Havana, Cuba’s capital city, is known for its iconic American cars, cigars and mojitos. But what the average tourist to Havana often misses is the real Cuban cuisine and culture of the city.
It can be a little hard to find the good restaurants of Havana. They aren’t easily spotted and Havana harbours a great divide between tourists and Habaneros (Havana residents) at almost every level.
With two currencies and significantly low wages, Habaneros cannot afford to eat in western restaurants aimed at tourists, and so the two worlds seem to co-exist on almost every level.
Moreover, while its cobbled colonial streets are almost always bustling with energy and life, the sweet-smelling churro stalls and sandwich holes-in-the-wall that line the streets are clearly not the best or most authentic cuisine this city has to offer.
Cuban food is typically homely and homemade, usually a combination of roast pork and rice, with yuca or sweet potato on the side, but many tourist restaurants do not sell homemade Cuban food. Real Habanero restaurants serve affordable local food and offer some of the most authentic Cuban food you will experience in Havana.
From 2010, the laws in Cuba allowed people to start their own private enterprises, and private restaurants began to open up, also known as paladares. These intimate and local restaurants are the best way to experience Cuban food and culture all at once.
Go with a plan and be sure to visit these four hidden Havana restaurants.
Hidden Havana restaurants
Dona Eutemia, Old Havana
This independently-owned Cuban restaurant serves up classic homemade Creole dishes based on old Cuban recipes passed through the generations, with shredded lamb, seafood and fruits. Everything comes with the usual salad, rice and beans and will leave you feeling satisfied and full. Enjoy a laid back Cuban vibe as you eat that continues even when there is a queue out the door.
Castas y Tal
Castas y Tal was originally located at the top of an apartment block in Vedado, but after its success has relocated to Centro Havana. It’s original intimate dining room could only seat up to eight guests, but today the stylish bistro has lost some of its authenticity, although the food has not. Enjoy an array Spanish-Cuban dishes ranging from a cordero casto (spiced lamb on the bone) to Spanish omelettes, all homemade.
Named after owner and chef Carlos Cristobal Marquez Valdes, this paladar is on the bottom floor of one of Cuba’s romantic 20th-century mansions. Cluttered with artifacts and posters, its interior is a cross between a tiny museum and an eccentric home. Carlos takes Cuban-Creole dishes, including yuca, cerdo asado (pork), fish and shrimp, and gives them his own unique twist with fantastic results.
Located in Suburban Havana, El Carruaje is the brain-child of a former Habana Libre Hotel worker come chef.
Tucked away on a residential street out of the Old Town, you have to know about this place to find it. The house is one of Havana’s magnificent mansions with a pool and restored carriage out the front, and the owners live upstairs with their children. Dine on a Cuban fusion menu, with typical Cuban snacks, such as tamal but with tasty additions you can’t help but love.