Two of the most amazing Cuban restaurants you’ll find in Havana
Finding good food isn’t that difficult Havana, as there are tons of restaurants. But for good Cuban restaurants you’ve just got to know where to look! A quick google search will give you some rough ideas, but the best way is just to ask a local!
Just like any city that relies a lot on tourism, you can get sucked into a lot of tourist traps, and restaurant tourist traps are no exception. It’s not uncommon for us to be walking around the city and see places with plates of spaghetti, pizza, and hamburgers on offer. Honestly, did you go all the way to freaking Havana to eat spaghetti? I sure hope that anyone reading this blog would be a little more adventurous!
Cuban restaurants have been influenced by a lot of other cultures over the decades, and that’s reflected in the food. Also, since food options are so limited, they’ve started to get inventive with a lot of things and come up with some amazing plates. They use the resources they have available to them at the time, and many things won’t be available when you go to order them. You’ll find that even though the menu has listed a few dozen options, the conversations usually start out with “We’re out of X, Y, and Z…”
I want to focus on two places that we had the pleasure of trying and share our experiences with you. We’re not being paid by the restaurants, nor did we get anything from them for free, they are just two amazing places with a true Cuban flair that kick out amazing dishes for not a lot of money.
The first of the awesome Cuban restaurants is called “El Trofeo” and its situated right in front of the old Capitol building in old Havana. The location itself is actually three restaurants in one, and each one is located on a different level of the building. As you approach the building, you’ll more than likely see a line to the left, and a line to the right. These are for the other two restaurants in the building, both on the ground floor and first floor. If you ask the bouncer/security/waiter on the street for El Trofeo (pronounced El Tro-FAY-Oh) chances are there won’t be a line. It’s quite ironic, since the same food is served in all three places, and the prices are all the same! Since it’s all the way on the 2nd floor and requires a few flights of stairs, most people choose the other restaurants. Also, the ambiance in the other two includes more subdued lighting and livelier music.
Even though it’s blazing hot outside, make sure you don’t do what Ben did and show up in a tanktop. While women can wear sleeveless shirts, men cannot, and you might be forced to put on a loaner suit jacket to cover up in the restaurant. No charge, of course, just make sure to give it back when you leave!
I’ll throw up some pics of the menu here, so check it out. But what I REALLY want you to notice are the prices. Everything is ridiculously cheap. Most dinners are between $4-6 and the portion sizes are immense.
We ordered a round of frozen lemonade and it was TART! Who needs caffeine when you’ve got that waking you up, especially considering that outside it was around 28 Celcius (82 Farenheit).
We ordered an appetizer of fried garbanzos and a bread basket. It was huge (for $3.50).
Of course, no meal in Cuba would be complete without a Mojito (for $2.20)!
Shortly afterwards, the main courses came out. Ben had the Duck a la’orange ($5.95)…
I had the Rabbit fricassee in “financiera” sauce ($6.50)…
And our friend tried the chicken cordon blue ($6.50). Now, I don’t know where they found chickens that big, but that portion size was so big that we each had some and STILL had leftovers. The food was perfect.
We even had a little time to make friends with the waiters, as I gave him my sunglasses I had with me as a souvenir from our visit. Chatting with them about Cuba in general and learning about different cultures and people is the best part of travel.
Chef Ivan Justo
The other Cuban restaurant that you absolutely must visit is called Chef Ivan Justo. It’s a little tricky to find, but it’s pretty easy once you get the landmarks right. It’s address is Aguacate #9 and it’s right in front of the Museo de la Revolucion, so as long as you can spot that on google maps, you’re golden!
We did not have a reservation, as I didn’t even think to get one, but please make sure that you do. We showed up around 8:20 hoping to find a table and came to the surprise that the first table was available at 9:30. Not really wanting to wait an hour (as we were all self digesting at this point) the security guard told us that there was a second Chev Ivan Justo just around the corner at the side entrance. This was the original restaurant, but there might not be a wait as most people are now showing up for the fancy new place.
Never fear! We headed next door and started to walk up the stairscase, only to hear an Oye! That made us turn around, realizing that maybe we shouldn’t have just walked up there. Again, no reservations, and this time the wait would be until about 10pm! AHHHH! I was not about go hungry, so I started playing coy and said that we DID have a reservation (wink wink). It didn’t work.
I then said that I have one under the name Barack Obama. A laugh, but no. So I tried Trump. No dice either… I was striking out. Figuring that I was screwed, I asked if I could go up and make a reservation for tomorrow (when I reality I wanted to get a table for tonight). He told me to go ahead, and ask for Juan Carlos. After about 5 minutes of cajoling and charismatic bargaining, we were told to head up to the bar, have a drink, and we could have the next table that opened up. When I headed down to the security guard, he jumped out of his seat exclaiming “What the hell! That has NEVER happened, EVER!”
This place is WORTH the wait. The bartender Manuel makes some strong drinks and they’re really unique and tasty. They won’t set you back much either (around $3.50 each) but in comparison to other places, it’s about double what you should pay.
We tried some tropical punch, a no-named drink concoction of his own making, and we saw him making a specialty drink for the location, called the canchánchara.
After some idle chat with Manual about the restaurant and the bar, and once the table was ready, we headed down for a nice dinner. The menus are hand written on chalkboards, and as you can see the prices are more in line with a US restaurant. Don’t be discouraged, this restaurant is top notch and the passion that Chef Justo has in his food shows on every plate.
We ordered the suckling pig…
And what could best be described as a Seafood Stew. It had lobster, clams, fish, crab, mussels, shrimp, veggies, and a delicious broth.
The lechon was perfect, as noted by the way the skin just pops right off, and just look at the size of the claws on the crab!
Everything was uniquely decorated throughout, giving the place a very home-cooked and inviting feel.
Without a doubt, we’ll be returning to these places again once we go back to visit Cuba. If you’re going to go, make sure to call ahead to Chef Ivan Justo, as the internet reservation system isn’t quite up and running yet. Juan Carlos has a gigantic book at the front desk with reservations heading out 6 months in advance, so call and grab you spot right away.