If you’re curious about what it’s like to go for food in Cuba, then find out more about the best things to eat and the top Cuban restaurants to try.
Cuban food is a fusion of Spanish, African, and Caribbean influences. I’d been told of the importance of rice and black beans in the dishes and their love of slow-cooked stews and meats. So I hoped to try all the different kinds of food in Cuba!
Oddly, I researched ‘food in Cuba’ before I went and I found tasteless, miserable and damning reviews. From what friends had told me and what I’d read online I was prepared for two weeks of rice, peas and miserable excuses for meat or fish!
Fortunately, it turned out to be quite different – phew! Once I’d got over the original over analysis and apprehension caused by these reviews I actually found quite a different story in the streets of Havana, Trinidad and Cienfuegos.
Famous Food in Cuba
Langosta a la Parrilla (grilled lobster) Cool lunch in Havana
Cuba, of course, is known for is coastlines and therefore it has an incredible reputation for fresh and delicious seafood. One of there famous dishes is Langosta a la Parrilla, grilled lobster, so I knew I just had to try it at some point.
We popped into this restaurant just off Obispo as we’d walked past it a few times and gazed in admiration. We weren’t disappointed. We stuck to the set menu – lobster, Mojito and a Creme caramel – and they all tasted delicious. We were sat by the open front and had a great spot to watch people dancing to the Cubano music being played by the band inside.
Arroz con Frijoles at Barra Con de Hemel
It was our first day in Havana and we were feeling overwhelmed. The seclusion of the garden at the Barra Con de Hemel was inviting and at least it got us away from the hustlers for a while. I tried their cocktail special – the Bodeguita – and we decided to lunch.
It was our first time to try the food in Cuba ‘Arroz con Frijoles’ which simply means rice and beans, however it is a staple of Cuban cuisine. It’s simple yet full of flavour – and very filling! It had a mix of spices to enhance the overall taste as well. I’ve heard how it’s a quintessential part of Cuban cooking traditions and I can see why!
Black beans, rice, fish, salad and bread later and we were stuffed and satisfied ready to take on Havana. Thankfully he’d warned us about the huge portions and we had one between us. The next couple in weren’t so lucky and ended up wasting a lot.
Ropa Vieja in Havana
In my research I’d read about Ropa Vieja as being one Cuba’s traditional dishes. It’s shredded or pulled beef cooked in a tomatoey sauce with various spices. Apparently it translates to “old clothes” because the shredded beef resembles tattered clothing!
Again we were seeking refuge from the strong Carribbean sun and again we came across a delicious restaurant. It was next to the book fair in what was possibly the most touristy part of Havana and we were drawn in by the quant of men playing Cuban tunes.
Hungover, weak and unsure if we even wanted to eat, we ended up with a variant on Ropa Vieja which comprised pulled pork and a shrimp in a tomatoey stew. It was one of the best meals of the trip and definitely one to tick off the list of food in Cuba to try. If you do go here though check out the courtyard around the back before you commit to a table, it’s beautiful.
Moros y Cristianos at The Nacional
Moros y Cristianos is a traditional Cuban dish, its name interestingly translates to ‘Moors and Christians.’ It’s made up of black beans and rice, with the moors represented by the black beans and the Christians by the rice – it’s one of the staples of food in Cuba. You can get it as a side dish or add meats to it. Unlike Arroz con Frijoles, the the beans and rice as usually kept separate but of course you mix them on your plate if you’d like!
It was Saturday night and our last night in Havana so we wanted to go somewhere special, although we didn’t really have the money to do it. Turns out The Nacional has a great restaurant round the back that’s a bit cheaper from the a la carte. I went for shredded beef with rice and black beans – a delicious end to a delicious holiday.
I had five amazing breakfasts here but the amount I paid for the hotel it was the least they could do. Every morning there was a ridiculous sprawl of foods from cheeses (Stilton for breakfast?) to cold meats to all the ingredients for an English breakfast to cereals, pastries and fruits. The selection was actually overwhelming. I ended up with a bacon sandwich one day, full English another and fried eggs and toast the other. Late partying meant I almost missed it on the final day and ended up with croissants, but they were among the most delicious I’d ever had.
Thanks to the Havana Club Gap Year project I was working on I got a free lunch at Parque Central. The spread was even more incredible than breakfast. Everything you could ever want – thanks to trying to make a good impression to the team I couldn’t get everything I wanted but what I did manage to smuggle on my plate was yum.
The dinner there was my favourite dinner. I couldn’t deal with anymore fish so went for the house special: duck. It was incredible. Every mouthful was a taste sensation and together with the warmed prune chunks it really was a meal to remember. The house was cool too. Great toilets and some err interesting art on the walls.
Out of the ordinary places to eat food in Cuba
Casa Particulars are private homes where you can rent a room to stay in from local Cuban families. They are definitely more of a personal way to experience in Cuba.
The breakfasts at the houses we stayed at were the best. For just 5 CUC we were given freshly-cooked feasts of fruits, fried eggs, breads, Cubano sandwiches, coffee and juices. Casa particular breakfasts were definitely my favourite option.
Just to note, I ate more fried eggs in Cuba than I probably have in the last five years. A total of 18 in 2 weeks to be precise.
Cuban cafeterias are typically small and unassuming, and provide a quick and tasty meal on the go. They are scattered throughout the country, making them convenient! They aren’t the cafeterias we know: huge, cold, strip lighting and in an office block or school! They are popular with both tourists and locals just looking to grab some food.
If you see a queue in Cuba it’s either for a cash machine or for one of these pizza cafeteria places. On the last day we decided to go and see what all the fuss was about. I paid the equivalent of £1.20 for some chips and a cheese and tomato pizza – they were absolutely delicious. Really flavoursome and super cheap – what more can you ask for?
Paladares are privately-owned, small restaurants typically run out of people’s homes. Sounds unusual right? Well you are on your travels after all eh? I was keen to visit one in Cuba, and whilst ‘Restaurant Dona’ didn’t technically class as one, I’d definitely suggest you try and eat at one when you’re there!
In Havana we needed to get out of the heat, but wanted to stay in the action. Cue useful persuasive lady. She directed us to her rooftop bar overlooking the main street of Obispo in the Old Town in Havana. Here I had a deliciously fresh tuna and caper pizza and Waiel had a huge Cubano sandwich. Knocked back with a few daiquiris, both were delicious.
Casa de la Musica in Trinidad
A Casa de la Musica is a specific kind of restaurant in Cuba. They are more music venues where you can enjoy live Cuban music and dancing , whilst they also serve food and drink. So be sure to source one out when you get there!
Aww this was a lovely romantic restaurant in Trinidad. We sat on the balcony and between gazing into each others eyes and debating the safety standards of the balcony we had an incredible view of the sun setting over Trinidad.
We had huge fat prawns for starters then I had beer chicken and Waiel had chicken rice. Then we had a creme caramel for dessert to share. It was a bit stiffer than the other one we’d had, making it yum. I wouldn’t recommend the chicken beer for main but the rest of the experience was brilliant and taste worthy.
Traditional Cubano restaurant
You’ll find these traditional Cubano sandwich shops dotted around Cuba. You can spot them easily thanks to the locals frequenting them and the buzz around them. If you travel from Havana to Trinidad you’ll stop by one, or you’ll definitely find them in the less touristy parts of town. We went to one in Trinidad…
“Cafe con leche?” I asked.
“No just Cubano.”
They know what they do and they do it well. I ended up with a sugary espresso – the way they do it there – a mango juice and a Cubano sandwich. Possibly the only time I’ve ever managed to have one of everything on the menu. For both of us this came to just 7 CUC.
Foods in Cuba outside of Havana
El Tranvia in Cienfuegos
This was an amazing find in Cienfuegos. We didn’t warm to the city straight away, but after a trip here for cocktails, and another one the next day for dinner we soon did. I made a bad food choice here: breaded fish for starters and then breaded prawns for main. I was too breaded out and not sure what I was thinking.
What I did eat though was incredible, the whole experience was amazing – so good in fact I’m writing a post about it. Oh god I’ve just remembered the potatoes. Smooth as you like. Nom nom.
Pizza in Trinidad
This was my most favourite lunch thanks to the deliciously fresh tuna, the pizza base and Waiel’s pork sandwich. The shady courtyard helped too, oh and the daiquiris.
We were treated to Cuban music as we dined and ended up spending a few hours here – leaving a bit worse for wear. Oops.
Restaurants in Havana
Given than Havana is the Cuban hotspot most people flock to, it makes sense it has some of the best restaurants around.
Here are some of the best that I highly recommend trying if you’re lucky enough to make it to Havana.
We had the Havana Club Gap Year wrap party here. I was a bit gutted it wasn’t a sit down meal as I’d heard this was one of the best restaurants in Havana. As it was a buffet I can’t give you in a depth review to back up their excellent reputation but it’s definitely got a name for itself as one of the best.
Best. Brownie. Ever! I was chatting so much it was only on about mouthful three that I realised how delicious it was. My mouth is watering at the memory. Fish freshly caught from the coast and it was nice to eat by the water at one of the most legendary restaurants in Havana.
As I mentioned above I loved the food when I was staying there. You can also just eat there too. Huge meaty prawns with chips on the roof terrace looking out over Havana? One of my favourite meals.
We ate at the famous La Inglaterra hotel twice. First time it was mixed brochettes – unfortunately they forgot Waiel’s so we had to wait – and the second just a plain a chicken brochette. The view and setting made it a perfect place to watch the sun set and keep an eye on Havana from.
There’s a beer factory in Habana Vieja – you’ll be able to spot it thanks to the throngs of tourists outside. I had a really nice tuna sandwich here, complete with banana crisps and a pint of light beer that just hit the spot right.
Torre de Havana
We couldn’t read the menu and had had a late lunch so just saw tapas and went for a plate of each. Turns out we’d ordered one hot plate and one cold, both were yum. The restaurant in the square was near the Bodeguita and the Torre de Havana making a beautiful setting for one of our final dinners.
Three other famous restaurants in Cuba
- La Guarida Havana, known for its historic location and serving modern Cuban cuisine in a beautifully restored mansion.
- El Cocinero, Vedado, a trendy restaurant located in a former cooking oil factory with a rooftop bar and a contemporary menu.
More food in Cuba
As you can see there is so much to see do, and more importantly, eat in Cuba! You have to try some – all – of the traditional dishes served in the most beautiful and quirky locations. Don’t forget to try the Cuban churros and corn on the cob from the street vendors, the Cuban caramel custard flan, and of course the Cuban coffee and mojitos!! The mojitos are to die for!
READ MORE: Best Souvenirs from Cuba
Serve your taste buds up a treat by trying all the food in Cuba!
What is a popular food in Cuba?
Luckily there are lots of delicious foods in Cuba to try. They range from Ropa Vieja, Arroz con Frijoles, Moros y Cristianos and of course the famous Cuban sandwich!
What is the popular drink in Cuba?
The Daiquiri, named after the part of Cuba in which rum is produced! One of the world’s best and favourite cocktails has to tasted whilst you’re in Cuba!
What is the most popular dessert in Cuba?
Flan de Caramelo is definitely the most sort after, tasty and delicious dessert foods in Cuba!