Elena’s ups downs to dining out in Havana

During the past month still more paladares have appeared in Havana which continues to keep me busy! While there is good and bad in all of these the downs of the new places are typically not as big as the ups. It is also worth commenting that many of the issues highlighted on previous months downs list do seem to have got better which goes to show that people are listening somewhere!


Waiters’ uniforms at El Asador del Rey
The problem with this paladar is not the food, not the prices, not the menu… the problem is the bad taste of the waiters’ uniform. The women working here seem pleasant enough (albeit not necessarily Michelin trained), but they seem dressed up to represent someone’s fantasy waitress/inappropriately. Fish net stockings, a ruffled miniskirt and a bow in the head does definitely have a place in the world, simply not serving me please! White shirt, black slacks— what more do you need. Conveniently located in Miramar El Asador del Rey prepares excellent meat dishes (ribs, steaks, rabbit). While the garden and overall decor could do with some work, the prices are reasonable and the owner is keen to tailor dishes to suit. Worth a look even if it does not beat nearby Dr. Café or Calle 10.
Calle 3ra esq. a 18, Miramar. Tel. (+53) 7-209-2132

The noise at La Fontana
While I like the Fontana for the excellent food and service, the live music is simply too loud even if it is is actually quite good. I want to talk at dinner not listen to a concert. Maybe I am simply getting too old or I should simply shut up and listen more but what with the noisy and packed dining room this is definitely a down for me. Please turn the volume down or at least give longer breaks to the musicians.
Ave. 3raA y 46, Miramar. Tel. (+53) 7-202-8337

The chairs at El Madrigal
El Madrigal is the place that everyone (myself included) loves to hate. This is a beautifully decorated place which attracts a hip and artsy mostly Cuban crowd. My sort of place even if the drinks take their time and the owner seems to delight in insouciance. My down today is all about the chairs which must have been deliberately designed in some part of the world for discomfort. Made of wood with a square design and high arm rests they look comfortable but after a few minutes sitting at one you will take my point and join the hopping brigade.
Calle 17 # 809 (altos) e/ 2 y 4, Vedado. Tel. (+53) 7-831-2433


Paellas at Mesón de Sancho Panza
Located in Vedado, close to the Havana University this is a handsome Spanish place with a large outdoor seating area under a covered patio decorated with plants and a cute fish pond. I recommend the chorizos al vino or serrano ham as a starter and your pick of the excellent paellas as a main which comes in various colours including meat, chicken, seafood, and black (made with squid ink). We ordered the seafood and squid both of which were great. On top, the prices are reasonable and the waiters are very friendly. Definitly an “up.”
Calle J e/ 23 y 25, Vedado. Tel. (+53) 7-831-2862.

Chocolate tart and key lime pie at Rio Mar
It was nice to see that Rio Mar had fixed the “down” reported in this column some months ago and now includes reasonable priced wines in its menu. We also are happy to report another “up” which we found in out last visit. That is the desserts, specifically the chocolate tart and the key lime pie; both are creamy, tasty, not two sweet, beautifully presented and delicious. Don’t leave without one on your next visit to this very pretty place by the water.
Ave. 3ra y Final #11, La Puntilla, Miramar. Tel. (+53) 7-209-4838

Chicken Tikka Masala at Bollywood
Since its opening in late 2011 Bollywood has been a breath of fresh air for the food enthusiasts in the city. The menu has no grilled chicken, pizzas, pork or but instead Chicken bandore, curry shrimp, spiced lentils and my personal favorite, the chicken tikka masala. I like it extra spicy, (still only luke warm for Mexican standards). The waiters are attentive and friendly and Cedric, the owner is an absolute doll. It is not cheap but definitely worth it and the place is cute even if somewhat difficult to find for the first time. No downs for Bollywood.
Calle 35 #1361 entre La Torre y 24, Nuevo Vedado. Tel. (+53) 7-883-1216

Lime and Vodka Tagliatelle at La Guarida
La Guaridad remains the classic, best known, and must-see for any visiting foodie. The menu is almost an institution in itself so rare are changes made to it. This shows in the consistency of the food (appeteizers are especially good, you never go wrong with fish or pork dishes too). The best food for me, though is the lunchtime freshly made pasta special. I like all four variants but my favorite has to be the Lime and Vodka Taglietelle which is a little bit tart with a dash of buttery taste and a large heap of satisfaction. Take the afternoon off work and try it.
Calle Concordia #418, e/ Gervasio y Escobar, Centro Habana. Tel. (+53) 7-866-9047

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