The recently lifted embargo has left many Americans, myself included, desperate to flock to Cuba’s unchartered lands. I was fortunate enough to get to Cuba before it could be tainted with American products and McDonald’s. For three weeks I spent most of my time eating my way through pork, rice, beans, and did I mention rice?
Here are a few hidden gems to check out if you ever make the trek to Cuba. If you are a gringo like me and not familiar with Cuban food, you can check out some of the classic dishes here.
1. La Bodeguita Del Medio: Havana, Cuba
This is one of Cuba’s most famous restaurants — its’ claim to fame is the mojito. This country staple is topped with Havana Club Rum, muddled limes, mint and sugar.
The birthplace of the mojito makes this restaurant one of Cuba’s biggest tourist destinations for food and nightlife. Famous historical figures and musicians have eaten here, and you may even find their names across the walls of signatures covering the whole building.
2. El Templete: Havana, Cuba
Located across from Havana’s malecon (boardwalk), this restaurant is perfect if you need your seafood fix. I was served various tapas from garlic shrimp to crab stuffed bell peppers, each better than the next. The dishes, influenced by their Spanish chef, are traditional yet modern. Don’t worry—you can walk off all the food you consumed on the boardwalk after.
3. Castas y Tal: Havana, Cuba
I went to this restaurant twice during my three week trip, so clearly I enjoyed it. This restaurant is know for their classic yet spiced up Cuba cuisine. The menu had some of the most creative dishes I had seen throughout Cuba. Not to mention their croquettes were some of the best. That speaks volumes because I tried a lot.
4. La Moraleja: Havana, Cuba
I was a little confused walking into this restaurant, because it looked like we were going into someone’s house. The elaborate decorations and stone walls made for a pub-like feel. However, when we were served I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of food (they even won an award for this!).
The tapas in this photo consisted of smoked pork tamales, fried plantains with curry cream sauce and ham croquettes — they were insane. The family style serving of rice, beans, pork, lobster and ropa vieja made for a perfect tasting of Cuban cuisine.
This restaurant definitely does not skimp on portions here, but hey, I am not complaining. They even give out free cigars after your meal so this restaurant is a must. This article features some of the food we ate here.
#SpoonTip: If you’re confused about what tapas are, you can learn more about them here.
5. El Figauro: Havana, Cuba
Before I tell you where this restaurant is located, let me start by saying that the food is excellent. However, you may find it a bit odd that you have the option to be served in a barber school. Yes, you heard me, a barber school, where they cut and style hair. No, there will not be hair in your food.
You can eat in the outdoor dining or inside, but you are guaranteed to get an innovative meal. After eating rice and beans day in and day out, this restaurant is a pleasant change of pace. Not to mention they have an amazing chocolate and strawberry dessert, which is hard to come by in Cuba.
6. Cafe Laurent: Havana, Cuba
Cafe Laurent is by far one of my favorites in Cuba. After walking into a 1950s-style apartment building and up five flights of stairs, my expectations were very low, and I mean low.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Parisian-style outdoor dining on the roof of this apartment building. If you want rice and beans, then don’t eat here, but if you want amazing steak and seafood, then this is the spot. If you get to Havana, Cafe Laurent should be at the top of your list.
7. La California: Havana, Cuba
This restaurant, run by two former mechanical engineers, has nothing mechanic about it. The food incorporates Cuban cuisine with an Italian flare. Many pizza and pasta dishes can be found on the menu, as well as this arroz amarillo, which is the perfect compliment to any protein.
8. Castropol: Havana, Cuba
I stumbled upon this restaurant, which was a close walk from my hotel along the water. I am glad I found it because it had some of the best pizza I had in Cuba. The cuisine was mostly international, which was hard to find in this city. There are two restaurants located within the building, however, both are reasonably priced and delicious.
9. El Idilio: Havana, Cuba
If you do not have a reservation at this place, expect to wait at least an hour before being seated. This outdoor dining experience with great food makes El Idilio one of Havana’s biggest local and tourist destinations. The open kitchen makes for an authentic feel, not to mention the portion sizes are huge.
10. El Aljibe: Havana, Cuba
At this restaurant, you need to get the rice, beans and all-you-can-eat roasted chicken for 12 CUC (equivalent to $12). You may think this pollo tastes like any old chicken you’ve ever had, but you are wrong.
It tastes like a freshly made rotisserie chicken your mom brought home from the market that you secretly love even though you know it isn’t homemade. Trust me, it is that good.
#SpoonTip: If you want to make your own fried plantains, check out this awesome recipe.
11. El Trofeo: Havana, Cuba
Attached to two other restaurants, El Trofeo is the go-to of the three. These reasonably priced, large portion meals make it a great dinner spot. A huge plate of chicken served with two sides of your choosing for 5.50 CUC (yes that is $5.50) sounds pretty good to me.
Do not skip dessert because this is one of the few places in Cuba with a chocolate mousse cake. Going a few days without a chocolate fix for an aficionado like me is not easy, let me tell you.
12. Mediterraneo Havana: Havana, Cuba
This is one of the top places to eat at in Havana, deemed by Trip Advisor, so it must be good, right? Well, it was, especially since I was craving some good Italian.
I expected fish and feta with a name like Mediterraneo, however, I was thrilled when we got our pizza and pasta Bolognese. The ambiance made it seem like you were at a restaurant on a Greek Island.
13. El Morro: Santiago De Cuba, Cuba
This outdoor dining experience, situated on the water right before a castle, makes for the perfect setting to enjoy a great meal (as seen in the above photo).
El Morro is price-fixed and comes with homemade soup, pork, fish, rice, and (of course) ice cream. The food is great, but it is the view that makes for an even better meal. If you make the 14-hour ride from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, this is definitely a stop you want to make.
14. Resturante 1800: Camaguey, Cuba
This is Camaguey’s number one restaurant to eat at. It is located in one of the main squares and I recommend getting a table outside to enjoy the city. Diners have an option to order off the menu or eat the buffet.
I know buffets are gross, but surprisingly this one is pretty good and has a ton of fresh options, from pasta salads to tamales. If you find your way to Camaguey, you should check this place out.
15. El Cimarron: Havana, Cuba
This restaurant gives you an authentic feel for what Cuba has to offer. Fried plantains and moros y cristianos (rice and beans mixed together) accompany your meal. I had the pineapple chicken, which utilized some of the countries fresh produce, and it was great. The live music fills the restaurant, creating an upbeat, enjoyable atmosphere.
16. Jazz Cafe: Havana, Cuba
Known for some of the best jazz in the country, Jazz Cafe is a go-to spot for all music lovers. Randomly located on top of one of Havana’s main malls, the food is surprisingly good and aesthetically pleasing (as you can see). Don’t be shied away by the location — this is one of Havana’s hidden gems.
17. El Litoral: Havana, Cuba
Right on the Malecon, El Litoral offers great seafood and an innovative salad bar. Since Cuba has a history of food shortages, the salad bar (unlike in the US) never became a phenomena, making El Litoral so unique.
The salad bar ranges from pickled vegetables to pasta salad to cheese and can be eaten as a small plate for an appetizer or a large plate for a main course. If you are not feeling the salad bar (and have time to spare), order the seafood paella. Trust me — it is worth the wait.
18. La Guarida: Havana, Cuba
La Guarida is a fancier dining spot, perfect for celebrating a special occasion. Even power couple Beyonce and Jay-Z came here for their anniversary. The food is delicious, but this restaurant is especially known for its beautiful building, where the hit movie Fresca y Chocolate was filmed. Make sure to check out the amazing roof top bar for drinks and a view before you sit down to eat.
19. El Cocinero: Havana, Cuba
Not your average tourist spot, El Cocinero invites you into a local artist hangout. Although downstairs there is a fancier restaurant, the rooftop is a great place for drinks and tapas. Before or after dinner, make sure to check out the gallery, bar, and concert venue, Fabrica de Arte Cubano, which is next door.
20. Rio Mar: Havana, Cuba
As the name suggests, Rio Mar sits right where the river meets the sea. Their patio, which looks over the water, is a perfect place to dine on fresh seafood. Never in my life have I had lobster tacos — and let me just say, they are killer.
21. Corte del Principe: Havana, Cuba
If you are feeling like a break from rice and beans, Corte del Principe offers an Italian alternative. It may sound weird to eat Italian food in Cuba, but trust me, it is worth it. Owned by an Italian family, Corte del Principe has no menu — they simply bring out what is fresh.
22. Heladeria Coppelia: Havana, Cuba
Okay, yes, I know this is not technically a restaurant, but you can eat ice cream for a meal, right? This is one of Cuba’s most iconic spots and perfect after any of these meals.
Under Fidel Castro’s rule citizens were allowed to get free ice cream at certain times here. Now, there are two separate entrances, one for Cubans and one for tourists.
While there may be only one to two flavors, they are perfectly creamy and comparable to ice cream you would find in the United States. Coppelia adds a little extra touch that makes it that much more special — crushed graham crackers and honey.
Clearly I could go on about ice cream all day (you can read this if you still can’t stop thinking about ice cream), but do yourself a favor and get to Cuba and try it yourself. If these restaurants weren’t enough to convince you that Cuba is your next vacation spot, then I don’t know what will.