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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 4)

Le Select
5ta ave y Calle 30
Miramar, Playa.
Phone: 247410, 247411
When it opened a few years ago, this restaurant, located near some of the embassies in the Miramar district, was touted as the top eatery in the city. However, it was all hype. From the outside, the place looks as exclusive as its name suggests, since it's in a restored 1950s mansion complete with swimming pool in the garden. But the food, service and ambiance are sub-par all the way. The only redeeming thing about Le Select is the live music most nights in the garden.

El Tocororo
Calle 18 esquina 3
Miramar, Playa
Phone: 242209, 224530, 242998
Years ago this was the restaurant to go to in Havana. Located in Miramar in a small nineteenth-century mansion, it was always full of upscale tourists, foreign businessmen and diplomats. The food was straightforward but very good, with grilled steaks and shellfish la rigueur. Alas, it's no longer up to par. The food is still good but it's outrageously expensive--$25 to $30 for a good but standard grilled steak is a joke. Their starters of crab claws, meat balls and garlic shrimp are available in many restaurants in Havana and for half the price. The wine list is limited and what is available is normally in bad condition since the bottles are stored next to the kitchen. The only reason to pay such high prices for such run-of-the-mill food and surly service is the excellent live music, which is usually played by a small ensemble of veteran jazz musicians who know all the classic Cuban songs from the 1950s and 1960s.

La Cecila
Calle 5, entre 110 y 112
Miramar, Playa
Phone: 24-1562
This is another popular restaurant of yesteryear. It serves uninspired grilled meats and shellfish with black beans and rice at inflated prices. The outdoor seating under palm-thatched roofs is pleasant enough, but the annoying trio of musicians, not to mention a ridiculous magician, ruins the mellow atmosphere. Better forgo the restaurant and come for the live music in the outside auditorium next door, which often features some of the hottest salsa bands in Cuba. It usually gets going around midnight. Book a table in advance.

Restaurante La Paella
Hostal Valencia
Calle Oficios No. 53
esquina a Obrapia
Habana Vieja
Phone: 623801
The restaurant in this small hotel in Old Havana is said to have the best paella in town. I have been there three times over the past five years and the kitchen has never been able to properly prepare the famous rice and seafood dish of Spain. What I have eaten instead has verged on being inedible. And the service is rude.

Cafe del Oriente
addresses and telephone to come
This is another new and flashy restaurant and bar located in a restored building in Old Havana, which looks as if it should be in downtown Milan. Located near the ship terminal, it's a great place to stop during a slow afternoon and enjoy a cocktail or coffee while listening to the live piano music. Forget the restaurant upstairs. It's pretentious and the chefs are incapable of cooking anything on the menu, from sautéeing fresh prawns to slicing and plating smoked salmon. What a shame, since the wine list is good and the service admirable.

Ave. 23 y 198
La Lisa
Phone: 337832
This is an out-of-the-way restaurant in the outer suburbs of Havana. At one time, the cooking was very good thanks to the handiwork of a Bahamian chef who was on loan from the Nassau restaurant Graycliff. But the chef left and now Pedregal serves the same old international cuisine you can get in just about any upscale restaurant in town. It tends to be either full of busloads of tourists or almost empty.

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