(Callejon del Chorro 60c, mains CUC$7-9, noon to midnight) The secret at this paladar is there is no secret. They serve decent-sized portions of incredibly tasty Cuban food (the ropa vieja shredded beef and minced beef picadillo both deserve mentioning) from a pretty spot next to the cathedral and charge extremely reasonable prices. The rest is history.
(Av del Puerto No 12, meals CUC$15-30, noon- 11pm) Welcome to a rare Cuban breed: a restaurant that could compete with anything in Miami. El Templete’s specialty is fish, and special it is: fresh, succulent and cooked simply without the pretensions of celebrity chef-obsessed America. It’s a little expensive but is worth every penny.
(Mercaderes No 207, mains CUC$10-17, noon- 11pm) This new paladar in a historic building has to be one of the most refined for ambiance, service and food, both Cuban and international. Follow a staircase strewn with flower petals to a luxurious first floor dining room where musicians strum and fine international dishes combine meat with exotic sauces. Very romantic! (Muy romántico)
(Concordia No. 418 between Gervasio y Escobar, noon-3pm & 7pm-midnight) On the top floor of a spectacularly dilapidated Havana tenement, La Guarida’s lofty reputation rests on its movie location setting (The Cuban film nominated for an Academy Award in 1995 Fresa y Chocolate was filmed in this building) and a clutch of swashbuckling newspaper reviews (including The New York Times and The Guardian). The food is up there with Havana’s best, shoehorning its captivating blend of Nueva Cocina Cubana into dishes such as sea bass in a coconut reduction, and chicken with honey and lemon sauce. Reservations required.
(Lealtad No. 120 between Animas y Lagunas, mains CUC$6-12, noon-1am) Emerging improbably from a kitchen in the battle-scarred tenements of Centro Habana, comes this Swedish-Cuban fusion food (toast skagen, ceviche, couscous, and meltin-your-mouth meatballs with mashed potato). The owner is Swedish and the decor (empty picture frames and chairs attached to the wall) has a touch of Ikea minimalism about it.
(Calle M No. 257 between 19 & 21, mains CUC$8- 15) Talk about a hidden gem. The strangely under advertised Café Laurent (there’s no sign) is a sophisticated new restaurant encased, incongruously, in a glaringly ugly 1950s apartment block next to the Focsa building. Take the rickety lift to the 5th floor, open the door and jump hungrily into modern Cuban decor. Lamb stew laced with mint and meatballs with sesame seeds headline the menu. Viva the culinary revolution!
This little bodega (wine cellar) offers terrific city views and delicious seafood. Standard creole dishes- black beans & white rice & ropa viejaare also available. Heavy wood beams and old weapons hung on the walls add to the traditional feel of the place.
La Divina Pastora
(Noon-11pm) Near the Dársena de los Franceses and a battery of 18th-century cannons lies one of the big guns of Cuban cooking. Although prices are on the high side, the romantic location makes them worth it. La Divina Pastora offers homemade pasta, sun-dried tomatoes, pestodoused vegetables and excellent seafood. To top it off, there are splendid views over Havana, waiters with savoir faire, and a credible wine list. It’s a good spot for dinner after the cañonazo at La Cabaña.
(Obrapia No.62 mains CUC$8-11) Fidel Castro, Jane Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Jimmy Carter; executive chef, Erasmo has cooked for a who’s who of celebrities. Joining the culinary revolution, this restaurant is in gorgeous colonial digs just off Calle Oficios. Erasmo impresses with fine renditions of what the Cubans do best: ropa vieja, breaded prawns and roast pork, at decidedly “uncelebrity” prices.
Mesón de la Flota
(Mercaderes No.257 between Amargura & Brasil, tapas CUC$3-6) This nautically themed tapas bar/ restaurant might have been transported from Cadiz’s Barrio de Santa María, Spain, so potent is the atmosphere. Old-world tapas include chickpeas with sausage, calamari and tortilla, but there are also more substantial seafoodbiased main meals. For music lovers the real drawcard is the nightly flamenco shows.
(Paseo de Martí No.563 mains from CUC$4, noonmidnight) An open secret opposite the Capitolio, but easy to miss, Los Nardos is a semi-private restaurant operated by the Spanish Asturians society. The menu includes lobster in a Catalan sauce, garlic prawns with sautéed vegetables and an authentic Spanish paella. Portions are huge, service is attentive and the prices, for what you get, are mind-bogglingly cheap.
(Paseo de Martí No.563 mains from CUC$4, noon-midnight) In the same building of Los Nardos, El Asturianito serves Italian food and other Cuban specialties. Generous portions and a kindly service with very good prices.
(Av.7 between 24 & 26, mains CUC$8-15) The criollo fare here is beyond reproach; it’s also reasonably priced and served professionally and gracefully. The place is always filled to the brim with clued-in diners who appear to be having the time of their lives: a sure sign of a winner. The roast chicken served in a citrus and meat sauce is the dish of choice, at once dark and tangy. The accompanying papas (fried potatoes), mariquitas and black beans are about as good as they can be.
(Brasil between Bernaza & Cristo 1pm-midnight) This magic Bar-Restaurant is a fusion of good and cheap cocktails, great food in a boho alternative ambience. It’s a small, clamorous, graffiti-ridden dive-bar where the music rocks.
Bar Las Estaciones
(Amargura No. 254 between Habana & Compostela, noon-2am) Around the corner from Palacio de Pascua is this bar-restaurant with a pleasant ambience, good food (Cuban and tapas style) and a pool table. Celtic Life International Magazine named this place as the Best Celtic Bar of the Caribbean in 2013.
Jardín del Oriente
(Amargura between Mercaderes & Oficios, noon- 11pm) An open-air restaurant with inexpensive prices and a very tasty Cuban food to taste in this garden next to the San Francisco de Asís Square.