If you ever thought the Cuban diet consisted of variations of meat and fish with the accompaniment of rice and beans, well think again for Havana has been engulfed with a spate of Paladares.
These privately owned restaurants offer an exquisite array of cuisine in homely but atmospheric surrounds with excellent service and attention to detail.
The opening of the Paladares has been quoted as being one of the emblems of the economic reform programme that Raul Castro instigated in 2010. Paladares had been opened all over Cuba but nowhere else as swanky as you will find in the alluring 1950’s stylised capital, Havana.
Paladares can be quite homely family outlets where a room in a house has been turned into an eaterie or they can be more expansive and stylish being housed in one of the beautifully dilapidated mansions present in the city. Either way, the food scene in Havana is most definitely up and coming and a million miles away from its former past.
I therefore found it only appropriate that I should try a bunch of cherry-picked Paladares to sample the revolutionised food being served in glorious mansions with a romantic ambience that only candlelight can shape.
This is hands down my absolute favourite restaurant and roof-top bar in Havana. La Guarida is the first paladar we dined in Havana and lets just say the bar had been set, set very high!!
The building itself blends in quite nicely with the surroundings however, once you are through the tall front doors, you will immediately learn the meaning of first impressions really do matter and this was most certainly the case for me as La Guarida made such an impression that I can still not stop raving about it. There is a huge painting of Fidel Castro on the ground and as you climb up the palatial staircase up to the second floor to the restaurant, you will see that La Guarida is a fine example of a Paladar as the building itself has other tenants residing in the rooms and flats below and to the side of the restaurant.
We were lucky enough to get a table on the balcony on a balmy evening and enjoyed the classic Mojitos along with our choice of food from the a la carte menu.
Our starters consisted of eggplant caviar on tomato coulis and tuna, sesame seeds, vinaigrette with a chilli salad.
Moving onto our mains, Grilled Mahi Mahi with sweet potato chips, spinach and vinaigrette and grilled tuna with a side of black beans.
Post dinner we headed up to the roof-top bar to enjoy the live music with decks being spun by a local DJ and the Mojitos kept on coming.
If you pay La Guarida a visit, ensure to visit the ladies/boys room as lets just say it’s as classy as the rest of the joint!
Just ensure you make reservations for an evening meal either via your hotel concierge or emailing in advance. You will be asked to confirm your reservation 24 hours before also.
Oh and before I forget, Madonna has spent an evening at La Guarida and Beyoncé even celebrated a birthday at this upmarket establishment. So with an A-list patronage, you never know who you may bump into!
Concordia. No. 418
Gervasio y Escobar
Tel +53 7 8669047
This Paladar is just around the corner from the famous Hotel Nationale de Cuba, so if you’re staying there, you can almost stumble home by foot!
We arrived at a small apartment building in a taxi and were guided into the building and asked to get into quite a kitch-decorated lift. Within seconds we arrived at the penthouse and it was obvious to see that this was most definitely a residential building with a beautiful family run paladar located on the top floor. Café Laurent specialises in Mediterranean food and is quite the chic, professional restaurant, which is evident from the moment you step out of the lift.
The vibe is very 1950s old Havana with newspapers and 1950s dated advertisements covering the interior of the lift and the back wall of the restaurant, but the place also oozes a bit of the key west style of a bygone Miami.
Café Laurent’s Cuban head chef, Dayron Aviles Alfonson has previously worked in San Sebastián and Buenos Aires and has fused a perfect Spanish-Basque menu for diners. In my opinion, the food is excellent and the resident bar-tender makes a pretty mean mojito!
Our starters included potato and crab meat croquettes with a prawn cocktail sauce and vegetable tempura with fresh tomato sauce.
Mains were pretty delicious with Dr C selecting the very manly slow cooked lamb stew with red wine and I had the Sea Bass casserole with cheese risotto.
Concordia. No. 418
Gervasio y Escobar
Tel +53 7 8669047
OK, lets get the name dropping out of the way! The former president of the United States, Barak Obama has dined here! Enough said, lets move on swiftly….
San Cristóbel is named after its very talented chef, Carlos Cristóbal Márquez Valdés whose cuisine interest is predominantly Cuban-Creole. Think lots of melanga, lobster, fresh fish, and shrimp.
San Cristóbal is located in a former ground floor 20th century mansion and is decorated in quite an eclectic, cluttered kind of way with old clocks, books artefacts, black and white photos, religious artefacts, clocks with beautiful old antique furniture.
Now this is one place that the wine is quite reasonably priced too! Additionally at the end of your meal you are treated to a shot of aged rum and a cigar of your choice from the big brown cigar box!
I know you’re dying to see what we noshed on so here goes… We started we an antipasti platter to share between us and proceeded with mains being a vegetable lasagne with plantain chips and a lamb stew with rice and black beans for Dr C of course!
San Rafael No 469
E Lealtad y Campanario
Tel +53 860-1705
Doña Eutimia is most definitely a traditional Paladar located opposite an artists workshop just off the old Cathedral Square.
The owner, Leticia is the elderly owner of Doña Eutimia and has never been formally trained but bases her traditional Cuban cooking on her mother’s dishes!
The dishes here are basic homestyle cooking, hearty and tasty with the added extra of being very good value. The dishes include shredded meats in a tomato based sauce and lots of plantain!
This is quite a small Paladar with a few seats outside so be prepared to queue if you have not booked, but obviously I would recommend that you do.
Dr C and I decided to share a number of dishes including, black beans with rice, shredded lamb in a spicy red sauce and chickpeas in a spicy red sauce with bread.
Callejon del Chorro # 60-C
Plaza de la Catedral
Tel +53 7 8013332
Despite what the name suggests, it has nothing to do with anything Irish! It’s actually located close to a road named O’Reilys!
O’Reily’s is a coffee house come café on the ground floor with a coffee bean roasting service should you wish to take home some real Cuban coffee. But we headed straight upstairs to the bar and restaurant to experience some Sunday evening laid back vibes accompanied by great food and drinks.
We were shown to a lovely table on the balcony and it seemed a perfect place to sit and listened to the sound of Rumba coming from the streets opposite. This Paladar is actually surrounded by local apartments and it really has that typical Havana vibe about it.
The Paladar does not have a menu! Basically you choose your drink and then you are given an option of two dishes. A meat (lamb and chicken) option and a pescatarian (Mahi Mahi) option! You guessed it Dr C and I were pretty much sorted as he loves his meat and I my fish! Both options are served with mashed potatoes and a salad. This place makes real simple, well cooked dishes, washed down with some traditional rum based drinks!
Sometimes simple really can be the best and this was just what we needed after a couple of days of eating rich dishes! Not that they weren’t delicious!
106 San Juan de Dios
Havana 10100, Cuba
Tel +53 7 8636684
So, technically the next two recommendations are not paladares but they are fantastic café options and are ideal for lunch or just even a drink, snack and to rest your feet after some manic sightseeing. Both have the advantage of outdoor eating and traditional live music all throughout the day.
I have to admit La Bohemia is one of my favourite quick-bit places as I loved the old style arches of the building it was housed in. The food is quite meditteramean based such as hummous, falafel, melanzane alla parmigiana, sandwiches, a variety of fresh cakes, juices, milkshakes and hot drinks.
La Bohemia has a lovely location just off one of the arches on the Plaza Vieja or Old Town Square.
San Ignacio 364
Tel +53 5 4031568
Another lunchtime favourite is Mojito Mojito. A modern restaurant serving a variety of world-wide flavours as well as traditional Cuban. If unlike me you’re not very adventurous then this could be a great choice for you. A lot of the menu is Mediterranean from pasta dishes, greek food and even burgers should you fancy one!
We stuck to traditional Cuban food and sampled the fish croquettes, polished off with jam jar moitos!
Muralla # 166
Entre Cuba y San Ignacio
Tel +53 7 8018187
PALADARES HOT TIPS AND KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
1. Always book in advance
I would strongly advice that you book the Paladares in advance as many of them can only accommodate a few tables and the ones I’ve featured are pretty popular with locals and tourists alike. A lot of them don’t respond to email as the connection is pretty bad out there so it’s a good idea to get the concierge at your hotel to make reservations for you before you arrive in the country or book at least a few days ahead!
2. Have a back-up plan in the form of a dish
It is quite common for a dish to run out and therefore you should be prepared to chose another option. The waiter staff or chef will usually come out and make another suggestion for you.
3. Be prepared to pay in cash
Paladares do not accept credit cards (yes let me say that again, just incase like some friends of mine, you are in shock horror – Paladares DO NOT accept card payment!) as with the majority of Havana, therefore ensure to take enough CUC’s with you. On average 50-100 CUC’s would get you some fantastic drinks and a 3 course dinner
4. Wine is expensive
The Cubans don’t drink wine and therefore as it’s imported, it is naturally quite steeply priced! Bottles can be £50-100 in quite a few of the Paladares. We stuck to rum based drinks as in comparison they are £3-7 in price! After all you are in Cuba, try the local rum!
There you have it, no need to go hungry in Havana with such a fab selection of eateries to visit. I hope my review of these Paladares has you longing to go and sample this different style of dining in Cuban locales. I’m always happy to answer any questions or provide further information, so don’t be shy and leave me a comment in the box below.
We’ve got the Havana eateries sorted but if you’re wandering about the drinks then have a read of Havana’s finest Mojito haunts.
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