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Dining a la Cuba

Dining a la Cuba When in Havana, Eat What the Cubans Eat—But Keep it Simple. Here are Some of the City's Best Eateries
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 99

(continued from page 3)

El Palenque
17 y 190
Siboney
Phone: 218167
Inexpensive
Located near the Palacio de Convenciones, this is a no-frills place where you rub shoulders with everyone from diplomats to taxi drivers.The dining area is next to the car park under open-air, palm-thatched buildings. The food is fast and dirt cheap, with anything from hamburgers to pork steaks with French fries, rice and beans. Just to give you an idea of prices: a bottle of Cuban beer is 85 cents, while half a fried chicken is $2.90. This is real Cuban food at real Cuban prices. Service is always friendly. Bring your own cigars.

La Divina Pastora
Parque Historico Militar Morro Cabana
Phone: 338341
Moderate
One of the best views of Havana can be seen from the terrace of this restaurant, located across the harbor at the foot of the Castillo de Morro, the sixteenth-century fortress, which for centuries has guarded the port of the city. It is a large, open and relaxed place, serving mostly international cuisine. Forget about ordering almost anything other than the lobster, which is kept live in tanks in the restaurant before meeting its end with your order. Another good selection is the fresh prawns, which can be grilled or deep-fried. The wine list is limited. Ask for a bottle of white, such as the crisp and satisfying Torres Vina Sol from Spain, and you'll do fine. There's even a small shop with cigars for sale, if you forget to bring your own.

Torre de Marfil
entre Obispo y Orapia
La Habana Vieja
Phone: 62-3466
Inexpensive
If you are tired of heavy Cuban food or insipid international cuisine, eating at this small Chinese restaurant in the renovated part of Old Havana is a tasty alternative. Of course, it's not the quality of a Cantonese eatery in Chinatown in New York, San Francisco or London, but it serves clean, fresh and yummy fried rice, delicious wok-prepared vegetables and succulent pork and prawns. You can even have a Chinese beer with your meal. After lunch, walk across the street to La Casa del Habanos and buy yourself a top-notch cigar.

Cafe El Mercario
No. 112
Calle de los Officeos
Plaza de San Fransico de Asis
La Habana Vieja
Located across the street from the Cafe del Oriente, this brasserie-style restaurant serves quick and well-prepared sandwiches and omelettes. For a quick lunch or light dinner, you can't go wrong. But it doesn't have much in the way of Cuban ambiance other than what you can see through the windows.

Pizza Nova
Marina Hemingway
5ta Ave. y 248
Santa Fe
Phone: 241150, 246969
Inexpensive
Besides serving the best pizza in town, this restaurant offers good pasta. The only problem is that it's a long way from central Havana, as it's located at the Marina Hemingway. Try the small Italian restaurant in the Melia Cohiba Hotel as an alternative if you need a pizza fix. After lunch at Pizza Nova, walk to La Casa del Habano, one of the better cigar shops in Cuba, and buy yourself a robusto or double corona.

La Finca
Ave 19 y 140
Cubanacan, Playa
Phone: 2409346 or 235838
Expensive
This small restaurant is on the same grounds as the overrated El Ranchon restaurant and everything here is better. It's a small house with five or six tables as well as seating outside on the patio. It has a cozy and homey ambiance. The menu usually includes grilled meats and seafood, which for the most part are well prepared, although a recent visit included a main course of chicken that was overcooked to a state of shoe leather. Service is friendly and attentive. The wine list is large, but only about half of the selections are ever available. Bring your own cigars.

La Roca
Calle 21 esquina M
Vedado
Phone: 334501
Moderate
With its tatty 1950s interior, La Roca looks like a slightly down-at-the-heels fish shack in New Orleans or Miami. The food is good, but stay away from anything with sauces. I once had a fabulously cooked fresh lobster ruined by sweet canned coconut sauce thrown over it. The restaurant has a serious wine list for Havana. Service is slow and disinterested. Don't miss the dive bar in back. It's the sort of watering hole that Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra would have loved.

Chung Shan Los Dos Dragones
No. 311 Altos First Floor entra Rayo y San Nicolas
La Habana Vieja
This is a simple, rundown Chinese joint in the middle of Havana's small Chinatown. Don't be intimidated by the dilapidated entrance. Located on the first floor, the small dining room serves food that is fresh and delicious and ridiculously inexpensive. Wonderful seafood as well as chicken and vegetables are always available. The mouthwatering fried rice is a treat. Forget about the wine. It's cooked beyond recognition due to the poor storage conditions. Stick with Cuban beer. Service can be very slow, so bring a big cigar to sit out the wait.


OTHERS

Las Ruinas
Calle 100 y Cortina de la Presa
Parque Lenin
Phone: 57-85-23
Expensive
This is a restaurant that is suitably named not only for the nineteenth-century ruins inside its walls, but for the ruinous number of tourists in buses visiting the place and the inconsistent quality of the food. Located about a half hour's drive outside central Havana near the airport, the restaurant is large and spacious, with a lovely view of the lush green grounds of Lenin Park. Food is simple and often overcooked. A surprisingly good selection of wines is available, not to mention the very good but very underappreciated wine waiters.

El Ranchon
Ave 19 y 140. Cubanacan. Playa
Phone: 2409346 or 235838
Expensive
This is supposed to be the up-and-coming top restaurant in Havana, but it falls flat on its face. The venue is a beautiful garden setting with a rustic, country ambiance, but it's downhill from there. The food is your standard grilled steaks and seafood with frozen fries and canned vegetables, which are all poorly prepared. The starters of crab claws and fish balls are fresh out of the freezer. Service is slow and unhelpful. And the wine list is incomplete. This is overrated and overpriced.


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