Before you take a bite out of this post, on where to eat in Cuba, make sure you’ve read my first instalment – on where we went, how we got there and where we stayed – and then get stuck right in. Point to note: you may not want to read ahead if you’re feeling hungry. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Food was a big concern when we went on our recent trip to Cuba. I won’t lie; food is always a top priority for me, and eating out is always one of my holiday highlights. So when people told me that Cuba wasn’t renowned for its food, and that we’d find it hard to find nice food, well, it was like waving a red flag at a bull – I was absolutely determined to find the best eateries on the island, and prove them all wrong!
What to eat in Cuba at breakfast time
Aside from the couple of days we spent in Varadero – which, honestly, I wouldn’t recommend; you may as well go to Marbs – we ate our breakfasts in our Cuban casas (our accommodation was provided by Homestay).
Brekkie was a combination of things, usually including: eggs, cold cuts of meat (ham, mostly), fresh tropical fruit, coffee with warm milk, bread and these incredibly sweet little Cuban cakes that I could not get enough of. (Himself thought they were too sweet, so I ended up eating his, too.)
It varied from casa to casa: in Trinidad, we got crusty French bread and slices of avocado; in Havana, it was papaya, toasted ham and cheese sambos and those teeny tiny cakes. But at €5 a pop, it was incredibly good value and seriously delicious.
What to eat in Cuba for lunch – and dinner
We love ourselves, so we tended not to differentiate between lunch and dinner venues. What can I say? We have a love of fine dining. Okay, so it’s probably mostly me – Stephen would tend to have a big lunch and declare that we should just “have something small” for dinner, but that goes against everything I believe in, so we ate in nice restaurants for both of our main meals (whatever, I believe in having two main meals and that’s that).
A point to note here: cost. We spoke to a lot of people who declared that they’d eaten really badly in Cuba, and hated everything they’d tried – but in the same breath they’d tell us that the restaurants were incredible value, at €15 for three courses.
We didn’t eat in any such bargainous restaurants; we went by recommendations from friends or guidebooks, and most of our meals – for two courses each, plus coffees and two or three cocktails – came to around €60. There was one place (in which we ate twice) that set us back €120 a go. And it was soooo worth it.
So – where did we eat in Cuba?
On day one, our casa host Jorge told us to head to Biky, just around the corner from his house, for our lunch – so I did what any self-respecting blogger would do, and ordered lobster. For lunch. (I told you – I love myself!)
It was seriously delish, and at around €14, a bit of a bargain. We didn’t head back to Biky again, but not fro any reason other than that the ambience is slightly lacking. It has a bit of a cafeteria vibe, but don’t let that stop you because the food was delish. There’s also a bakery next door that (sadly) I didn’t have the opportunity to try.
Also in Havana, in the same area – Vedado – is Cafe Laurent, a paladar (essentially, a private restaurant, not state-run) located on the top floor of a Vedado apartment block. You’ll be led up by an elevator operator, which feels very old-school and faaaancy (read that in a New Jersey accent please). If you can, ask for a seat at the balcony bar, where this will be your view.
We ate here twice; on one occasion, I had the barbecue chicken (below), which was sweet and smoky and fell off the bone. That was also the night our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, and we ordered several side dishes including the black beans (unbelievable), fried plantain (also delish) and fried potatoes (which were, essentially, McCain’s oven fries, and worth avoiding).
The highlight of our time in Havana was La Guarida, the €120-for-two restaurant I told you about earlier. It was, hands down, the best restaurant I’ve ever eaten in, in Cuba or otherwise. Everyone you ask about it will tell you that the famous Cuban film, Fresa y Chocolate, was filmed there (they’re very proud).
It’s located on the third and fourth floors of a crumbling Cuban mansion – and if you didn’t know it was there, you would never stumble across it. You enter through a ramshackle doorway on to a street, and you’ll walk upstairs past people watching the Cuban equivalent of the telenovela inside their tiny apartments. It’s an odd juxtaposition, but if you can get over your first-world guilt, the food will soon make you forget all about it.
Highlights: the tuna tartar (above) and the smoked marlin tacos (below), which we had for starters on our second visit. The calamari was incredible (on our first visit), and I had a kind of ravioli starter with truffle that melted in the mouth… Unfortunately, these two were the only ones we managed to photograph, because we’re pigs.
They have an indoor restaurant, but the terrace is the best thing about La Guarida, and if you can, I’d try really hard to get a seat there. You can watch the sun set – and there’s something distinctly Cuban about eating Michelin-star-worthy food while gazing upon the ruined facades all around you.
An honorary mention must go to the Hotel Ambos Mundos, which is where Hemingway had his residence when he lived in Havana. We had a lovely afternoon listening to live music in the open rooftop bar, eating pork (with fried plantains because they are amazing and I wish they came with everything) and sipping mojitos.
It wasn’t the best meal we had in Cuba by any stretch, but it was pretty nice, and the hotel is worth seeing.
In Trinidad, we went to Museo 1514, on the recommendation of friends, and it was the most impressive restaurant of any we saw – in terms of décor and presentation.
It was mixed reviews on TripAdvisor, but we loved it; it’s essentially like someone found a really old mansion full of amazing, mismatched crockery, and set every table up as beautifully as they could – and opened a restaurant. In fact, I’m sure that’s what someone did do!
Check out my fresh fruit salad, which I ordered as a starter – I just couldn’t get enough of that tropical fruit…
Here’s our place setting; other tables had different crockery sets, and when you went inside to the bathroom, it was like a preserved early 20th-century washroom, with super chintzy shower curtains and towels.
We also ate at San Cristobal in Havana, which was very good – which, as locals will tell you, was good enough for OBAMA HIMSELF to eat at when he visited. I ordered the lamb, which was incredible, and after dinner they gave us complimentary Cuban cigars, which we took home to do God knows what with. (We just didn’t take any photographs; with no internet, we frequently left our casas without cameras or phones, which now seems like a shame but at the time was wonderfully liberating.)
It would be remiss of me not to mention the insanely delicious meal we had at Hostal Ana – our Trinidad host’s house – on a whim, when we figured, why not try out this casa cooking we’ve heard so much about? She cooked up a storm of fresh pea soup, white fish in onions (which I have since tried – and failed – to replicate) and home-made ice-cream for us, and it was amazing.
I think it set us back €15 each, so if you’re on a budget, I’d highly recommend trying your home-cooked in-casa meals, rather than spending €15 on a backpackers’ buffet.
Have you been to Cuba? Let me know if you loved – or loathed – the food! And stay tuned for part 3 in my Cuba series: what to do in Trinidad and Havana.