If you’re headed to Cuba, you’re likely wondering about the food scene in Cuba and if you’ll find any good restaurants. You’re wondering where to eat and drink in Havana, right? Before we left for our trip, we’d heard many versions of the same thing: don’t expect Cuban food to be very good, you’ll likely be disappointed by the food in Cuba, and make sure you take your own spices! I was convinced that we wouldn’t find high caliber restaurants and that I’d be frequently dipping into my personal salt stash.

But, all of that concern was for nothing. In fact, we found amazing restaurants, fantastic food, and a food scene that was alive and flourishing. So, I want to do my part to change the perception that Cuba doesn’t have good food. Cuban food is delicious.

In the past, Cuba’s restaurants were mostly all government-owned and operated, and they had a difficult time sourcing quality ingredients, which led to a lack-luster food situation. Recently (mostly within the last 2-3 years), regulations have eased, allowing chefs to build their own businesses. The change has allowed for more creativity and better quality ingredients in Cuban restaurants. As a result, some incredible food can now be found throughout Cuba, even in casas particulares, like Hostal Casa Vieja, which has opened a glorious al-fresco restaurant on its beautiful roof terrace.

Havana, Cuba, is a fascinating city with a strong culture, a vibrant neighborhood feel and a lot of talented chefs in the making. The restaurant scene in Havana has been burgeoning, as more and more paladares (privately-owned restaurants) have been allowed to take root and flourish.

Want to visit Cuba from the U.S.? Read our extensive guide for Americans visiting Cuba. If you’d like recommendations for where to stay in Havana, see the bottom of this post for suggestions.

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Where to Eat and Drink in Havana

What you’ll find here is an overview of some of the best Cuban restaurants in Havana, along with recommendation for some paladares that we weren’t able to make it to, but know to be fantastic. If you’re wondering where to eat and drink in Havana, Cuba, you can count on us to steer you to the right places! Plus, we never let your eyes go hungry either! After finishing a day of sightseeing around Old Havana, you’ll be ready to dig into these hearty and traditional dishes.

What to Eat in Cuba

There are a few quintessential dishes that you really have to try while you’re in Cuba. These include:

  1. Ropa Vieja — a shredded beef dish simmered in a tomato-based sauce, green peppers and sometimes onions, until it falls apart. Ropa Vieja means “old clothes” in Spanish.
  2. Moros y Cristianos — it’s pretty hard to avoid these dishes, actually. Almost every meal you order will come with a big bowl of both stewed black beans and white rice.
  3. Grilled Lobster – Cuba is well known for lobster for tourists. It’s inexpensive and the portions are large!
  4. Mariquitas or Malanga Chips – The first is plantains, the second is a potato-like vegetable. Both are made into little crisps. We had many of these during our stay. They’re similar to dried banana chips, but not as sweet. They have a nice dry texture and they’re great for snacking.
  5. Tostones – twice fried plaintains, they are usually smashed and fried into little cakes, then deep fried.
  6. Milk flan – The perfect dessert made with sugar, milk and eggs, then covered in slightly caramelized condensed milk, it’s delicious!
  7. Arroz Amarillo con Pollo – Yellow rice with chicken. You’ll get a huge serving!
  8. Cubano sandwich – I want to believe this exists, because I love to eat them at home, but I can’t be sure. Try as we might, we were unable to find one single Cubano sandwich anywhere we went. We even asked tour guides where to get one and they’d never heard of it.

Where to Eat in Havana

These are some of the best restaurants in Havana, Cuba. This is where you’ll find the best food in Havana. You can’t go wrong with any of these places, just make sure you make advanced reservations! Very important if you don’t want to be turned away.

304 O’Reilly

One of our favorite spots for both food and drink is 304 O’Reilly. Located in a converted privately-owned apartment on O’Reilly street, this place is hopping all the time. We were lucky enough to sneak in at 5pm without a reservation, and sat at the bar where we watched the bartender make some very creative typical beach drinks, like mojitos, margaritas, daiquiris and pina coladas. They weren’t your typical boring blended drinks. Lime twirls were expertly draped across the glass and huge handfuls of basil leaves were used as garnish.

Every other time we came back to 304 O’Reilly, the place was packed and reservations only. On Saturday night around 9pm, there was a bouncer at the door not allowing anyone without a reservation near the door. The food was very good, well seasoned, thoughtful. You could sit down for a snack from the bar menu, or eat a full meal in the small downstairs, or upstairs dining area. There’s something about the intimate space, the creative cocktails and the obvious buzz in the room that makes this place unique and awesome.

Cafe Artes de Aguiar

All of the paladares in Havana are located in a personally-owned apartment that either used to be the chef’s house, or still is their house. The space at Cafe de la Artistas is long and narrow, with brick walls and a subdued glow for lighting. One of the biggest draws of this location is the alley in which the restaurant is located. It shares a narrow alleyway with five or six other restaurants, each with their own outdoor dining. It’s a great atmosphere.

The menu has a lot to offer, from snacks to full meals that will leave you so full, you have to roll yourself out of there. We ordered a couple of courses on a special menu they had for Christmas, and got to try a lot of different dishes they had on the menu. Keep in mind that every entree in Cuba comes with a giant bowl of black beans and rice, which are called Moros y Cristianos in Spanish. We ordered the Cuban specialty, Ropa Vieja, and a steamed fish that came with tostones, malanga (a starchy vegetable resembling a potato in texture and taste).

La Guarida

The hauntingly cool stairs that lead up to La Gaurida.
The hauntingly cool stairs that lead up to La Guarida.

One of the coolest experience I had in Havana was when we went for dinner at La Guarida Restaurant. It’s located in a really broken down building (perhaps more so than the others around it), in Centro Habana. There are greeters on the ground floor to let you know you’ve arrived at the right place, otherwise you might just drive on by and never know it. The restaurant is located on the 3rd floor of the ramshackle building, and you must go up the dramatic, winding staircase to get there. It’s such a cool location, that La Guarida just cannot be missed.

The food was more modern and classy than the other restaurants in Havana that we went to. There was less of a focus on traditional Cuban food, and more desire to fulfill the vacant fine dining space in Havana’s food scene. We had a trio of tenderloin with creative sauces like chocolate, blue cheese and chilis.

Ambos Mundos

If you’re looking for a really nice place to have a drink and enjoy some music with a fantastic view, head to Ambos Mundos hotel’s rooftop bar. In the late afternoon, the place is alive with people kicking back on the comfy couches, taking in the sunset and enjoying the occasional live band. Drinks like the classic mojito, Cuba Libre, daiquiris and the Cuban beer, Buchanero are all great choices and all under $4 CUC. Get there early to get a seat with a good view.

Habana 61

The most modern decor that we saw in Havana was in Habana 61. It’s a small restaurant with only about 10 tables and a bar. The glowing green from the Habana 61 sign continues through the narrow restaurant and gives a very modern vibe. This is another place where you should not show up with out a reservation unless you’re prepared to arrive early or wait a while.

We again ordered Ropa Vieja and loved it. This version was more tomatoey and rich than the one we had at Cafe de Artes. We also had a starter of octopus carpaccio that was fantastic. I love octopus when it’s shaved really thin, like that. The other dish we ordered was unmemorable, but the ropa vieja alone was worth the visit!

El Campesino

I’m stretching the definition of this post right now, but it’s worth it. Most visitors to Cuba won’t just hang out the whole time in Havana. They often take side trips to the Cuban countryside, that include the countryside town of Viñales. There are a lot of great paladares in Vinales, and if you’re going there on a day-long excursion, like we did, you will probably be taken to whichever one the tour guide happens to like or know the best. We were very lucky to try El Campesino in Vinales.

A paladar located in the backyard/patio of a private house, El Campesino had a great view of the mountains and fields and served incredible food. We ordered the grilled lobster and the fried chicken. Each entree comes with the usual huge bowl of rice and beans, plus another large plate of a special pineapple rice, a place of vegetables and a starter soup. By the time we finished the meal, we were so full we could hardly stand it. But the food was so good, we couldn’t stop eating. All of this food was only $15 CUC per person. An incredible value.

Where to Drink in Havana

There is a strong drinking culture in Havana. Havana Club Rum is one of Cuba’s major exports and is the best-selling rum of Cuba. You’ll find it served in cocktails across the country. The main drinks to order in Cuba are the typical beach drinks, like mojitos, daiquiris, margaritas, cuba libre, pina colada, havana special… basically anything with rum in it.

Some of the best places to go in Havana for a drink include 304 O’Reilly, El Floridita, La Fabrica de Arte Cuban, Hotel Nacional’s Vista al Golfo, Ambos Mundos and La Farmacia. Mostly every place has the same list of drinks on the menu at roughly the same cost of $3-4 CUC, but what sets these bars apart is the atmosphere.

One last recommendation is to make sure you try a fresh coconut on the beach. Filled with fresh cold coconut milk, the server will let you drink down the milk in order to accommodate as much rum as you’d like. The mixture of fresh coconut milk and rum is divine!

As you can see, we ate well in Havana, and we tried a lot of different foods and drinks. That’s the best way to experience a new city! Have you been to a Havana Cuba restaurant and had a delicious meal? Share your Cuba food experiences with us in the comments.

Want to know where to stay in Havana?

It’s a little difficult for Americans to pre-book hotels in Cuba, due to the restrictions that are still in place. You can find a few sites that will allow you to book with a credit card. We also suggest checking into AirBnB or reserving a casa particulares. Reading reviews for Havana hotels on Trip Advisor will help narrow down your choices.

34 thoughts on “Where to Eat and Drink in Havana, Cuba + Cuban Food to Prder!

  1. Anna @ shenANNAgans says:

    Added all 8 dishes to my must eat before I die list. 🙂 And drinking fresh coconut water from a coconut is awesome, for me it is like saying… You can totally relax right now, you are on holidays. 🙂

  2. Mar says:

    It is funny how, in Spain, arroz cubano is a white rice with tomato sauce and a fried egg on top whereas in Cuba is actually yellow rice with chicken. I guess it’s like when I am out of spain and I see spanish omelets as an omelet with vegetables, which we don’t actually have in spain, we can the regular omelet a french omelet. haha

  3. Vanessa says:

    Milk flan!!! How good does that sound? I love discovering new desserts when I travel so this would be at the top of my list. How were things in terms of fresh fruit?

  4. Christopher says:

    Lots of great choices but I will have to go with Ropa Vieja. I’m glad your shedding some light on this as I also heard that the food was sketchy. Based on the beautiful pictures, it looks tasty. Actually I wanna add to my order…I’ll take a Grilled Lobster, Arroz Amarillo con Pollo, Tostones….

  5. Francesca @onegrloneworld says:

    This guide was FANTASTIC! Thank you so much for all this information. I am in the process of planning my trip to Cuba this year and I was determined to find good food! I heard a lot of horror stories which shocked me because I love “Cuban Food” in the US. Thanks for being honest in the fact that the Cubano sandwich may not exist! Glad to know Ropa Vieja does – it’s my fav! Cheers!

  6. Elaine J Masters says:

    This all looks incredible. I can’t believe that people told you not to expect much good food in Cuba. That climate and rich culture make it so. Not fine dining experiences all but I’ve found local foods, even street food can be astounding.

  7. Rosemary says:

    What a great and fascinating post about the food and drink in Cuba. Really appreciate how exhaustive it is. Wow, had no idea that the food was previously managed by the government. Good thing local chefs can now grow their own produce and prepare their own menus. Nice to read about Cuban rum and how/where to have it. Thanks for sharing!! Really great post:)

  8. Marianne McBay says:

    Thanks! We’re going in December and are so excited! My mother was born there. On the Cubano sandwich…it’s a Key West thing. Lots of Cubans have settled there for many decades and it was a popular sandwich for the workers in the cigar factories that were there. I lived in Key West for a few years:)

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Tiffanie – we stayed in an airbnb (check out our guide for Americans traveling to Cuba for more info). It’s more typical to stay in homestays there than in hotels. They are way cheaper too. There are only a few hotels and they are really expensive and hard to book.

  9. Valerie says:

    Went for a few days, stayed at an Airbnb. Went to the hotel libre were they gave a night club on the last floor. One of the best restaurant we went to was the habana blues. The hostesses are Cuban actors who appear on TV. Very good atmosphere. Vinales was good also, beautiful countryside. We ate at he same place el campasino. Then ther was the beautiful beaches in Varadero. Beautiful blue waters. Food was all fresh and natural no preservatives. About the Cuban sandwiches, after reading your blog had to find out. They do make it but it’s not known as a Cuban sandwich, someone told me the name in Spanish . As someone said the name Cubano sandwich came from the people in Miami.

    • Laura Lynch says:

      Sounds like you had a really great trip, Valerie! You did so many things. I’m glad to hear about the Cuban sandwich. It’s definitely not what we’ve made it out to be in the U.S.

  10. G Isabelle says:

    Hey great post. Just wanted to say that you spelled La Guardia wrong. Sorry! I’m a Cuba-nerd! Hehe.

    Here are my favorite recommendations for Havana. I’ve been there 4+ times and studied there recently. Let me know what you think!

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