Many guidebooks, especially those printed more than a few years ago, describe the “poor quality” of food and restaurants in Cuba. My experience is that there has been a remarkable increase in food quality over the past 4-5 years. Today, the overall quality is often surprising to first-time visitors, who apparently expected to find a Cold War-era dining environment. (Understandably, the highest quality food is distributed to the tourism sector.) The travelers on my six expeditions over the past two years were surprised and very satisfied with our dining adventures. I believe this was primarily due to the recent rapid increase in the number of paladares—in-home restaurants—where you can consistently find the country’s best dining. Many are located in old remodeled mansions. The cuisine and ambiance might remind you of restaurants in San Francisco or New York. To locate new ones, ask around for recommendations, especially the concierge at your hotel. I like to visit the location first and ask different patrons who are leaving about their experiences.
Cuban food is generally not hot or spicy. Some travelers carry their own bottles of Tabasco Sauce with them to enhance some meals. If you fly from Miami, you will often see cases of Tabasco transported by relatives to be used in their families’ restaurants. There are also Italian, Arabian, Peruvian, Thai, and Vegetarian restaurants, American-style barbeques, pizza palaces, hamburger joints, and other various types of dining establishments. There are several excellent Chinese restaurants in Havana’s Chinatown, located a few blocks west of the Capitol Building. Beef is available at most restaurants, but pork, chicken, or seafood often are specialties. Personally, I really like Cuban lobster.
Most hotels and casas particulares include buffet-style breakfast for their guests from 7-9:30am. (It’s okay to bring along a zip-lock baggie to liberate pastries and other munchies to snack on later.) Many beachfront resorts, such as those in Varadero, are all-inclusive, providing all meals and snacks. Some even have 24-hour restaurants.
So in addition to the many things to see and do in Cuba, you just might add dining to your list of highlights. Bon appétit!