Havana's secret restaurants
Here are our top 10 to try in Havana…
The top 10 paladares
You’ll have to climb three flights of steep stairs in semi-darkness to reach the most famous paladar in Cuba, but it’s worth it when you reach the open kitchen and converted apartment. A celeb haunt thanks to its starring role in Cuban blockbuster film Fresa y Chocolate, La Guarida serves decadent cuisine in candlelit surroundings. Feast on Cuban favourites ceviche and gazpacho, followed by fresh red snapper in a zingy sauce, all accompanied by fine wines. Be sure to take a taxi and book ahead.
Concordia No.418 /Gervasio y Escobar, Havana
Tel: 53 7866 9047 www.laguarida.com/en
By Kathy McLeman
A welcome change from the mainstay of state-run restaurants, paladares are eateries run by self-employed Cubans – often from their homes or in cosy buildings on cobbled streets. These ‘private home restaurants’ were legalised by Castro's Communist government in the mid-1990s to make money from tourists in a time of economic crisis, but they flourished far
more than he’d guessed. The solution was to tax them to the hilt, ban the serving of beef and premium seafood, and pretend they didn’t exist. But, by late 2010, a new wave of paladares had burst onto the Havana scene – from the authentic family set-ups to stylish new venues – featuring those ‘banned’ dishes and much more. They’re now the best dining options for tourists in the know and give a real Cuban feel and flavour (and that’s more than just beans and rice!).
Set within a walled garden decorated with fountains, Paladar La Fontana has been serving contemporary Cuban cuisine since 1995. The extensive new menu includes Chef’s specials prepared daily with fresh produce from organic vegetable markets or the restaurant’s own patch, as well as old favourites. Sample hot and cold starters, pasta and rice (including paella) and an array of grills, from lobster to churrasco. There’s also a serene bar and lounge to chill out in, with celebrity guests including Jay-Z and Beyonce.
3ra. A Ave. & 46, Miramar, Havana
Tel: 537 202 8337 www.lafontanahavana.info
A Cocina de Lilliam
The biggest rival to La Guarida, A Cocina de Lilliam is a family-run paladar in a tropical garden filled with fountains, ponds and caged birds. Serving home-cooked modern Cuban cuisine from a tried-and-tested menu to tourists and well-known personalities like former US president Jimmy Carter, dishes are ever-changing so no two experiences here are ever the same. Only open from Tuesday to Saturday, so be sure to reserve a table in advance.
Calle 48 No 1311 entre 13 y 15, Almendares, Havana
Tel: (537) 209 6514 or (535) 292 5754 www.lacocinadelilliam.com
Only a few minutes by taxi from the centre of Havana, Dona Carmela is one of the smallest paladares. Set within a picturesque walled garden near the fort, it is a hidden gem with an atmospheric outdoor area. Specialising in fresh seafood, all mains are complemented by authentic side dishes like black beans and rice. Check opening times and book ahead, and set aside an evening to linger over your dinner here.
Comunidad No 1, Casa 10, Morro-Cabana, Habana del Este
Tel: 07 863 6048
Run by three generations of the Robaina family in a California-style house serving authentic Cuban food, La Casa also serves an array of international dishes, such as Spanish tapas, pasta and Greek moussaka. The weekly Japanese night on a Thursday is a great experience, while wonderful wines and cocktails are also on offer. Ask for the table where Matt Dillon and Diego Maradona have eaten.
Calle 30 No 865 e/26 and 41, Nuevo Vedado, Havana
Tel: 537 881 7000 www.restaurantelacasacuba.com
Sit back in the living room of this family home and sip a Mojito while lounging in comfy chairs, before heading to the Art-Deco-style dining room. In the heart of Miramar, Esperanza serves a range of international dishes, local cuisine and a house speciality of tender pork stew. The intimate atmosphere caters for up to 20 guests and offers great service. As always, reserve in advance!
Calle 16 #105, Entre 1ra and 3ra, Miramar (Between First and Third), Havana
Tel: 53 202 4361
Cuban Creole cuisine is the order of the day at this new-breed paladar named after its inspired owner, Carlos Cristóbal Márquez Valdés. Seat yourself on the sunny patio or in the cosily cluttered art-nouveau 20th-century mansion and sample flavoursome traditional malanga, yucca, cerdo asado (roast pork), lobster, fresh fish and shrimp. Find an accompaniment from the wine list and finish off with a taste of the dessert menu.
Calle San Rafael No 469, between Lealtad and Campanario, central Havana
Tel: 537 860 1705
Unlike many of Havana’s paladares, Café Laurent is a stylish restaurant rather than a home-style family-run affair, but it’s no surprise that it still takes some effort to find. Take a small antique lift up to the penthouse with its 1950s feel, and be tempted by the Spanish Basque-based menu - red snapper with clams and shrimp, meatballs and salads, and tasty Sunday specials.
Calle M No 257, between Calles 19 and 21, Vedado
Tel: 537 831 2090 www.cafelaurentcuba.com
Run by the passionate Niuris Higueras and experienced chef Enrique, Atelier is a modern paladar with a retro feel and a daily-changing menu. The eclectic array of dishes includes falafels, duck confit, sirloin steak with shrimp and celery mousse, and rabbit in wine, to name but a few. Desserts are authentically Cuban and, on sunny days, the cosy cushion-filled balconies are great places to dine.
Calle 5, between Paseo y Calle 2, Vedado, Havana
Tel: 537 836 2025 www.atelier-cuba.com
Ironically located opposite the state restaurant on Cathedral Square, this charming paladar owes its appeal to its elderly owner and the traditional Cuban menu of her mother’s home-cooked food. Take your time to dip into totally authentic dishes that are never reinvented, from shredded steak in tomato sauce to octopus and pork, rice and beans. There’s often a queue but it’s worth the wait!
Callejón del Chorro No 60c, Plaza de la Catedral, Old Havana
Tel: 537 861 1332