Visitors flock to Havana for a lot of things: lively music, art, great rum, world-famous cigars, and amazing urban heritage, to name a few. Americans may go just to experience a society that is so close, but was so off-limits to most for half a century.
Dining isn’t usually one of the draws for a first visit, but invariably is for a second. The restaurant scene in Havana today is hot.
For years, Cuban restaurants had a reputation for poor service, limited choice, and banal (at best) food. Embargos and command economies aren’t a good formula for great dining.
But that was then, and this is now: Cuba’s culinary traditions are amazingly rich and resilient. Today they are resurgent, and Havana is increasingly a showcase for classic and creative Cuban and international food–often in striking settings.
Things began to change in earnest after 2010 when economic reforms created more space for private restaurants, or “paladares” in local parlance. From almost-clandestine-feeling dining spots in private homes and apartments, they have blossomed into a community of over 1,000 restaurants, many surprisingly sophisticated. Experts predict this number to hit 8,000 within a few years.
Cuba’s private restaurants have become the embryo of a more entrepreneurial economy. Some owners are key players in independent, grassroots community projects that are helping transform decrepit streets, and boost opportunities for residents by developing vocational skills. Competition from private eateries has spurred many state-owned restaurants to dramatically improve quality and service.
Havana today is a food destination–a testimony to the ingenuity and passion of a new generation of chefs and owners who navigate complicated supply logistics and an evolving regulatory environment to offer the greatest range of dining options Havana has seen in years. From world-class fine dining and a beautiful wine list at stars like famed La Guarida, to wood-fired pizza and homemade pastas at Bella Ciao, from big popular eateries to jewel-box restaurants like Doña Eutimia, from sushi to Russian cuisine, dining in Havana has become an experience to savor.
But the landscape is uneven, and evolving. Experiencing the very best–whether you’re looking for atmosphere or food, or both–takes some understanding of the scene. It also takes some planning, as the number of visitors balloons and reservations fill up.
On HavanaInsider.com, we want to share our take on the very best restaurants in Havana–all places we have visited multiple times. Below are the top ten restaurants in Havana selected by us that you should definitely try out.
Check out our Top 10:
1. La Guarida
2. El Cocinero
3. La Terraza
4. O’Reilly 304
5. Ivan & Justo
6. El Templete
9. Doña Eutimia
10. Nazdarovie (tied)
10. La Esperanza (tied)
10. El Aljibe (tied)
Each month we’ll update you on the best new entrants on the dynamic Havana restaurant scene. Please let us know if you come across a great new player–or have an experience that is off-key you want to share.