When you talk about the cuisine of Cuba, then keep in mind that the cuisine of Cuba is a  combination of the cuisines of Spain, Africa and America as well as Caribbean islands.

Surprisingly for an island so rich in marine life, fish and seafood rarely top the menu – most  seafood is exported. Cuisine is a mix of Spanish and Afro-Caribbean, heavily reliant on rice, beans, chicken and pork. Fresh vegetables are hard to come by, and flavors are limited by the lack of available herbs and spices. Some of the best cooking, and often an illegal lobster or two, is found inpaladares (small, private restaurants). In state-run establishments, service can be painfully slow and sometimes even surly.

National specialties:

  • Soup made of chicken or black beans.
  • Black beans & rice (known locally as Moors and Christians).
  • Chicken or pork with rice, or occasionally french fries.
  • Plantains, baked or fried.
  • Omelettes, often stuffed with meat and/or cheese.

National drinks:

  • Cuban coffee (very strong).
  • Cuban beer (tasty, yet weak).
  • Rum cocktails (especially the daiquiri,mojito and cuba libre).

Legal drinking age: There is no minimum drinking age, but buyers must be at least 16 years old to purchase alcohol.

Tipping:  A 10% gratuity is appreciated.

Havana Restaurants

Al Medina
Oficios #12, La Habana Vieja. Tel: 63-0862.
Located on a restored street in Old Havana, Al Medina serves up Middle Eastern food with a Cuban flair in a beautiful Colonial era mansion. Arab food is served.

Don Cangrejo
Calle 1ra e/ 16 y 18, Miramar. Tel: 24-4169.
Daily 12 noon to 12 midnight. An enjoyable seafood restaurant overlooking the ocean.

El Aljibe
Calle 24 at 7th, Miramar.
For less than $15, diners can choose from a plate of roast chicken con mojo (garlic sauce), roasted fish or combination plate of meat, chicken, rice, beans, salad, bread and house-made dessert. Portions are generous food is both tasty and authentically Cuban. Open noon-11pm. It is a typical Ranch specialized in tradicional food, taste its “Pollo Aljibe”.

El Floridita
Obispo 557 esq. Monserrate, Old Havana (La Habana Vieja). Tels: 63-1063, 63-1111, 63-1060.
Famous Hemingwy haunt and home of the daiquiri serves dinners and blender drinks in a setting that hearkens back to simpler, festive days. The place where he used to be regular while staying in Havana.

El Patio Colonial
Plaza de la Catedral, La Habana Vieja. Tel: 33-8146.
One of Havana’s prettiest courtyard fountains provides a backdrop to this romantic restaurant, located on an a plaza that’s an Old Havana landmark.

El Rancho
Calle 19 y 140, Rpto. Cubanacan, Playa. Tels: 33-9346, 23-5838.
Daily 12 noon to 12:30 am. In an exclusive neighborhood close to one of Fidel’s compounds, the renowned Erasmus watches over one of the country’s top restaurants. Everything about El Rancho is impeccable: the food, the service and the tropical forest setting. Grilled meats and fish take centerstage after warmups of avocado salads, shellfish and Cuban rum cocktails. Ceiling fans spin lazily beneath a grass roof as crickets and birds chirp. Expect to drop $30 to $50 per person. It’s well worth it. (7/00)

El Tocororo
Calle 18 No. 302, esq. 3rd, Miramar. Tels: 33-4530, 33-2209.
A restaurant catering to the business crowd with beautiful gardens, impeccable service and tropical cocktails. Expensive by Cuban standards, it was once one of Havana’s best restaurants, though quality has slipped with the departure of longtime chef Erasmus. The fish isn’t as fresh as it used to be, and the kitchen runs out of ingredients. Specialties include the house appetizer, pechitos de camarones, and the grilled lobster entrée. (7/99)

La Bodeguita Del Medio
Calle Empedrado entre Cuba y San Ignacio, La Habana Vieja. Tels: 62-4498, 62-5156.
Home of the mojito  and Cuba’s most famous Creole foods, this world famous and much copied restaurant immortalized by Hemingway has served up classic, home-style Cuban dishes for 50 years. Open daily 11:30am-1am. (Cigar Friendly’s La Bodeguita del Medio webpage)

La Casa de Quinta
y 16, Ave. 5 and 16th, Miramar. Tel: 29-4047.
Cuban-Creole. Open noon-10pm. Closed Sun.

La Finca (La Casa de Erasmo)
Calle 140 y 19, Playa, La Habana. Tel. 208 79 76
Located in a small house in a lush tropical garden setting, La Finca serves world-class Cuban cuisine prepared by Cuba’s top chef, Erasmo. Service is impeccable, drinks are delicious and the menu features meats, fish and shellfish. It’s not inexpensive, but it’s worth the price.

La Mina
Calle Obispo #109, between Oficios and Mercaderes, La Habana Vieja (Old Havana)
Popular Cuban restaurant in Old Havana’s Plaza Armas. Choose indoor seating or outdoor patio for a view of the colorful street life.

Le Select
Calle 28 e/5ta. Y 7ma. Ave., Miramar, Playa; Tel: 24-7410; Fax: 24-4098.
Dine indoors in an air conditioned mansion that was once home to Che Guevara, or poolside in back. The food is old-style French. Our reviewer enjoyed a tasty cold soup of pureed spinach, asparagus and carrot, individually swirled into a colorful arrangement. The broiled fish (pargo) came with a mushroom sauce and was topped with shredded vegetables. (6/98)

Rancho Palco
Calle 140 No. 419, Rpto Cubanacan, Playa. Tels: 28-9346, 23-5838.
Erasmus’s newest restaurant is the talk of the town. We haven’t been there yet, but the Governor of Illinois has.