The rationing system in Cuba (libreta) determines how much someone is allowed to buy, what they are allotted, and how often they can access the supplies from the local bodega and carnicería. Through the system, the value of resources is determined and subsidized by the government. Outside of the libreta food and supplies can be sourced through free markets, parallel markets, supermarkets, black markets, or connections via other forms of bartering.
For example, prices for drinks are controlled by the government, at most places a bottle of water costs the same as much as a bottle of local beer. Here is a run down of what we ate in chronological order [click here for Havana city entry]:
Casa Particular Srs. Martha Y Ramon
Aguacate 61, bajos
e/ Empedrado y Tejadillo
We arrived in the evening and our first meal was dinner at the casa. We had large shrimps (lobster), chicken soup with noodles, salad, plantain chips, and rice. This is part of the whole Cuban experience, there is nothing more authentic than eating homemade food by the owners of the casa. We enjoyed unwinding from a day of traveling in the private, cozy dining room. The next morning we had breakfast at the casa, which consisted of fruit salad, ham, cheese, rolls with butter, fresh juice, eggs, and tea. Our Spanish skills were lacking, so we couldn’t communicate to the chef that we liked our eggs sunny side up or poached but the fried eggs served its purpose.
Paladar (plural: paladares) is a term used in Cuba to refer to restaurants run by self-employers. Mostly family-run businesses, paladares are fundamentally directed to serve as a counterpart of state run restaurants for tourist seeking for a most vivid interaction with Cuban reality, and looking for homemade Cuban food.
Sociedad Asturianas are state run restaurants.
Blvd. del Barrio Chino, C/Cuchillo No. 17
e/Zanja y San Nicolas
This was our first lunch in Havana, we’ve read about this restaurant while planning our meals and happened to walk by and decided to stop in for some food. This is Chinese cuisine, pretty standard, it wasn’t bad but nothing special. There are plenty of choices on the menu, the prices were relatively high, but it’s justified by the larger portion size. If you’re craving Asian food, this will do, but don’t expect it to be authentic. We didn’t see any Chinese people working there, only other patrons. Our guide told us that there were three hundred men that were brought to Cuba as laborers decades ago (no women), and they have then settled and started families with the locals. Chinatown and the restaurants are here for those people to hold onto their culture and heritage, but of course is influenced by the local flavors and preferences.
Sociedad Asturiana Los Nardos
Paseo de Martí No. 563
This is where we ended up for dinner on Thursday night when we couldn’t get into Doña Eutimia, the restaurant is located across from El Capitolio. We waited for about an hour, you will know that you are at the restaurant by the line on the sidewalk. It was worth the wait, food there was good and affordable. The highlight was the lamb stew, it was served with pieces of bone with rich marrow inside. Our 2nd favorite in Havana.
Paladar Doña Eutimia
Callejon del Chorro No. 60-C
Plaza de la Catedral
537 861 1332
This was our favorite restaurant of the trip, located in the Plaza de la Catedral. We tried to stop by on Thursday evening around 8pm without a reservation but they were fully committed and unable to accommodate us.
To get there, go to the Cathedral Square, stand looking at the main restaurant in the square. There is a small dead end lane as you look to the left. Go down the lane and the restaurant is in the right hand corner next to the art gallery/market (Graphic workshop). Be ware of the solicitors on the street right as you approach the restaurant, they are trying to get you to eat somewhere else. Do not go with them, the place they are taking you to is not Doña Eutimia, they work for the other paladares nearby.
We tried to go again the next day for lunch, and were seated promptly. The restaurant was busy, the waiter who spoke to us the night before recognized us and came over to apologize for having to turn us away. After having our meal there, we understood why they were so popular, the food was delicious: we had the octopus appetizer (served with bread to soak up the garlic oil), pollo asado Doña Eutimia, and ropa vieja del chorro served with chips, salad, rice, and beans. Don’t miss the refreshing frozen mojito. I would’ve happily returned for another meal here during our trip, it was that good. (Bonus: we noted that the every one of the waiters was very good looking).
Paladar la Guarida
Concordia No. 418
e/ Gervasio y Escobar
537 866 9047
This is a must go spot for both sightseeing and dining, it was featured in the movie ” Fresa y Chocolate.” The interior of the building was beautiful, I had the curry seafood boil which was tasty but overall the meal was just okay and quite pricey. The conejo entree and octopus appetizer were not especially memorable. In contrast with Doña Eutimia, all the servers here were Cuban women.
Sociedad Asturiana Castropol
Calle Malecon No. 107
537 861 4864
On our last full day in Havana, we had a snack at Sociedad Asturiana Castropol after we watched the sunset on the Malecón. The location was perfect as it is right on Avenida de Maceo. Our pizza was made to order, we can see the chef making it and placing the pizza into the oven from our table. This would be a nice choice for dinner if we were not already heading to Atelier.
Calle 5ta., No. 511, altos
e/ Paseo y 2
537 836 2025
The food was much better at Atelier (there used to be a club by the same name but its now called the Yellow Submarine) than La Guarida and it’s at the same price point – the menu is hand written so I’m guessing they change the offerings frequently. We had jamón serrano, smoked salmon, paella, and duck. Butter for the bread was heart shaped. We sat on the terrace and looked out over a quiet neighborhood.