A Foodie in Cuba – A Mini Guide to Havana’s Best Restaurants & Bars

When I use the term 3T, I am not referring to that once famed, extended Jackson-clan boy band, who soaked up a fleeting moment of glory in the mid-90s. (If this rings no bells whatsoever, then you are obviously a fair bit younger than I am.)

churrros Havana street foodToday, when I say 3Ts, I refer to Trip Advisor, Travel Blogs and Twitter, three forces that have been instrumental in helping me arrange my recent travel adventures, particularly blogs (not that I’m biased!) Having booked Cuba right at the last minute, planning neurotically was too arduous a strategy so instead, I glimpsed at a few websites and put out a few tweets and these were the bars and restaurants that kept recurring as some of the best in Havana, all of which can be sampled in a three night stay.

La Bodeguita del Medio

In the heart of the old town, this bar is unmissable to most tourists, having gathered itself a reputation for being Hemingway’s favourite spot for a Mojito and one of his most frequented establishments in Havana. Yes, there are almost as many tourists in here as there are Mojitos and if you go in the evening, you’ll have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting a seat but it is worth seeing despite all this to sample this piece of celebrity history and to see whether you agree with the renowned author’s tip off that this really is Havana’s best Mojito.

Hemingway Bar Havana CubaA small informal place with rustic decor, you’ll spot the Mojito glasses already lined up with mint when you walk in. They know it’s what you’ll order. You know it too. The walls are awash with Hemingway paraphernalia and unsurprisingly, expect to pay well above the odds for drinks here. bodeguitaFor those wondering how I fared, the Virgin Mojito was light and refreshing with a pervasive mintiness. Tip – head here in the afternoon to avoid the crowds and bag yourself a seat.Bodeguito del Medio Havana bar

Dona Eutimia

Once your palate tires of mint and rum, you’ll find this new Paladar just a short walk away and if you’re sensible, you’ll book ahead to secure a table. In fact, at the time of publishing this post, this restaurant is currently the number 1 rated Havana restaurant on Trip Advisor.

Paladars (privately run restaurants by the self-employed) are little hubbubs of character, local food and proud owners. And this one has all the ingredients for a successful venture – excellent value, generous portions of traditional Cuban food and an intimate, homely interior.

Apologies for the less-than-ideal photography – the lighting wasn’t ideal and I’m a travel blogger not a food blogger so that’s the excuse I’m going with 😀

frozen mojito Dona Eutimia HavanaWe had grilled fish and chicken, both of which came with plantain chips, a side salad and a large portion of sweet, wholesome black beans with rice. If you find the heat suffocating, the healing hands of the frozen Mojito will resuscitate you.

Paladar La Guarida

A 10-15 minute walk away from the Old Town, this Paladar is clearly-signposted but to avoid missing it, you’ll need to have your wits about you, as it is on the 2nd floor of a derelict building so it may be easy to miss.Paladar La Guarida Havana staircase With some fantastic fish on offer, we went for local specialties including the Mahi Mahi fish with orange sauce and dried Yucca and sweet potato sides.

La Guarida restaurant HavanaThis one is a little more pricey. I had a creamy lemon tart for dessert, which was refreshing in the summer heat, although similar to what I’ve had at home. The “ice cream surprise” that Pumpkin ordered was in fact a scoop served inside fresh pineapple, not entirely the surprise he was hoping for (a giant ice cream sundae!)lemon tart dessert Guarida Havana

El Floridita

El Floridita Bar HavanaIt has been at least a minute since we discussed cocktails and in Cuba, this is one rum-free minute too many. Hemingway indeed had a soft spot for his beloved La Bodeguita when it came to Mojitos but I was much more inclined towards his penchant for this bar, whose name literally translates to “Little Florida”, where he found his favourite Daiquiri.

A dimly-lit, elegant cocktail bar shrouded in scarlet and staffed by waistcoated bar-tenders, this epitomises the sassy and seductive side of Cuba. Rumour has it a world record for the largest Daiquiri ever made took place here. You can also eat in the formal restaurant at the back.El Floridita Habana

Hotel Nacional

Anyone heading to Havana will invariably hear about this historic and opulent hotel, the city’s most famous and the scene of many a Mafia-meeting, Castro speeches and celebrity spots. We decided not to stay here, as it’s actually quite far away from most of Havana’s key attractions but it’s worth a visit to stroll around the glitzy, long lobby and to spot the photos of Castro with Robert Redford. End your visit with a walk through the lobby onto the ground floor gardens, where you can stop off for a drink or snack at the outdoor cafe with an ocean view.hotel nacional Havana The backdrop of the seafront promenade, the Malecon, with colourful vintage cars swiftly crossing your vision could leave you sleepily gazing under the Cuban sun for hours.ocean view Hotel Nacional pink vintage car

Havana’s Street Food

Last year, I told you all of my love of the street food in Rio de Janeiro and whilst this isn’t a restaurant per se, Havana’s road-side cuisine certainly stopped me in my tracks a couple of times. First, we were tapped on the shoulder (as is often the case in Cuba but you just need to be friendly, understanding and polite and you’ll generally be left alone – you can find lots more tips for Cuba here)

The lady in question was carrying a basket full of paper cones with these snacks in them. I wasn’t sure what they were but they looked like thin, fried crispy snacks with a dusting of icing sugar and after a morning of walking around, I was peckish enough to try them out.Cuba Havana street food sweet snacksAnd although I’m not usually one to crave hot snacks in tropical climates, the temptation of these freshly-made Churros was too much to surpass whilst Pumpkin went for the more instinctive option in the midday sun by reaching straight for the street-side ice-cream served in a coconut shell. I must admit I was a little wary about his choice from a hygiene point of view as my street food consumptions are usually limited to hot, cooked dishes but either it was safe to eat or he has a gut of steel but either way, it didn’t seem to do him any harm.

ice cream stall coconut shell Havana

Have you ever visited Havana? What was your impression of the food?

28 thoughts on “A Foodie in Cuba – A Mini Guide to Havana’s Best Restaurants & Bars

  1. I’m the same age as you and I’ve never heard of 3T! The coconut ice cream sounds delicious!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) February 9, 2015 — 1:21 pm

      Haha Ok maybe they weren’t that big in NZ – look them up – they’re Michael Jackson’s nephews but don’t know what on earth happened to them!

  2. Some fab tips here! We had lunch in Bodeguita del Medio – good basic Cuban black beans and rice with chicken. In the Partagas Cigar factory shop is a great little bar – all leather armchairs and smelling of freshly made cigars – where you can sip a Havana Rum in authentic surroundings.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) February 9, 2015 — 1:46 pm

      That sounds wonderful Suzanne! The bar sounds so cosy and homely & I’ll try and remember that tip if I return!

  3. I’m happy to say that I have all of these places on my (extremely long) list of places to try in Havana! The cocktails just sound delicious – I’ll drink your alcoholic share while I’m there for you 😉 Couple of questions – how did you book the table at Dona Eutimia? And do you get a side of black beans and rice with everything you order out there?!

    Love the pic of you and Pumpkin 🙂

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) February 9, 2015 — 1:48 pm

      Yep you pretty much get black beans and rice with everything! We booked just by heading down there the same morning we wanted to go there and just booking I’m person – it’s in the main old town area anyway so quite easy to do! Can’t wait to read your take on Cuba and its food ☺

  4. This is a really useful post – we’re hopefully off to Cuba later this year and was wondering what the food would be like. Can’t wait to try some of these out! x

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) February 9, 2015 — 11:59 pm

      How exciting Keri – I hope you do make it – the food out in Cuba can be quite mixed so these were some of the restaurants that seemed to be well received and that I personally quite liked & there’s certainly no shortage of drinking holes! Look forward to reading your tales of Cuba later on on the year hopefully & thanks so much for reading ☺

  5. The Paladar looks amazing, I’ll definitely use your tips if going to Cuba – and it’s probably the right time to go before it loses any of its unique character

    Suze | LuxuryColumnist

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) February 10, 2015 — 12:01 am

      I think you’re right Suze – I think there’s a real likelihood of the character of the place changing soon now with the easing of US-Cuba relations so worth going sooner rather than later. There are quite a few great Paladars but La Guarida had such a great ambience! Thanks so much for reading ☺

  6. Aah.. Cuba! How I’m eagerly anticipating a trip to exotic Cuba! A daiquiri is my choice of Poison in most cases and how I would love to sit in these bars sipping on one too many! 🙂
    Great post Shikha, as always!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) February 10, 2015 — 12:03 am

      Thank you for the kind words Upasna! Oh if you love daiquiri, you NEED to visit Cuba – it’s just everywhere & practically cheaper than water 😀 It was a fascinating country to visit – so different to anywhere else I’ve visited so I’d highly recommend it one day!

  7. Yummmm!! I love Cuban food (from the few Cuban restaurants I’ve eaten in in Los Angeles). I would love to sit in a cozy bar and sip on a cocktail. That bar/restaurant on top of a derelict old building sounds right up my alley!!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) February 10, 2015 — 12:06 am

      It was a great find Anna – we were so convinced we were on the wrong street and it was such a quirky contrast having this hidden gem of a Paladar hidden inside this derelict building! It’s funny, I had barely ever tried Cuban food till this trip but it was nicer than I was expecting & a lot of it seemed quite wholesome too!

  8. Ah, the post I’d been waiting for! It all looks fab – I love the sound of the Paladars, especially the one in the derelict building! I’m also a massive fan of street food, so this would be my idea of heaven 🙂

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) February 10, 2015 — 12:11 am

      Oh in that case, you’ll love it Emily-Ann! Some of the Paladars (or at least the good ones) serve great authentic Cuban food, some at very reasonable prices too & yes street food especially these churros would be the end of me if I lived out there – I have no discipline to be able to walk past them! Hope you make it there & thank you for reading ☺

  9. Oh my goodness, this looks heavenly, Shikha! I didn’t know too much about the food offering in Cuba, but any place that sells churros as street food is a winner in my books 😉

    Kasha xxx

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) February 10, 2015 — 12:14 am

      Hehe, well I’d read very mixed things before I went Kasha so I was really unsure about whether I’d like the food but like with many places, just a bit of reading and asking around led us to these lovely Paladars with really hearty Cuban meals and yes, the Churros were beyond delicious – have you tried the Greenwich market ones in London? Best ones we’ll find here in England in my opinion! x

  10. Oh my..these all look delicious and the drinks look so refreshing. I can certainly why these places were recommended. I love Cuban food. My favorite bakery in Los Angeles sells the most delicious Cuban desserts and pastries. But, I’m sure eating it pales in comparison to being in Cuba eating the local food especially those churros. I love your version of 3T and so true of who I turn to for travel advice.

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) February 11, 2015 — 5:44 pm

      Actually Mary, apart from the street food snacks, it was the desserts I missed the most out there – the savoury food was great in all these places but I didn’t find any desserts in restaurants that really stood out so if I’m ever in LA, I’ll have to get that bakery name from you! Thanks so much for reading 🙂

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) February 19, 2015 — 8:50 pm

      It sometimes gets a bad rep, the food in Cuba but some of this looks pretty tempting doesn’t it?! I’m guessing you like the sound of the Churros Char? :mrgreen:

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