Santy – the fisherman’s shack

Santy is named after Santiago Leonardo Álvarez Orozco who opened the place about ten years ago in Jaimanitas to the west of Havana near Marina Hemingway. Be warned that finding it may be a bit of struggle the first time. Do not expect to see any signs; instead don’t be shy about asking the locals who will point out a narrow blind alley, which you probably missed the first time. At the end you will see an unassuming door, which leads you down a narrow passageway to an intimate and charming wooden deck which is the main setting for one of Cuba’s few truly world class restaurants.

The decor is simple: a landscape painting on the wall, a picture of sailor knots and a large fish tank inhabited by four snook and shrimp. A vase is always filled with white flowers, which Santy and his three brothers dedicate to their recently deceased father. Then there’s the river with fishermen’s boats on each side of the mouth of the river before it goes out into the Florida Straits. The huts where the fishermen keep their fishing tackle, the pier, the hustle and bustle of ordinary people going about their daily business. Although Quinta Avenue is just a few blocks away, at Santy’s you feel like you’re in another world where time doesn’t seem to be in any hurry—and neither are you.

Going to Santy for a quick lunch or dinner is practically a sin. Although the service is surprisingly quick, take it slow and enjoy the sea breeze, the view. This place has a rustic feel that feels a hundred miles away from the busy Quinta Avenue barely 50 meters away.

As well as the deck there are two private rooms. In the first fishing rods, hooks and baits hold court. Lying behind a fishing net, a pile of corks of every bottle that has been opened at the restaurant since its inauguration resemble sardines about to be brought out of the water. The walls are graced with paintings by important Cuban artists—gifts to the absent head of the family, a charismatic and beloved man who was considered by the townspeople a sort of unofficial mayor.

The second very cozy private room is suggestive of a sea captain’s cabin. There’s a nautical chart of Cuba’s maritime area and coastal regions, navigational instruments, again fishing gear. I am told that this was Santy’s favorite spot and that he spent much time and effort treating the wood that lines the walls from floor to ceiling.

Once seated do not bother to ask for the menu because there is none. A pleasant woman will tell you by heart the dishes of the day. And if you ask her why there’s no menu she will tell you that “Jaimanitas was mainly a fishing village and the men used to go out to the sea in the small hours of the morning. Therefore, the food that was put on the tables of the fishermen’s homes always depended on the catch of the day.

At Santy, all seafood is brought directly from the sea to the freezers, where they will remain for 72 hours required by law before they become Japanese-style dishes. According to the variety of fish, the restaurant serves different types of sushi: Maki, Uramaki, Oshi, California, Nigiri made in the traditional Asian style or with local ingredients such as pineapple, mango and avocado. Nori, the seaweed that is part of any sushi dish, is imported from Canada. Other fish dishes include Sashimi and Tataki (which blew me away when I tasted the tuna); ceviche made of fish, octopus or shrimp marinated in lemon juice, and seasoned with olive oil and white onion. Other dishes include garlic shrimp and octopus; fish fillet; the famous “caldereta,” a sort of large mixed seafood stew; and the delicious “arroz caldoso,” a house rice recipe that defies all description. Other delicacies are the fish and octopus escabeche from the Mediterranean cuisine brought by the Spanish. This is poached or fried fish that is then marinated in citrus juice or vinegar and accompanied by olives, peppers, onions and sometimes capers.

Lastly, above all this is a family affair. For Santy, the staff is part of his family whether by blood or not. Although every visitor here is treated with extreme courtesy, the regulars (and there are many) also become part of this family, a part of this community of modest and good-natured people who have made this Fisherman’s shack one of Cuba’s very best places to eat.

Calle 240A #3023 esq. a 3ra C, Jaimanitas
(+53) 5-286-7039
Open noon-4pm; 8pm-midnight

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