Viva Cuba! Part 8 – Where to Eat

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Emily:  When I learned about America’s more relaxed policy towards travel to Cuba, I jumped at the opportunity!

Cuba has a lot to offer.  My friends and I were drawn to the classic cars, the Art Deco architecture, and, of course, the friendly people!  We also love music and dance, which is one of Cuba’s specialties! Rick Steves recently produced an excellent video on Cuba that’s fun and informative.

The US and Cuba reached an agreement for direct flights.  Flight availability to Cuba from various US airports and search engines is ALWAYS changing, so be sure to try multiple search engines and cities, if possible.  Readers have reported that some flights to Cuba from the US may be opening up.  When I went to Cuba in December 2015, flights were not scheduled yet. My friends and I flew via Cancun, and continued our journey to Havana.

Note:  Regulations surrounding US travel to Cuba are always changing, so make sure you check the current rules before planning your trip.  There are limited opportunities to use miles & points, but you can save some money.  I’ll show you how later in this series!

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

Some of My Favorite Memories Are of Wandering the Streets for Great Cuban Food!

My travel partners included many of the same friends who accompanied me to Croatia!

Robbie (pink hair) is a professional dance instructor who teaches salsa, kizomba, and bachata.  Sarita is also a dance teacher, as well as a graphic designer.  Gissell teaches fitness classes and loves rock climbing.

On this trip, I went with 3 new friends – Diana, a local art teacher, Chelsea, who manages a hostel, and Antonio, who works in IT design.  Traveling as a group of 7 was fun, but definitely challenging at times!  We had a great time together, and can’t wait to return!

Viva Cuba! Trip Report Index:

Where to Eat

We spent the first couple days eating out for lunch and dinner.  Million Mile Secrets reader, Karen (thanks!) recommends reading the Cuba forum on TripAdvisor. She recommends visiting Los Nardos and Doña Eutima (both in Old Havana), and she says there are wonderful paladars all over the city and easily found with a google search or looking in a guidebook.  Doña Eutima was a recommended restaurant in my Lonely Planet guidebook.

Another reader, A (thank you!), advises: “I encourage readers to go in with modest expectations (remember that chefs there often struggle to get ingredients they need), review Trip Advisor reviews, allow lots of time to eat or go to grocery stores in advance when you’re by a big one if you know you’ll need to eat on the run, and remember that locally owned restaurants are better than government-owned. And never go to an empty restaurant when the one across the street is bustling, especially when it’s Dona Eutemia — make reservations at places like that a few days in advance.”

Vedado / Centro

There were several places to eat in Vedado, our apartment’s neighborhood.

Motivos Restaurant & Bar

We went to a restaurant a short walk from our apartment called Motivos.  We expected great things due to its 4.5-star rating on TripAdvisor.  The ambiance and open air seating were fun, but the atmosphere turned out to be the high point of the experience.

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

Let’s Just Say I Didn’t Expect Gordon Ramsay to Bound Out of the Kitchen

We ordered a round of mojitos and Cuba Libres (like a rum and coke).

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

Here’s Looking at You, Kid!

I ordered chicken, which was a bit dry and bland.

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

Flavorless Food on a Pretty Plate

This was our first meal out together, which made it special!

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

It Was Nice to Try Something New

For dessert we ordered flan and a sweet bread.

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

The Sweet Bread Was the Best!

I wouldn’t go back to this place for the food, but it was fun to try.  Their bar looked worth coming back to, especially for drinks at night.

Casa de la Amistad

While walking around, we located an interesting café / restaurant called Casa de la Amistad (House of Friendship).

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

The Cafe Entrance Was Kind of a Big Deal!

There was a beautiful outdoor garden.

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

The Garden Was Well-Kept With Interesting Statues

And I got to meet the resident cat!

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

He Was Equally Thrilled to Meet Me!

I loved the old architecture of the place.

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

Everything Looked So Regal

The food was VERY cheap!

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

7.60 for Filet Mignon??

We ordered beef, rice, sandwiches, and eggs.

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

You Won’t Go Hungry Here!

It wasn’t the tastiest food, but I loved the ambiance.  There was even a private party with merengue, salsa, and reggaeton music playing.  We had fun dancing at the public bar near the party while we waited for our food!

Old Havana

Near Paladar Doña Eutemia

My friends and I explored one of the main squares in Old Havana.  We got to see the Catedral de San Cristobal, a ~240 year old church which took ~30 years to complete!

My friends are into tarot readings, and had their cards read by a santera, or religious artisan.  After the readings, she shared with us a place where locals go to eat.  We followed her through the streets and down an alley to a dead end with a cute little restaurant!

I didn’t get the name of the restaurant, but I believe it is across from another restaurant called Paladar Doña Eutemia.  Apparently, this is the restaurant we SHOULD have gone to!

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

The Adventure of Getting Here Was as Enjoyable as the Restaurant Itself

I ordered grilled chicken, which was dry and bland.

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

Our Host Mom’s Cooking Was MUCH Better

My friend Gissell had ropa vieja (“old clothes” in Spanish!), which turned out to be a shredded beef dish.  It was amazing!  Ropa vieja is the only thing I’d go back for though.

The courses were a bit steep, around $10 to $14 each.  I much preferred having dinner at the casa particular, but it was nice to try something new in Old Havana.

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

Good Conversation Can Turn Mediocre Food Into an Enjoyable Meal

La Roca

At one point, my friends and I were rushed and didn’t have time to take a long lunch.  We went searching for Cuban “fast” food.  After asking a number of people with no success, we were finally pointed towards La Roca.

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

Fast Food Is Tough to Come by in Cuba!

We explained we were in a hurry and needed food to go.  Getting food to go is apparently pretty uncommon here, as they had to rummage for to go containers.  At first they declined, but we stressed the importance of it, and they delivered!

The bill was less than ~$5 for two people.

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

Fast Food Options in Cuba are Much Healthier Than the US

The rice and beans were served in plastic containers, and wrapped in plastic.

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

One Downfall of Cuban Fast Food – No Toy!

I LOVED the rice and beans.  I was so hungry though, I didn’t care what I ate!

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

Looks Can Be Deceiving – I Thought This Was Delicious!

Dulce Habana

Dulce Habana was my favorite restaurant in Havana.  I loved the relaxed atmosphere, and their facilities were clean and stylish.

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

Dulce Habana Looked Modern and Young

There were some cute cabanas.

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

Great Location for a Large Group Like Ours

They had a wonderful selection of pizzas!  My favorite was the Jeans pizza.

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

The Portions Were Generous for the Price

They were huge and absolutely delicious!

Viva Cuba Part 8 Where To Eat

If I Have 1 More Bite of My Dulce Habana Jeans, I Won’t Be Able to Fit Into My Dolce & Gabanna Jeans!

Bottom Line

Some restaurants that I went to were not very good and I’m excited to return to Cuba to try out some reader recommendations. Use your guidebook, the Tripadvisor forum on Cuba, and talk to locals and perhaps other tourists for the best recommendations.

Million Mile Secrets reader, Karen (thanks!) recommends visiting Los Nardos and Doña Eutima (both in Old Havana), and she says there are wonderful paladars all over the city and easily found with a google search or looking in a guidebook.  Doña Eutima was a recommended restaurant in my Lonely Planet guidebook.

Another reader, A (thank you!), advises: “I encourage readers to go in with modest expectations (remember that chefs there often struggle to get ingredients they need), review Trip Advisor reviews, allow lots of time to eat or go to grocery stores in advance when you’re by a big one if you know you’ll need to eat on the run, and remember that locally owned restaurants are better than government-owned. And never go to an empty restaurant when the one across the street is bustling, especially when it’s Dona Eutemia — make reservations at places like that a few days in advance.”

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6 responses to “Viva Cuba! Part 8 – Where to Eat

  1. My heart is crying that you were SO close to Dona Eutima but ate at the place across the alley instead. My understanding is that that’s a government restaurant and, like most government restaurants, it’s terrible. Dona Eutima on the other hand, my meals there have always been about 6-8CUC (mains) with starters/salads running another 3-4 and the frozen mojitos are 3.50 and worth EVERY BIT OF THAT. They are delicious and they were happy to share the recipe with me which means I make frozen mojitos at home all the time. 🙂

    I’ve been told by more than one Cuban that all the beef in the country is saved for the restaurants and mainly the tourists, the average Cuban is unable to buy it at all. After learning this I went off eating beef, but the ropa vieja at Dona Eutima is made with lamb thankfully.

    For anyone else reading this there are WONDERFUL food options in Cuba, especially Havana. You just have to ask or do your research online in in a guidebook. We found wonderful paladars by asking our casa ladies.

  2. Emily, I strongly disagree with you when you say “Most restaurants in Havana are expensive and unimpressive.” I think a more accurate statement is “I went to restaurants in Havana that were expensive and unimpressive.

    When so few Americans have visited so you know there is interest in reading about a place, you have an obligation to present honest impressions but also accurate information. If you had researched in advance (even just getting the “Cuba 101” documents that every tour company does a variation on), you would know to never follow someone to a restaurant — in Cuba, they’re likely to not be good and likely going to be expensive so they can afford to give a “tip” to the local who walked you there. (Some restaurants have second menus with higher prices for just this reason.) You also would’ve known to avoid government owned restaurants. .

    It’s so frustrating when you touted how inexpensively and quickly you went on your own yet could’ve had a better experience if you’d done some research or gone with a group if you didn’t have time for research.. I admit I am likely biased because I lead small group tours to Cuba (and love the fact I get to eat lobster for $10 or less there), but my last tour group rated the food they ate in Cuba (both in Havana and beyond) as “excellent.” (These were people from major cities in the US, but I have had my share of bland, dry food to find outstanding restaurants that rival any you’ll find in the US, and do my best to only take my groups to great restaurants.)

    I encourage readers to go in with modest expectations (remember that chefs there often struggle to get ingredients they need), review Trip Advisor reviews, allow lots of time to eat or go to grocery stores in advance when you’re by a big one if you know you’ll need to eat on the run, and remember that locally owned restaurants are better than government-owned. And never go to an empty restaurant when the one across the street is bustling, especially when it’s Dona Eutemia — make reservations at places like that a few days in advance.

    As I said before, I and I’m sure others would be happy to write about Cuba for you to share another perspective.

  3. @A I completely agree, I thought it was common travel sense that you never follow anyone into a restaurant anywhere. Well known, popular, good places don’t need to have touts. I’ll usually ask at my hotel, or folks on the street (tourists and not) where they’d recommend, I certainly am always happy to give out recommendations. I can’t even begin to count the number of people I’ve told about Dona Eutima! They should give me a finders fee!

  4. @ Karen- Doña Eutimia was in the Lonely Planet guidebook, and it was starred so is obviously one of the better ones. When you’re traveling with a group, it’s hard to say, let’s not follow this local who’s most likely getting a cut. I knew that all along but didn’t want to be the only one objecting. Sometimes it’s easier to just go with the flow.

    @A- Thanks for the clarification, and I can see how the words would be misleading, so I will update the post. I’m really glad to know there are so many great restaurants in Cuba, and the next time I go, I will have to actually visit them and share my experience with you all!

    I feel that I worked hard to prepare for this trip the best I could, and really did have an amazing time. Thank you for sharing your tips.

  5. While I certainly appreciate the perspectives and information of A and Karen, it is amazing how condescending they come across. The fact that Emily and her friends ate at certain restaurants that might not appeal to the palates of others does not diminish their experience. I am not a foodie, and when I travel, I don’t really focus on the food. It seems like Karen and A are the opposite and can’t understand why everyone is not obsessed with food like they are. It’s really too bad that they don’t know how to express their views more appropriately and constructively.

  6. @ Nick- Thanks for sharing your perspective. I appreciate good food, but I wasn’t stressing about it on this trip. I had a more go-with-the-flow attitude which I found helps a lot when you’re traveling. 🙂 We were just having fun hanging out and exploring the town. And having dinner at our casa particular’s house was so enjoyable and delicious (it seemed like we were a small family), that I wouldn’t trade it for anything.