The Food and Beverages of Cuba

On Christmas night, we headed to Cuba with my family for 7 days and had the best time! Cuba was unlike any of the places I've been and I couldn't help but be attracted to all of the vintage cars (a separate post on cars to come!) and unique culture. We went to Cuba to celebrate my mom's 60th birthday as Cuba is her favorite place to visit - this was her 5th time! We spent two nights in Havana, two nights in Varadero, and then two nights back in Havana to end our trip. It ended up actually being really nice to break up Havana and it was fun to spend time at the beach (more on what we did later!). For this post, I have decided to just focus on the food of Cuba as we had really great meals and the atmosphere at these restaurants was really incredible and unique.

I hadn't done much thinking about the food in Cuba and wasn't entirely sure what to expect. But, I was pleasantly surprised with the unique restaurants, delicious cocktails, and flavorful foods. In Cuba, there are State owned restaurants, meaning the state controls them and then there are paladars, which are typically family-owned and operated out of the home and give you an opportunity to experience more of Cuban life. Out of all of our meals, we really enjoyed eating at the paladars as we found the food to be more unique and the atmosphere way cooler. Here's a recap of all of our meals:
We started our visit in Havana and during our first full day, we ventured out early to explore. In the Plaza Vieja, we stopped to take a little break from all of the walking and sun and popped into a bar. We had originally wanted to go to the brewery in the plaza, but they weren't open for another 30 minutes. So, we picked the restaurant next door and enjoyed beer margaritas and mojitos. 
 Josh couldn't resist  a mojito and the Romeo y Julieta cigars being sold!
Along one of the side streets off the Plaza Vieja, we managed to find two guys making churros. As many of you know, I really can't pass up a good churro, so we of course stopped! 
It was pretty impressive to watch the churros being made...they were made in the exact same fashion (coiled around the deep fryer) as the ones I had in Spain.
We had received recommendations from our hotel on a spot and when we arrived, it seemed more like a cocktail lounge. So, we headed back towards the Plaza Central and had dinner at the State run restaurant, La Pina de Plata, which is next to the El Floridita. Following dinner, we headed to drinks at the Iberostar Parque Central, which was next to our hotel. Tyler is pictured above on the roof of the Iberostar enjoying a daiquiri! 
 On our second day in Havana, my mom had made reservations at the La Guarida, a famous paladar on the outskirts of Havana. It's a very popular place and the only reservation we could get during the entire week was a lunch at 2:30pm. So, definitely make reservations if you plan to go! This restaurant was made famous in the movie Strawberry and Chocolate and is on the top floor of an old home. 
 La Guarida is more pricey than the other restaurants in havana, but the food is totally worth it. I ordered this lemon honey chicken, which was out of this world.
 And we shared these mini tuna tacos, which were surprisingly tasty!
Of course my dearest husband ordered a Pina Colada!
Since we had a big lunch for dinner, we decided to grab tapas for our second night in Havana and we ate at the State operated Sloppy Joe's Bar, which was a block from our hotel. It's a famous bar in Havana and was known for serving Americans during Prohibition and had been closed for 48 years up until 2013.  It's also the place where the Sloppy Joe was created. We ordered some tapas, the Sloppy Joe, and a Cuban sandwich; overall, the food was mediocre - some of the tapas were delicious while others were fairly bland. But the drinks didn't disappoint!
Following dinner, we headed to the Hotel Nacional, which is just on the outskirts of Old Havana. This hotel has hosted so many famous people over the years and we decided it would be fun to listen to some live music outside and enjoy a few beverages. It's not surprising that Tyler ordered Pina Coladas for everyone!
We broke our time up in Havana (see this post that recaps everything we did) with a trip to Varadero, which was about two hours from Havana. We stayed at the Iberostar and enjoyed two days soaking up the sun and just relaxing. The resort was all-inclusive and there wasn't really anything nearby, so we stayed at the resort for the full two days. The food wasn't anything special, but the drinks were really great. We had a Hemingway Daiquiri, which was so delicious and Tyler of course enjoyed his Pina Colada! We left the resort in the afternoon on Wednesday and were a bit delayed, so we had to hustle and head to our dinner reservation.
My mom was able to make a reservation at Decameron, a paladar about 15 mins from Old Havana and is in the newer part of Havana. We took a taxi to the restaurant along the Malecon, which made for great people watching on the way to the restaurant. To enter, you press a buzzer and someone will greet you and take you to your table. Do make sure you have a reservation as the place was small and every table was filled. 
 The interior of the restaurant was dark and filled with lots and lots of old clocks and old instruments. It created this really cozy feel to the place and the buzzer at the front of the restaurant made it feel secret and special.
 Another view of the interior of the restaurant
The food at Decameron was absolutely phenomenal and one of the best meals. I had Ropa Vieja (pic above), which is a traditional Cuban dish of stewed beef and vegetables. The flavor and tenderness of the beef was amazing and mixed well with the side of rice and beans we got for the table. One of the things we noticed that was different about Decameron and the other paladars we ate at on the trip was the presentation of food. It was clear the chef took pride in the presentation and each dish came out uniquely positioned on the plate. Everyone LOVED their meal!
 On our last afternoon of exploring Havana, we stopped in for an afternoon cocktail at El Floridita, a bar made famous by Hemingway that is one block off the Plaza Central. It's definitely a tourist spot with live music and free flowing daiquiris, but it's definitely a fun place to check out. The bar is much pricier than other bars and you'll end up paying 2x the price of a drink, but it's kind of cool to see where Hemingway spent a lot of his time.
There is a gold statue of Hemingway in the corner of the bar that marks the famous writers spot that he always sat at drinking daiquiris. 
 Don't order the Hemingway Daiquiri. We all ordered them and were pretty disappointed in the taste. I'd just go for a regular one next time.
 Watching the bar tender make daiquiris was very entertaining. He'd fill the pitcher up to the brim (without measuring) and never managed to spill a drop either blending or pouring. 
For New Year's Eve and our last night in Havana, we headed back to the new part of Havana to Dona Juana. This paladar is on the third floor of a home and is a cute tiki bar with about 10 tables. They are known for their pork and lobster dishes and this meal definitely did not disappoint. The guys ordered lobster, while my mom ordered garlic shrimp and I had the pork chops. We enjoyed lots of mojitos and my mom surprised us with these hilarious New Year's crackers, which had mustaches and crowns. We of course all put them on and enjoyed a fun little photo session, before we awkwardly walked out with them on! Since the restaurant is on a quite and dark street, we walked to the main road and down to the Melia hotel to grab a taxi. We ended up riding home in style in one of the 1950s vintage cars that are all over Havana. 
And our final meal was ham and cheese sandwiches at the airport on New Years day. Surprisingly, they tasted pretty good. Thanks to the Ketchup King, we had Sir Kensignton Mayo...he never travels without his room service size condiments :)

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