A guide to food and drink in Cuba
Wherever you eat while you’re on holiday in Cuba, you’re bound to have a culinary adventure. If you’re dining in Havana you’ll find a fantastic range of restaurants. Venues serving tasty traditional home cooking, as well as those offering a more extensive international menu. In seaside locations such as Caya Coco delicious fresh seafood served in relaxed beach-side venues is the star choice.
Exploring Cuba's delicacies
Traditional Cuban cuisine, known as comida criolla, is widely available and delicious. When touring the island’s restaurants you’re bound to encounter ropa vieja which is a tasty dish of shredded beef and vegetables. You can also enjoy an abundance of sea-fresh lobster and prawns on your Cuba holidays, as well as local pork, chicken and beef.
Pulses and a variety of root vegetables also feature on many menus, so vegetarians needn’t fear. They’re incorporated into delectable Caribbean main courses or eaten as a side accompaniment to those fresh fish and meat options. To drink, look out for classic Mojitos and Cuba Libre – naturally – or fresh fruit juices sold from street kiosks.
La Guarida, Havana
You’ll dine in some style once you enter the hallowed portals of this fantastic restaurant. The venue is called a Paladar, which means it’s a private restaurant and offers the very best of Cuban cuisine. Sit in the elegant dining room and look out over Havana. Hollywood A listers regularly eat here and when you sample the food, you’ll soon see why. Expect traditional Cuban food served with a touch of class and style.
La Cocina del Lilliamme, Havana
For wonderful Cuban food, La Cocina del Lilliame hits the high notes each and every time. This family run restaurant serves plantain, rice and peas as sides and some fantastic pork, chicken and veal dishes as mains. The wine list is extensive and the restaurant also prides itself on its exotic ice creams – expect to sample basil, ginger and cinnamon among the ingredients. Lobster is on the menu alongside many other local delicacies, where the portions are generous and the prices are very reasonable indeed.
The name of this restaurant means ‘cheers’ in most Slavic languages. When you think of Cuba’s long association with so many things eastern European, it does make sense to visit this restaurant when in downtown Havana. There’s green vodka-based mojitos, wonderful Russian dumplings and some of the most stunning cheesecake on the island. Although you won’t eat Cuban food here, you’re sure to be pampered and enjoy a fantastic meal.
Varadero 60, Varadero
Varadero 60 is the place to go for a swanky treat, this restaurant oozes class. With its wonderful decor, its beautifully presented dishes, as well as its tasty repertoire, Varadero 60 certainly delivers on style and delicious food. From lobster courses, to seafood pasta and a fantastic selection of BBQ platters, a meal at Varadero 60 is a superb treat.
Restaurante Donabarbara, Guardalavaca
Sitting in a shaded courtyard enjoying mojitos, or sampling some fantastic ice cream are just some of the pleasures you’ll enjoy at this restaurant. Plantain, rice and peas and sweet potatoes are all on the menu as well as sugarcane juice, if you’re feeling brave. Lobster is something of a house speciality and marlin and chicken are also served. If you’re visiting with a large group of friends and you wish to have a suckling pig, one will be roasted especially for you. With its extensive choice of dishes and fantastic customer service you’ll soon understand why this restaurant constantly receives rave reviews.
Cuba's best cocktails
Cuba is famous for Cadillacs, Caribbean sea views and, perhaps most of all, cocktails.
While the namesake Cuba Libre really put the Latin island’s rum on the international stage, the truth is that there are a whole host of cocktails in this country for you to try, all to be enjoyed responsibly of course.
We’ve put the best of the bunch here ahead of your trip – expect classic cocktails and a few eclectic new drinks to tantalise your tastebuds.
The Cuba Libre
It’d be remiss to begin a rundown of Cuban cocktails without naming the glorious Cuba Libre numero uno.
It’s so ubiquitous that many of us drink it when we go out and never realise it, knowing it solely as a rum and coke. There’s little than can compete with cola, rum and a twist of lime for a refreshing and simple drink, although it stands to reason that in Cuba, the Cube Libre is done with more style and sass.
The Cuba Libre is said to have been invented and popularised across the Americas in the 1900s onwards, making it prolific throughout the 20th century. As cocktails go it’s cheap and easy to make, which likely contributed much to its success.
Nowadays, Cuba’s fellow Latin American nations have their own variants of this cocktail classic. For example, in Peru their variant is made with pisco instead of rum, while in Venezuela they add a dash of gin and bitter to taste.
Cubans take pride in telling visitors how Ernest Hemingway adored their capital, Havana, and its penchant for perfect rum daiquiris. Indeed, for pure zest and zing, few cocktails can beat that lovely fusion of white rum, syrup and lime juice.
Yet what lots of people enjoying this fine cocktail might not know is that the daiquiri as we know it today is different to how the cocktail originally came to be. They say that the original version added Maraschino liqueur to the mix, and even in the average Havana street you’ll find a host of bars who each have their own twist on the tipple.
For those on the lookout for trendy hotspots, we suggest you head to one of Hemmingway’s favourite haunts, Floridita. Famed for tasty strawberry daiquiris, you’ll find the fancy bar situated in Old Town Havana.
That crisp minty freshness hits like a breath of fresh air on a hot Cuban day.
It has much the same ingredients as a daiquiri, albeit in different amounts, and the zest of the mint creates a distinctive flavour that carries the white rum to perfection every time. In Cuba, preparation of a mojito is as traditional as it gets, with full sprigs of mint leaves immersed in the tasty cocktail.
The true history of the mojito is shrouded in myth. While Cuba proudly proclaims itself the birthplace of the beverage, it’s said that its real origins go back as far as pre-colonial times.
Indeed, Sir Francis Drake was said to partake of a similar drink to the mojito in the 1500s gifted to him by Cuba’s native tribes. Not just a pleasurable pursuit though, the famous English explorer was also making use of the mint and lime to combat scurvy at sea.
The Crema de Vie
Loosely translating as the Cream of Life, this is a lesser known Cuban cocktail, yet one you’re definitely encouraged to try. It’s similar to eggnog but with a distinctive Cuban twist, often in the form of anise or cinnamon for flavour.
The drink mixes egg yolks, condensed milk and sugar to superb effect with, you guessed it, yet more of the superb white rum we adore Cuba so much for.
What results is a milkshake-smooth concoction that tastes superb while offering a hearty dash of tipsy giggling. While we can’t promise it’ll extend your lifespan as the name implies, it’ll surely make plenty of happy Cuban memories.