The Sociedad Juventud Asturiana is a Spanish cultural society from the province of Asturias, which has a special legal status in Havana. Essentially, the society functions as a cooperative which means that the staff and management of each location have more independence and incentives to develop a number of wonderful buildings in Havana. Over the past few years a number of restaurants have opened in each of these buildings, which have become some of the best places in Havana to eat.
Los Nardos is one of three restaurants within the premises of the Sociedad Juventud Asturiana. The other two restaurants are El Trofeo (basically a low quality pizza place) and El Asturianito, which is neither (inferior) room in the premises. We would suggest that neither of the alternatives are really worth a mention and therefore have focused our review solely on Los Nardos.
Located directly opposite the Capitolio, the entrance to Los Nardos (which is on the first floor) is easy to miss. This area is also not especially glamorous on a good day and downright run-down and depressed on a bad one. Being Cuba, looks can exaggerate and don’t be put off by a doorman who has clearly picked up attitude from watching too many episodes of Miami Vice. Try and come at a quiet moment (early evening, weeknights, when it rains) and you will avoid a long wait outside.
Inside, the atmosphere is warm, busy, but unusually for Cuba, well managed. Every table may be busy but they cope, your waiter is prompt, the table made up and ready, drinks on time. This is a variety for Cuba and should be appreciated. The decoration is heavy with mahogany and leather dominating. There is football memorabilia and a wonderful enormous wine rack, which covers one length of the restaurant. The kitchen is at one end behind glass, which lets you see a well-run (but perhaps not too slick) culinary operation.
The food is quite simply the best value in the city. Where else can you get Lobster Thermidor for under CUC 10? Garlic prawns with sautéed vegetables and authentic Spanish paella come well recommended. In general, portions are huge and the prices, which start at around CUC 4 for chicken, pork and fish dishes, are unbelievably cheap. These qualities mean that the clientele is very mixed with a split of maybe half local Cubans and half foreigners. This makes a pleasant change for the more elaborate paladares, which cater almost exclusively to tourists or expatriates living in Havana.
Los Nardos gets an absolute thumbs up from us although the wait outside is a real pain.