Gallery: 10 Must-Eat Bites in Havana, Or That Week I Spent in Cuba

  • Fresh Potato Chips

    Fresh potato chips from a window on the same side of Paseo de Prado as the Hotel Saratoga, across from the capital. The potato chips were thick and dark, just the way I like them. This place also sells western omelette sandwiches for breakfast, which I wanted to love but just couldn't.

    Freshly Fried Churros

    The line outside the churro street vendor was a good sign. So was the fact that he was making them to order in clean oil. These churros were light, crispy, and chewy, and the fact that they were slightly greasy somehow added to their appeal.

    Churro sizzle

    Coils of churro sizzle in the hot oil.

    Pizza from Restaurante Mangle Rojo

    There's lots of pizza in Havana, and 95% of it reminded me of Pizza Fours, the frozen pizza I ate as a kid in the early Sixties. Spongey, flaccid crust, characterless dots of white cheese, and canned pizza sauce. But my man Jesus makes a fine Roman-style pizza at Restaurante Mangle Rojo (read the Slice review here), his private restaurant on a hard-to-find side street. His fresh, twice-cooked French fries were also seriously delicious. The meal we had here was probably the best we had in Havana.

    Restaurante Mangle Rojo: Ave 1ra # 2 entre calle 11 y 12 | Guanabacoa, Havana 11111, Cuba

    French Fries from Restaurante Mangle Rojo

    The fresh, twice-cooked French fries from my favorite pizzeria in Havana were also seriously delicious. This was probably the best meal we had in Havana.

    Restaurante Mangle Rojo: Ave 1ra # 2 entre calle 11 y 12 | Guanabacoa, Havana 11111, Cuba

    Roast Pork by the Kilo

    You can eat your meal at the regular restaurant at El Palenque and get roast pork as your main dish, and you will be rewarded with a perfectly fine plate of food featuring extraordinarily good rice and beans, or you can maximize your pork-derived serious eating pleasure by ordering it by the kilo at the take-out section of the restaurant.

    Pork chunks

    The pork is juicier, porkier, and, well, better, and if you insist the expert pork cutters will give you as much crusty exterior meat as you want. There's a one-kilo minimum, which became a problem for us because we had already eaten a big lunch at the sit-down restaurant and my wife Vicky refused to let our hotel room smell like a porketeria for our remaining three days in Havana. So the folks in the park across from our hotel were the lucky recipients of most of my kilo. Warning: there is pizza on the menu here. Suffice to say that it is a definite skip.

    El Palenque: Calle 17 & Calle 190, Havana Playa, Cuba

    Grilled Lobster Tails and more at Paladar Vistamar

    Paladar Vistamar has a glorious setting overlooking the water, and the chefs there made the best white tablecloth, fancypants restaurant meal in Havana. The grilled lobster tails were meaty, slightly crunchy on the outside, and would have been perfect if they had been taken off the grill a minute earlier. The ropa vieja was a classic, paradigmatic version of the popular Cuban dish. The shredded beef was moist and tender, and the sofrito-based sauce tasted like the essence of Cuba. For dessert, their key lime pie was tart and spicy and had a delicate, flaky bottom crust.

    Paladar Vistamar: Ave. 1ra, entre 22 y 24, Miramar, municipio Playa., Havana, Cuba

    Fried Calamari and Onion Combo

    A brilliant idea. Combine two ingredients that take to frying naturally and cook them in the fryer together. I don't know if it was MacArthur Genius grant-brilliant, but it was perfectly executed and mighty tasty.

    Roasted Peanuts in Cones

    Freshly roasted, just salty enough peanuts are sold all over Havana in tiny, long white cones. How cheap are they? When I wanted to get rid of change on my last day, I gave a peanut vendor 50 cents. I got four little cones of peanuts.

    Ice-cold Coconut Milk at the San Jose Market

    Ice-cold Coconut Milk at the San Jose Market

    Buy the whole coconut and the vendor will slice off the top with his machete, stick a straw or two in there, and hand you the whole thing. My wife Vicky and I enjoyed this one. The coconut milk is thin, sweet, and oh so coconutty. The only problem is you don't get your own machete to slice up rest of the coconut meat. As far as we can tell, they weren't selling machetes at the market, perhaps for national security reasons.

    San Jose Market: Ave. del Puerto, Havana, Cuba

    Tres Leches Chocolate Fondant

    Tres leches chocolate fondant dessert at the spooky Paladar La Guarida, was really a hot fallen chocolate souffle that could have been on the menu at any good new American restaurant in NYC, or anywhere else for that matter. It was rich and chocolat-y and had the amazing light but creamy texture that a perfect souffle has.

    Paladar La Guarida: 418 Concordia, Havana, Cuba

    Fresh Pineapple Frozen Dacquiri at Rio Mar

    I wanted to love the food at Rio Mar, which overlooks the water and a very noisy disco. That didn't happen, though it was perfectly fine (like most of the food I ate in Havana), but the fresh pineapple frozen daiquiri was frozen woos-y drink heaven.

    Rio Mar: 3A y Final # 11, La Puntilla, Miramar, Havana, Cuba


    Havana is an amazing place, full of lots and lots of culture: music (as seen here on the street), dance, and art.