre de Marfil
Calle Mercaderes between Oficios and Obrapia. Phone: 867-1038
Good Chinese food for about $12 per person. The décor is simple with a red and black traditional Chinese motif. The food is Cantonese in origin and includes some culinary traditions brought to Cuba by the original Chinese immigrants. The fried egg roles are good and the chicken Tin Pan in peanut sauce is quite tasty.
Concordia #418, between Gervasio and Escobar. Phone: 862-4940, 863-7351
This is one of Cuba’s most well known paladars, mainly because it appeared in several scenes of the famous Cuban film Fresa y Chocolate. You have to climb three flights of run-down, poorly lit stairs to get there, but it’s well worth it. This in-home, private restaurant has great atmosphere and equally good food. Try one of their soups or appetizers to start like ceviche, gazpacho or eggplant caviar. They stock a small but good selection of Spanish and Chilean wines. Best paladar
*Prado y Neptuno
Corner of Paseo del Prado and Neptuno Streets, Central Havana. Phone: 860-9636
This is a nice restaurant with excellent Italian food, a great wine selection and good service. They feature a variety of seafood dishes, pasta and pizza at reasonable prices. Its chic modern interior design and convenient location make it one of the best eateries in town. Best food – moderate price
Calle Jovellar #160, between Espada y San Francisco. Phone: 879-8647
This paladar has good food and authentic charm. The prices are a little higher than some other paladars ($10–12 CUC), but the quality of the food and service is very good.
Chan Li Po
Campanario #45, between Zanja and San José. Phone: 870-3636
Chan Li Po is a good restaurant with Chinese food, seafood and Italian dishes. It is not expensive and has lovely décor, making it a favorite among Cubans. There is always a line at dinner, but it may be worth the wait.
Barrio Chino Boulevard (Cuchillo) #17 between Rayo and San Nicolás. Phone: 671-5478
This is my favorite Chinese restaurant in Havana. They consistently serve a variety of tasty Chinese dishes with lots of fresh garlic and ginger. They have good wok fried noodles, soups and Chop Suey with fresh greens. It’s not the most attractive setting, so if you are looking for a nice Chinese restaurant, you might try Chan Li Po or La Torre de Marfil. But this is the best Chinese food in town. Best food – moderate price
(Los) Tres Chinitos
Dragones between San Nicolás and Manrique
Cubans love this place. On the weekends, there is a line down the block. They serve Cuban food, Chinese food and pizza — big portions of fried rice with lots of jamón and giant pizzas with thick crust. The food is okay and not very expensive. It’s a great place to take a group of Cuban friends. They will like it and it won’t break your budget.
*(El) Abanico de Cristal
Hotel Meliá Cohíba. Paseo between First and Third. Phone: 833-3636
This gourmet restaurant has an elegant design, delicate lighting, and a musical trio in tuxedos who serenade you, adding to the special ambiance of the place. It is a bit formal, but the Cuban and international recipes introduced by respected head chef Giussepe Kindelán are delicious. This is a dining treat for those not on a budget. Best upscale restaurant
(La) Casona de 17
Calle 17 #60, between M and N. Phone: 838-3136 / 835-3117
This giant mansion houses two indoor colonial dining rooms and an outdoor grill restaurant. They serve traditional Cuban Creole-style dishes in large portions that are a good value. Their specialty is arroz con pollo (chicken with rice) for $4 CUC. It takes about 30 minutes but if you have the time, it’s worth the wait.
Calle M, corner of 17. Phone: 832-4671
The name means “little rabbit” but they serve more than just a little rabbit. Take your pick from grilled, baked, fried, a la criolla or al mojo (in gravy or garlic sauce). If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, try the ham or sausage made from yes, little rabbit! They also serve other Cuban dishes, including seafood and pork.
(El) Gringo Viejo
Calle 21 #454, between E and F Phone: 831-1946
This is a reliably good paladar that has been around for years. It’s small and they are quite popular, so make a reservation if you don’t want to wait. It’s a bit more expensive than some other in-home restaurants but worth it for the quality and good service.
Paseo at Third Ave, inside the Galerías de Paseo mall on the third floor. Phone: 838-3302
Havana's Jazz Café is an elegant venue. Some say it’s too elegant for a jazz club, but this is a great place to dine and listen to some of the best jazz musicians in Cuba. You can even catch acts like Ira Kere with Chucho Valdés.There is no offical cover, but there is a $10 minimum consumption charge per person. You can have drinks, a snack or or a late supper. Shows start between 10:00 and 11:00pm. Best musical dining
Calle L #408, between 23 and 25, across from Havana Libre Hotel. Phone: 831-2615
Part of the charm of this paladar is how obvious it is that you are dining in someone’s living room. The décor is outdoor plastic tables and chairs with vinyl table clothes and plastic flowers in cheap vases. Pork is their specialty, although they also serve chicken and fish. The slow roasted pork is a favorite. Main dishes are only $5–$8 CUC and come with a giant portions of con gris (rice and beans cooked together), fried plantains and salad.
Calle 23 #202, corner of O. Phone: 832-0740
El Sophia gets a “thumbs up,” not so much for the food (although they serve a mean medio pollo frito for about $3), but for the topnotch musical entertainment. They feature a traditional Son or Changui band every day from about 2:00pm to midnight. It’s a lively crowd of both foreigners and Cubans. If you just want drinks or want to catch some great music over a very inexpensive Cuban meal, this is the perfect spot!
Best musical dining
Calle 24 at 7th Avenue. Phone: 204-1583 / 204-1584
El Aljibe is one of Havana’s most popular restaurants for tourists and Cubans alike. The food is served all-you-can-eat family style on giant plates with white rice, black beans, fried plantains, French fries and salad. The slow roasted chicken (their house specialty) is $12 per person and comes in a wonderful, slightly sweet and sour garlic mojo that goes well over the rice. Some of the best black beans in town!
Best food – moderate price
Calle 28 #111, between 1st and 3rd Avenues. Phone: 203-4718, 892-2584
Run by a doctor turned restaurateur, this charming parrillada (grill) has a variety of tasty dishes, including tamales with bacon and pineapple, vegetable lasagna and all kinds of seafood. They also serve up some tasty meat, including beef and lamb steaks, and kabobs straight off the large open fire barbeque. Best paladar
Tercera A (Third A) #305, corner of 46th Street. Phone: 202-8337
We recommend this paladar for its décor, the quality of the food, excellent service and reasonable prices. This is a great place for a business lunch or cozy romantic dinner. La Fontana is frequented by local and foreign artists and intellectuals and features a lovely half-open garden with Ranchón style furnishings. This place has class, serves tasty and interesting dishes, and is not too expensive. Best paladar
18th Street between 3rd an 5th Avenues, 204-2209, 202-4530
This was one of the first upscale restaurants in Havana and remains a good option for an elegant dining experience. Their specialty is steak and lobster. They have a great group of musicians every night playing mostly jazz but they do some traditional Cuban numbers too. The Tocororo also houses Havana's only Japanese restaurant, which serves sushi, sashimi and tempura and has a brand new Tapas bar, which has live music until 2:00am. Live music
*(La) Cocina de Lilliam
Calle 48 #1311 between 13th and 15th Avenues. Phone: 209-6514
Lilliam Domínguez has raised the bar for paladares in Havana. She has a stunning garden patio and the service is excellent. The menu varies based on seasonal local ingredients and the food is always delicious and inventive. It is not cheap but well worth the extra money for its quality, freshness, setting and good service.
17th Avenue and 190th Street, Siboney, Playa. Phone: 271-5513
This is a good place to get puerco asado, (pork slow cooked on an open-fire barbeque pit). They feature traditional Cuban food, including pork, fish and chicken with black beans, yucca and platanos. This is also an Italian restaurant with pizza, lasagna and spaghetti. It’s very inexpensive and Cubans love it! Best food on a budget
Calle140 at 19th Avenue. Phone: 208-9346
Situated in a dense tropical garden near the Palacio de Conveniones (Convention Center) and the Hotel Palco, the Rancho Palco is one of the most spacious and beautiful of the thatched hut, ranch-style restaurants in Havana. The food is reasonably good. Beef is their specialty and the prices are moderate. They have live music in the evenings and the overall ambiance is great. Live music
Calle 152 between 3rd y 5th Avenues. Nautico, Playa. Phone: 208-7606
Yasmín is one of the only Middle Eastern-style restaurants in Havana and it is an excellent choice, especially if you are in the mood for something other than rice and beans. The food is prepared with imported ingredients by a Syrian chef. They offer great salads, hummus and babaganoush and the mixed schwarma plate (chicken and steak) is very tasty. You get a lot of food for a reasonable price. It’s out in Nautico though, so it’s pretty far if you aren’t already out that way. Best food on a budget
A Quote from Jose Marti "Charm is a product of the unexpected"
We believe there is a lot of charm in these restaurants as well as all of Cuba.