There’s no shortage of little in-house cafeterías around the university serving cajitas (boxed lunches) for CUC1 or so, or the equivalent in pesos. Try Cajitas (Calle L, esq. 25; go down the stairs into the home). Nearby, Doña Laura’s (Calle H, e/ 21 y 23, daily 11 a.m.–4 p.m.) is a porch-based cafeteria serving sandwiches for five pesos, cajitas (25 pesos), and splendid batidos (shakes).
Penny-pinching pizza hounds should head to Pizza Celina (Infanta y San Rafael), alias “Pie-in-the-Sky.” Reports student Bridget Murphy: “Celina the capitalist genius hasn’t let the fact that she lives on the third floor stop her from running a successful pizza business. Scream up your order from across the street, and then in a few minutes pick up your pizzas from, and drop your pesos into, the plastic basket (complete with red bows) that comes crashing down.” It’s pretty good pizza, too.
The Comedor de Aguiar (Calle O, esq. 21, tel. 07/873-5054, daily 7 a.m.–midnight), in the Hotel Nacional, fairly glitters with chandeliers and silverware and appeals to those with money to burn. The waiters are liveried to the T and trained to provide top-notch service. The well-executed menu features creative international cuisine and is highlighted by shrimp with rum flambé and smoked salmon with capers and onion for starters. Main courses are priced CUC13–40.
La Torre (Calle 17 #155, e/ M y N, tel. 07/832-2451, daily noon–11:30 p.m., bar 11:30 a.m.–12:30 a.m.), atop the Focsa building, offers splendid all-around views of the city. Its French-inspired nouvelle cuisine is of higher than usual standard: I recommend the prawns and mushrooms in olive oil and garlic starter (CUC9). I also enjoyed a fish fillet poached in white wine, butter, and cream, and roasted with cheese, served with mashed potatoes and crisp vegetables (CUC14). Order the mountainous and delicious profiteroles (CUC5) for dessert! Only one wine is served by the glass (CUC3.50); it’s tiny and not very good.
Competing for the loftiest views in town, the Sierra Maestra (Calle 23 y L, tel. 07/834-6100, noon–midnight), atop the Hotel Habana Libre Tryp, is virtually unknown to tourists (other than the hotel guests). I haven’t dined here, but both the service and continental dishes are said to rank highly.
When I’m in town, you might find me dining upstairs at Café Concierto Gato Tuerto (Calle O #14, e/ 17 y 19, tel. 07/833-2224, daily 6 p.m.–midnight). Chef Ricardo Curbelo Ferrer has spiced up the menu with creative dishes such as sautéed shrimp with curry and coconut sauce (CUC10), and roasted leg of lamb with rosemary sauce (CUC8). Modern art festoons the walls.
If you want to experience Havana’s gauche 1950s-redux decor, dine at either Restaurante Monseigneur (Calle O, esq. 21, tel. 07/832-9884, daily 11:30 a.m.–1 a.m.), with its black marble bar and kitsch, or at the El Emperador (Calle 17 e/ M y N, tel. 07/832-4998, daily noon–2 a.m.), with its blood-red curtains and Louis XIV–style furnishings. Both serve such dishes as carpaccio (CUC5), grilled shrimp (CUC10), and rabbit in creole sauce (CUC8), but you really come for the ambience.
The Meliá Cohiba’s El Abanico Restaurante Gourmet (Paseo, esq. 1ra, tel. 07/833-3636, daily 7–11 p.m.) is one of the most elegant in town. Its nouvelle dishes might seem a bit ambitious, but execution is accomplished. I recommend the medallions of caramelized trout with tarragon starter (CUC7), followed by walnut sole with risotto (CUC17).
Also in the mezzanine of the Meliá Cohiba, the best place for Italian fare is the baseball-themed La Piazza Ristorante (tel. 07/833-3636, daily 1 p.m.–midnight). It offers 17 types of pizza (CUC7–20) but also has minestrone (CUC7.50), gnocchi (CUC10), seafood (from CUC11), and an excellent risotto with mushrooms (tinned). It even has pizza to go! Smoking is tolerated and fouls the place.
The Basque cultural center’s Centro Vasco (Calle 4, esq. 3ta, tel. 07/833-9354, daily noon–midnight) serves grilled shrimp (CUC7), paella (CUC7.50), and lamb stew (CUC7).
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition