Havana Chef has had a makeover and a name change to Casa Lala. It has the same delicious menu (including the suckling pig that I talked about in a previous column), but with lower prices. The place is pleasant with an open space that manages to stay breeze and cool even during the hot Cuban summer. On top of all this, the service is very friendly. Do not miss the chorizos cooked in wine and the fresh pastas!
Havana Chef has landed with a big splash on the Havana paladar scene in late 2011. For a while this was simply the best place to eat in Havana. There is no printed menu; instead the day’s menu is written up on a large blackboard. This lets the chef make lemon juice out of lemons so to speak. What they are able to obtain, fresh from the local fishermen or from local farmers, goes up as the daily menu. Realistically, many of the dishes are mainstays but there is always something new.
The place itself is tricky to find the first time since it inhabits that limbo land in Vedado but not far enough in to be where everyone knows. Coming from Miramar over the iron bridge take the second right up 24. At the top end, it is a few blocks away from the Charlie Chaplin cinema. The restaurant is outside on a pleasant outdoor terrace, which seats a maximum of around perhaps 30 people. The décor is pleasant, simple, and clean without being too ornate. The service is good, quick, and competent.
It is the food everyone is here for: the rollitos de salmón (salmon rolls), costillas de cordero (lamb ribs) and ensalada de pulpo (octopus salad) being outstanding appetizers. Main courses include de champignon and cheese risotto, lamb shoulder and special fish including when we were there an exquisite lionfish. Desserts are OK; the wine list ample and reasonably priced.
I think that this is an especially great lunch place although it works OK for dinner if it is the food you are focused on. Be warned though that the baby lamb ribs while absolutely gorgeous are impossible to eat without getting messy Spanish style–you simply have to pick them up!
Note that in mid 2012 the chef, Ivan left to set up Ivan Justo. There followed a few rocky months before the place re-found its footing with a slightly tweaked menu. We are happy to report that this is still a great place to eat.
The suckling pig at Havana Chef. I am not a suckling pig person, but this was really good. My Spaniard dining accomplices (who really know about suckling pig) believed it’s one of the best in Havana, therefore, trusting their educated palates, it must be so. It was one of the youngest piglets I have ever seen cooked, the meat was tender and flavorful and the skin was crispy. To my horror, I witnessed a pair of Spaniards almost fighting for it’s little three-week-old head. On top of that, the paladar is great, service was amazing, and the food will be the subject of more “ups” in the future. Just bear in mind prices are a little bit in the high side.