So I arrived back in the United States yesterday and it has been in so many ways surprisingly natural. I haven’t completely sorted out all of my feelings, I mostly feel the tentative sigh of finishing finals and the relief at being in a certain way back in my element, but sadness prickles when I think of not being able to go back to Havana, or that perhaps it will be in so many ways unrecognizable when I do. It’s a lot to process but I’ll leave you with a final word about some of my favorite paladares. (I had so many photos saved for an eventual post about where I ate but unfortunately my phone was stolen right before I left and along with it all of the pictures.)
In honor of my semester and all of the wonderful times I spent eating, drinking, and talking I leave to readers and future IFSA student this list of places to fill your belly and kill your appetite.
Cafe Punto G
Price: Between 15 and 60 moneda nacional (Splurging only sets you back 2 bucks max)
Location: On Linea between G and H down a wide driveway behind a language school. The spot if well marked and a chalkboard sign boasting snippets of the menu diverts walkers form the sidewalk into the cozy garden haven.
What to order: Any of their thick and delicious milkshakes, the flavors of which change daily and range from a sublimley smooth almond flavor to the creamy cousin of eggnog known as mantecado. Aside from heavenly shakes, G Spot is addictive for their fresh ground burger with all the fixings, (tomato, lettuce, ketchup, and grilled onion), on a panini pressed bun, a lo cubano. Other favorites include the tiny savory pies that sit on the counter, full of a uniquely seasoned and richly flavorful combination of eggplant and parmesan.The guava juice is pulpy and phenomenal, a perfect substitute for the shake should you find yourself avoiding dairy, or in my case, short on Lactaid.
* It is important to note that there is also a restaurant called Punto G, they are not at all affiliated so should you be lost and looking for this G Spot, remember to specify that is is the cafe you want, and not the restaurant.
Price: Plates between 25 and 95 moneda nacional (1 to 4 dollars/CUC)
Location: On J between 21st and 23rd. This is a front patio converted into a small and casual cafe frequented by tourists, hipsters, and the cuban novela actress from time to time (okay only once did I run into a famous person here but she was so nice and normal I wouldn’t have even realized if my cuban friend had not pointed her out.)
What to order: Go for the carbonara (35 MN) and a fresh yogurt with a scoop of raw sugar to sip on while you wait. The owner is Italian and this is the best bowl of pasta in the city, fancy paladares included.
Casa Sayu – adjudicate between obispo an date nest street
Price: between 8 and 50 moneda nacional (40 cents to 2 dollars/CUC)
Location: Havana Vieja- Calle Aguacate between Obispo and I can’t remember what, if you’re coming up Obispo from Parque Central its down to the right.
What to order: Casa Sayu is the only Japanese restaurant I have ever come across in Havana and it is delicious. From bento boxes to sushi to perfect savory crepes this place is dirt cheap and totally satisfies the craving for something different from the usual cuban fare. Everything I have ordered there has been delicious, in the time I was there Sayu expanded form window service to an adorable and clean dining room. The owner also runs a casa particular, and while I can’t vouch for the accomodations themselves because I’ve never been, the location is prime and you would be upstairs from endless savory crepes.
Almendrares– between 23rd and the university
Price: individual cakes and pastries go between 8 and 25 moneda nacional and full size cakes range from 5 CUC and up.
Location: J between 24th and 25
What to order: The individual cakes are delicious and a great snack after morning classes. My favorite is the neon yellow Cardenalillo, the bottom layer is soaked in simple syrup, the top is fluffy and s swirl of chunky sugary merengue sits on top while a thin layer of the same binds the two thick tiers of cake together. When I was running early for class, (a truly rare occasion), I would treat myself to the guava pastelitos, palm sized puff pastries that ooze butter and teh eventual dense lump of guava paste when you hit the center. I like to eat them layer by layer top down with an ice cold can of Naranja soda.
The creamy cornet and satisfying Moca cakes are also favorites and for a party their BonBon cake is a moist melange of chocolate and merengue fluff topped with pink frosting roses that serves serves six.
Price: 25 moneda nacional for a lunch plates, add ons from 5 to 10 moneda nacional
Location: I between 21 and 23, The cozy spot is home to quite a few immaculately clean birdcages so look for a finch or two perched in a cage hanging from the doorway or branch in front of the semi outdoors cafe.
What to order: Doña Laura has a rotating menu of lunch plates all of which include rice, beans, a small salad of lettuce and green beans, and a slice of boniato. My favorite is the ropa vieja with a thick slice of avocado on the side. The drinks also vary day by day but if you’re lucky they’ll have Guanabana yogurt, served cool in thick green glasses, it tastes how skittles would if they grew from the ground and were nourished by sun and water and then blended into tangy fresh cow yogurt. No sugar needed.
On days when I was less hungry I went for the tamal en cazuela (think a thick corn soup, bazically a tamal unwrapped and cooked down. Other side dishes include a plate of steaming yucca topped with garlic mojito and bacon bits or chicharrones depending on the day’s menu.
Doña Laura is also a greta place to stop for a vegetarian meal as alongside meat dishes they often have tortillas, (fluffy cheese-less omelettes), with all the same sides. The tamal en cazuela does not contain meat and with a hearty chunk of avocado its a perfect lunch in itself.
Price: 1- 7 CUC
Location: Calle L between 15 and 17
What to order: This little cafe is popular with tourists and foreigners and for the food they offer the prices are quite high. However, the ambience is unbeatable and it is one of the few places in Havana where it feels normal to sit and hang for hours or study with a laptop. Stick to the delicious crepes with nutella, (2 CUC), the frapuccinos, and salty and hearty tapas such as the chicken croquetas, olives, and cheese. The burgers here are frozen and highly mediocre and will set you back 3 CUC, for the same price you can get a huge fresh beef burger at Cafe Punto G and a milkshake, so stick to snacks and coffee drinks and enjoy the sounds of Beck and Florence and the Machine while you rework your essay for the millionth time.
Price: 10 mn (50 cents!)
Location: The corner of G and 23rd
What to order: MOJITOS, MOJITOS, MOJITOS! Though this bar offers snacks, the real reason to come is the 5o cent mojitos served ice cold and full of gritty sugar. Seating is a breezy upstairs porch in this butter yellow colonial gem, Casa Balear is the place to be if you want to shoot the breeze foe hours after lunch or on a Friday night when the malecon is too chilly and you’re looking for a relaxing alternative to a nightclub. When you can’t handle a drop more of rum, switch to their sangria (also 50 cents a cup) and slurp up citrus pulp and the occasional ant or two along with the mound of sugar that sits at the bottom of your glass.