Years ago, Cuba's restaurants were mostly government-owned and operated. Quality ingredients were as tough to come for creative chefs, but luckily, things have changed, as many private restaurants have popped up and changed the city’s dining game. And while Havana still isn’t well known for its food scene, there are lots of great meals to be had in Cuba’s capital—if you know where to look.
El Biky is one of Havana's most popular restaurants. It’s located in the residential Vedado neighborhood away from the salesmen looking to entice tourists with restaurant specials.
El Biky has both a casual cafe and a more upscale dining room. The restaurant serves traditional Cuban dishes but may be best known for its international menu and seafood selection. Smoked salmon, piquillo peppers stuffed with tuna, shrimp cocktail, and octopus carpaccio are among El Biky’s specialties.
Café Bohemia is a stylish cafe located in Plaza Vieja in historic Old Havana. This is one of Havana’s more upscale areas, and Café Bohemia fits right in. The cafe is an homage to its owner’s father, Cuban journalist Ricardo Saenz, who was the editor of Bohemia, a Cuban culture magazine. (Its covers adorn the cafe's walls.)
The cafe has both an interior courtyard and an expansive seating area in Plaza Vieja itself. This place is kind of like a Cuban twist on a Le Pain Quotidien. The menu is limited and centered around sandwiches and salads. It's an ideal place for a light breakfast or lunch, and the coffee and juice selections are excellent.
If you’ve never eaten Asian-Cuban fusion, it’s time to start. Jama is part of a burgeoning foodie scene in Havana that perfectly melds the flavors of Cuba and Asia. Favorites include the "I love Tokio," pork fajitas with ginger, rice noodles and sesame sauce, and other menu items include pork belly tacos, gyoza, and sushi rolls. If you’re looking for a highly Instagrammable meal capable of standing its own in even the snobbiest food cities in the world, Jama is where you’ll find it.
Café Brown is a neighborhood favorite in Vedado. At Café Brown, the day's menu is written on a chalkboard and typically features a selection of sandwiches and many chicken and fish dishes. Do try the lobster if it’s on the menu and the ceviche either way—and don’t skip the cocktails. You'll also find a more extensive vegetarian selection than in most Havana restaurants, with several dishes served tapas-style, as well.
This upscale lounge overlooks Plaza Vieja, one of the main squares in Old Havana. The space is stylish and its drinks are designed for Instagram. Menu items include a variety of Cuban sandwiches and a wide selection of tapas to build into a hearty meal. Prices are higher than average in Havana, but the view from lunch or dinner may just be worth it. Do check out the daily specials and try the taro fritters, tostones, and frozen daiquiris.
La Guarida may be Havana's best-known paladar. This private restaurant first opened its doors in 1996 and has since served the likes of Jack Nicholson, Steven Spielberg, Sting, and Naomi Campbell. As the epitome of fine dining in Havana, La Guarida is an oasis along a shabby central Havana Street. It sits on the second floor of what was once an opulent mansion. Menu items include sliced steak, oxtail risotto, suckling pig, and lamb tikka masala. Reservations are a must.
Havana is most definitely not a vegan paradise. Most menus are centered around meat, but El Café is one that better caters to herbivore travelers.
El Café serves breakfast all day and a variety of sandwiches, making it the ideal spot for a quick breakfast or lunch. Menu items include American style pancakes, a pulled pork sandwich with yuca, greens and orange marmalade, and a hummus and veggie sandwich.
Ivan Chef Justo
This is one you'll have to look for. This restaurant is located near the Museum of the Revolution in Old Havana, but it can be tricky to find. Ivan Chef Justo occupies the second and third floors of a centuries-old building in the heart of Old Havana. The restaurant is made up of a collection of intimate dining rooms and also has one of the best rooftops in Havana. Menu items include baby lamb ribs, a number of fish and chicken dishes. The suckling pig and lobster dishes also regularly earn rave reviews.
San Cristobal Paladar
San Cristobal is a quirky eatery whose walls are sure to keep you entertained through even the longest of lazy meals. The restaurant is home to a quirky art collection meant to conjure up images of 1950s Havana, a time when Cuba was at its peak, and movie stars made it a point to visit. This is a place where you'll find piles of old books stacked on antique furniture and more than a few windows into Cuba’s past. Menu items include a variety of fresh salads, vegetarian pasta, and meat dishes, including the Havana Temptation, strips of steak with a special sauce, and fried bananas. An imaginative dessert menu goes far beyond the traditional flan.
For a meal with an ocean view in a location with a story, head straight to Casa Mia. Casa Mia is located just across the road from El Malecon, the Havana waterfront. The restaurant owners were raised in the house and have since converted the property into a restaurant where meals are served with sea views. Menu items include octopus carpaccio, pork ribs in barbecue sauce and smoked pork sirloin in tropical fruit sauce. Seafood is a specialty, and the sunsets can be spectacular.