Top 5 Restaurants in Havana

 

There’s a different kind of revolution brewing in Cuba and unlike its infamous 1959 counterpart, this one brings a lot more “candela.”

Since the Cuban government has issued licenses for small privately owned businesses like paladares (restaurants), the rise of young entrepreneurial Cuban chiefs has left Havana’s dining scene growing faster than Che’s facial hair.

And since the world has seemed to suddenly remember the biggest island in the Caribbean still exists, tourists are wandering data-less and clueless around the streets of La Habana Vieja or El Vedado hungry.   

So let us help you find where you can find the best cuisine in the islands capital.

Santy Pescador  (Miramar, Habana)

Famous for hosting tourists and locals alike, Santy Pescador overlooks Rio Jaimanitas and boosts a twist on traditional Cuban seafood – sushi.   And if you are lucky enough to visit Havana during tuna season, you cannot pass anything Santy Pescador makes with tuna. An incredibly laid-back atmosphere with great views of the sea and marina is a great way to spend lunch or dinner in Havana.  (Mari’s Pro Tip: Santy Pescador is a bit outside center Habana but a few streets down is Fusterlandia, a MUST SEE for anyone interested in local beautiful art.   Fusterlandia is an entire neighborhood dedicated to eccentric Cuban art by artist Jose Fuster.   If you decide to go, I’d suggest to arrive after all the tour busses and crowds leave around 2pm-3pm).

El Del Frente (La Habana Vieja)

Tucked away by the overly flamboyant streets of La Habana Vieja is one of the best Cuban restaurants in the touristy neighborhood. El Del Frente is on O’Reily and Aguilar and on the top floors of the building with a beautiful rooftop terrace.  Enjoy amazing Cuban cuisine and finely made cocktails in a very unique setting.

El Chanchullero (La Habana Vieja)

You’ve probably come across this one if you’ve done any sort of research of Cuban restuarants and it’s worth the buzz. El Chanchullero is also in touristy Habana Vieja but makes probably one of the best ropa Viejas I’ve had in the area (and that’s a very tall order for me!). It has a great bar decorated with wine bottles and posters.

Somos Cuba (La Habana Vieja)

Somos Cuba (we are cuba) is EXACTLY that.  From the location to the hosts to the food, you CANNOT get any more Cuban than this.  Located in a solar (buildings that are divided into very very small apartments in center Havana), Somos Cuba’s chefs Ivan and Leidi serve you in the kitchen itself.  They welcome you as any Cuban would- with love and food.  It’s a bit pricey for Cuban standards but the experience and the food is well worth it.  Pro-Tip: There are stairs with graffiti pointing you to the restaurant. If you think its not where you should go, it most likely is!  Packed times include lunch and early evening hours so you might want to go a bit later.  Its small so don’t be shy to be a bit Cuban-like and talk to your dinner neighbors.

Flor de Loto:  Chinese in Cuba  (Centro Habana/Barrio Chino)

Yes, I’m recommending Chinese food in Cuba and it may surprise you that Chinese roots are essential to the fabric of Cuban culture.  Chinese immigrants have been calling Havana home for generations now and their food still inspires.  I’m putting this on the list because I always think its great to experience a different kind of cuisine than in the country you are visiting. Plus, lets be honest… theres just so much rice, beans and meat that one can eat.  Well Flor de Loto fits the bill! Right in the center of you guessed it, Barrio Chino, Flor serves the best fusion Havana has to offer.  I mean where else in the world can you get perfectly fried plantains and the best crabmeat with fried rice all in one huge (HUGE, yes the portions are CRAZY BIG) plate?  Only in La Habana! 

Bonus: Download A La Mesa!

A La Mesa is a Cuban app (yes, tech start ups are a thing in the land of no data but that’s another blog post) that lists restaurants of all major cities in Cuba.  They give you filters for live music, bars, tapas, and price range.  Its no yelp, but it works off-line and is an amazing app to have while visiting the island.   

 

Insider Tips to Exchanging Cuban Currency

Insider Tips to Exchanging Cuban Currency

In my Cuba 101 post, I gave a crash course on Cuban currency. We have two. Yes two. Go ahead and take it. It will take you 2 minutes to read.

Currency is a tricky thing in Cuba and as many of your know (or some that don’t), your credit card wont work here. I don’t care if you are Canadian, European or Asian. Credit card machines aren’t very common. Your ATM card will work (not for Americans) but you’ll be standing in line at a cadeca (bank) in Havana forever to get some money.

You need cash… and, lots of it. Most guides will say if you have USD to change to Euros. And then do some sort of mini forex (currency) market exchange all in your head.

You will loose more time and/or money if you do change from USD to EURO to CUC back to EURO to USD.

And its confusing… also, its not common sense.

Here are two ways to exchange currency to maximize your vacation money. Keep in mind, this is mainly for those using USD as any other currency is easily exchangeable (again, if you’re willing to wait in line if outside the airport).

Exchange with fellow foreigners at the airport

This seems the most common- sense to me and a tip I never see from fellow bloggers. It’s the way I always change to CUC and its honestly, pretty easy. Here’s how you do it: When you get to Havana, from arrivals go to departures (upstairs… there is an escalator in the international terminal). You will see your fellow yuma’s (Cuban for foreigners) at the cadeca terminal. Go up to the line and ask, descreetly, how many CUC’s they have left over to exchange with you. Do this until you have enough (or all). Bam, 1:1, no loss, and EASY AF

Change in Havana on the Streets

I guarantee you any owner of a casa particular in Havana knows 1-1000 people who make money from exchanging with tourists. The exchange rate for most tourists I have asked is between 90-95 for every $100. This is MUCH better than the exchange rate at the cadeca that will hit you hard at $87 for every $100.

MARI TIP: Bring your cash is $100 as $100 will exchange easier and for more than $20s or any other denomination.

If you do decide to go through government banks/hotels to exchange your money, the same currency rate is applied everywhere at every cadeca.

 

Cuba- the only place where the CUC is valued considerably lower than the USD (in the free market) and the government will still give you less for it. ☺