When Fidel Castro’s brother Raoul took over the country in 2008, he allowed the gradual privatization of hotels and restaurants, forming today’s bed & breakfasts and paladar restaurants.
Consequently, you have two main eating choices: government restaurants and those operated by locals. While the menus tend to be very similar, you’ll find slightly better service at the latter.
What’s on the menu? A traditional dish that I personally loved is ropa vieja, which translated means “old clothes” and features stewed shredded beef with vegetables slow cooked in a pressure cooker. Another popular offering to tourists is lobster. I had this twice and while portions were extremely generous both times I found the seafood to be overcooked and rubbery. Some restaurants might be a hit though!
For drinks, make sure to try Havana Club rum and Mojitos. The best drink makers tend to be tucked away and hidden.
Here are a couple of the most well known restaurants:
Paladar Dona Carmela
My tour guide moonlighted as a night security officer at this not-so-secret celebrity spot. Beyoncé and Jay Z dined here (their picture hangs inside) and the menu focuses on traditional Cuban dishes like roast pork.
This is an incredible spot, located in a crumbling building in Centro Havana. From peeling paint to a grand central staircase you absolutely need to try a meal here, even if prices are slightly higher than elsewhere. The quirky interior, unique menu and incredible city views make this a must try spot!
This gorgeous restaurant has multiple dining rooms both indoor and outdoor and features the classic “steak or lobster” 3 course menu. At the end of the meal, we were treated to Romeo and Juliet cigars, which made for a fun souvenir!
La Fontana Havana
Come here for the local Cuban classics: beans, chorizo, pork chops and more and stay afterwards to dance the night away. La Fontana Havana is known for its excellent drinks and live jazz, making for an unforgettable meal!