A taste of colonial Cuba, from the surrounding decor to the yucca, malanga and shrimp dishes, this eccentric and friendly paladar exudes retro charm. Start with a mixed entrée platter, before moving onto the main house specialties, the lobster, or the lamb, which is served on 19th-century china, surrounded by stacks of books, old antiques and nostalgic black and white photographs. You can ask owner Carlos Cristóbal Márquez Valdés all about it, since he will be happy to stop by your table for a short introduction. Try the eponymous pudding San Cristóbal before a liquor on the house and, for the smokers, an excellent local cigar.
Calle San Rafael No 469, between Lealtad y Campanario, central Havana, +537 860 1705.
A chic mansion in the upscale Miramar district, BellaHabana gives Cuban cuisine a modern, international twist with a focus on fish. Tres Lindas Cubanas are Three Cuban Beauties, or rather, three types of fish cooked differently for your culinary pleasure. Octopus ceviche and smoked salmon, squid and red snapper with different ‘aromas’ (cream, mushroom, vodka) in generous portions give the visitor a deluxe local experience that doesn’t have to break the bank. Immerse yourself in Cuban history elegantly decorating the ceiling and walls, sharing a glass of French wine or some top-notch mojitos that will help you wash it down.
Calle 6 y 7ma No. 512, Miramar, Playa, Havana 1160, +5372038364.
Near the waterfront, Nao (from the latin navis, which means ship) has a decor that imitates an 18th-century galleon, complete with ship memorabilia, under the building’s original wooden beams and Arabic arches. Here you can both taste the house specialty Lechón Asado (grilled pork), or a selection of wines, piña coladas and powerful mojitos that will make you feel like a modern-day conquistador. The restaurant staff is always keeping a look out for the perfect ingredients from across the nation, but the end result still comes at a reasonable price.
Obispo No 1 e/San Pedro y Baratillo | Old Havana, +537 5295 8209.
A New York loft-style lounge with a rooftop terrace, El Cocinero sits in what used to be a cooking oil factory but is now a chic venue for Havana’s trendy crowds. The towering chimney still evokes the building’s industrial past, but the food and the atmosphere are all about modern sophistication, from the melt-in-the-mouth duck confit and blinis to the delectable seafood options on offer. After dinner, order one of the expertly prepared cocktails, sit back on the terrace and enjoy the sprawling views of the city in front of you. With the newly opened Fabrica de Arte Cubano next door, El Cocinero is the ultimate place to kick-start an unforgettable evening in Havana.
Calle 26e/ 11 y 13.Vedado, Havana, +53 78 322 355
This fairly new addition of gallery-meets-restaurant in Vedado frequently changes, as expected, its surrounding display of Cuban contemporary art—and, accordingly, the offerings on the menu, depending on the quality of the ingredients its team is able to source. The Creole fusion dishes of La Galería start with the staple ropa vieja and rabbit with sauce and go all the way to Arabic coconut tart, via garlic prawns and fillet mignon. Go for a refreshing guava juice in the outdoor terrace, during the day, or for a romantic meal in the dim-lit (and air-conditioned) dining room by night.
Calle 19 esq. 12, Vedado, Havana, +53 7 8363603.
Take the antique elevator to Cafe Laurent on the fourth floor, where an old penthouse apartment near the historic Hotel Nacional has been converted to a stylish minimalist restaurant with a witty 1950’s twist. Grab a seat among the Havana bohemia against a back wall covered with old newspapers, and take a pick among more than 30 Spanish-influenced, fusion dishes by Cuban chef Dayron Avilés Alfonso. Its specialty is seafood, from red snapper in green sauce to shrimps and paella. Take a place in the balcony, particularly in the evening, to delight in the scenic Vedado views.
Calle M # 257 penthouse e/21 y 19, 1200, +53 7 8312090.
A Spanish-style mansion in Vedado, with two generous rooftop terraces packed with decadent cushions, and colonial furniture in the main indoor lounge provide the retro backdrop of the Atelier. In the handwritten menus, supervised by Niuris Higueras and executed by restless chef Enrique Edreida, you can choose between lamb entrees, conejo al vino (rabbit in wine), duck and fresh lobster, falafels, fajitas, flan and tarts. You will be hard-pressed to find a more unpredictable list of dishes, as well as a more comfortable, sophisticated dining choice for visiting large groups.
Calle 5ta., No. 511 altos, Paseo y 2, Vedado, +537 836 2025.