Alejandro Gonzalez

Individual-owned restaurants in Cuba with creative and delicious fare. 

August 14, 2015

Embassies are reopened, non-stop flights have been added from JFK, and overnight cruises are in the works from Miami, but for many travelers, the true taste of a culture comes from enjoying its food. Though Cuba can’t boast Michelin stars, there’s more than rice and beans to the Havana dining scene. The most creative places to eat are paladars, which are owned by individuals (as opposed to the government-owned restaurants). Here are three excellent choices in the capital city.

Climb a flight of stairs to the aptly named Atelier (above) and emerge into a light-filled, terrace-surrounded dining room with walls adorned with black and white photographs by Cuban artist Rene Peña. The terraces afford views over the largely residential Vedado neighborhood (a few minutes by car from Hotel Nacional) but don’t let the antique typewriters that line their edges fool you: the menu is handwritten daily, including classic ropa vieja and plenty of fresh seafood options to unexpected choices like a terrific carpaccio of tomatoes and Parmesan, and duck confit. An island breeze wafts through open windows and doors, encouraging you to linger, Latin-style, over another mojito or strong coffee. Calle 5, between Paseo y Calle 2, Vedado, +537 836 2025

On two levels in the heart of old city is the exuberant El Chanchullero, an affordable tapas-style restaurant. The handwritten menu also offers large dishes like chicken, fish and shrimp dishes, all accompanied by salad and bread, served by an engaging and entertaining staff who become your surrogate Cuban friends, happy to talk about Cuba and their culture. Perhaps more impressive, the entire restaurant operates on just four burners with one fridge for beer and the other for ingredients, in an open kitchen the size of a small pantry. 457 Lt. Rey (Plaza del Christo), +53 7 8610915

Havana is filled with crumbling, colorful facades of 20th-century buildings—largely still inhabited—vestiges of its Spanish colonial heritage. A few blocks past Galiano, once known as Havana’s Fifth Ave, step inside one, the setting for the 1995 Oscar-nominated Cuban film Fresa y chocolate. On the third floor you’ll find La Guarida, which opened in 1996. Fitting for a still-residential building (you might pass neighbors on the stairs), the dining rooms are scattered throughout several rooms, and late reservations might miss out on daily specials like ceviche or freshly caught fish. In comparison to the rest of the island, there’s a fairly worldly wine list to quench your thirst. 418 Concordia, +53 78669047

More good reads from T+L:
Travel to Cuba: What You Need to Know
American Travel in Cuba: A Timeline
Carnival Cruises Will Offer Voyages to Cuba

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