Food in Cuba: 7 Dishes That Will Shatter Your Misconceptions

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

“Make sure you bring some salt with you to Cuba, the food is very unseasoned and bland.”

“Don’t forget to pack some hot-sauce, the food is seriously lacking in flavour!”

These were the words of advice we received from friends and family while planning our trip to Cuba. Unfortunately, one of the hot topics surrounding this country is how awful the food is! In fact, many of the questions we received from readers upon our return were all about the cuisine – “What’s the food like? Is it as bad as people say?”

It’s true, if you’re a hardcore foodie, you may be disappointed by the food on offer, or if you eat at the all-inclusive resorts, or at the State-run restaurants. And I’ll be the first to agree that the variety of snack foods available are seriously lacking.

what to eat in cuba
This photo desperately needs polarizing, but you get the picture – empty shelves.

But, here’s the secret to enjoying the food in Cuba…

Eat at the casa particulares! These homestays offer fantastic, authentic food that will definitely satisfy your cravings. For $7 – $10, you’ll have a table full of food (so much that you won’t be able to eat it all), which usually comes with fresh fruit juice, and sometimes, a cocktail.

In 1993, Cuban people were allowed to open up small, family run businesses called paladares (prior to that, it was illegal). Although this sounds like a good thing, there were many stipulations attached to the restaurants that they were allowed to open, including who they could hire, the number of seats available and the amount/type of products they could sell.

That didn’t leave a whole lot of room for imagination and creation of meals! Luckily, all of that changed in 2010, and things have become even better since 2014, with 9,000 previously State-run restaurants being privatized.

These days, Cubans can own their own businesses, which is good news for travellers as there are some seriously good cooks in the country. Apart from eating at the casas, there are many excellent restaurants popping up, serving local and international cuisine.

Still not convinced that the food in Cuba is delicious? Check out our 7 favourite meals from our recent travels there:

Enchilado de la Casa 

cuban food in havana

This snapper fish was sautéed in white wine and a spicy red sauce, which had a nice kick to it. The fish was cooked perfectly and flaked apart easily. The meal was accompanied by a salad, black beans and rice, as well as the fried plantain chips on the plate. At the end of our trip, this was still my favourite meal during our travels in Cuba!

Check it out at Paladar Dona Eutimia in Havana. This restaurant is always busy and reservations are necessary. This meal cost $9.

Ropa Vieja

cuban food

This is the most popular dish in Cuba, which literally translates to “Old Clothes!” Although old clothes might not sound all that appetizing, I can assure you that this dish of shredded beef or lamb is fantastic. The meat is stewed in a tomato sauce with green peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro and cumin and is typically served with rice. We actually had some leftovers one time and made sandwiches with it the next day – highly recommended. This meal came with rice, beans, salad and the fried plantains on the plate.

Ropa Vieja is found all over Cuba, but this particular picture is also from Paladar Dona Eutimia in Havana. This meal cost $8, but can be found elsewhere in the country for much less.

Spaghetti Bolognese

italian food in cluba

Italian food is popular around Cuba – some of it is done really well, while other attempts completely fail! This spaghetti, however, was incredible. The owner of the restaurant lived in Italy and does a great job with all of the pastas here.

Check out El Olivo Restaurant in Viñales. The pastas range from $4 – $6.

Lobster Tail

food in cuba lobster

Fresh seafood is abundant in Cuba! Nick had 2 lobster tails with rice, sautéed vegetables, garlic potatoes and tomatoes, complete with fruit for dessert, a daiquiri cocktail, and coffee at the end of the meal. The whole meal was $12.


food in cuba trinidad

We recently shared our food experience making tamales in Mexico on Expedia, and although the tamales pictured here from Trinidad weren’t as good as the ones we made from scratch in Valladolid, they still did the trick (especially after a few beers!) The corn flavour was perfect, the density of the dough was good and the tomato sauce on top was a nice touch.

Check out Taberna La Botija, which is open 24 hours. Happy hour is from 4:00 – 6:00 with cocktails and tapas being 25% off. These tamales were only $1.15.

Pork Ribs

food in trinidad cuba

Taverns are widespread in Cuba and are a great place to hear live music, have drinks and eat good food. We ordered these rib tapas many times during our stay in Trinidad. The meat literally fell off of the bone and the onion and garlic sauce drizzled on top was perfection.

Check out Taberna La Botija, which is open 24 hours. Happy hour is from 4:00 – 6:00 with cocktails and tapas being 25% off. This pork rib plate cost $2.65.

Stewed Chicken

what to eat in cuba

This meal was prepared at our casa in Viñales (Casa Boris y Mileidi), and it was perfection! The chicken was so tender and bursting with flavour and the accompaniments of potatoes, salad, rice & beans, homemade plantain chips, mango puree and fresh cheddar cheese was perfect. The meal cost $7 and we were stuffed!

Have we changed your mind?!

If you know which restaurants to eat at, and if you sample the home-cooked meals at your casa, you’ll really be impressed by the food in Cuba. However, if you are on a very strict budget, or you only eat at high-end restaurants or resorts, you may find yourself disappointed by the food on offer.

In our personal experience, we can honestly report that we enjoyed pretty much everything we ate during our travels in Cuba. I think it’s safe to say that you can leave the salt and hot-sauce at home.

For more articles about our backpacking trip in Cuba, check out:

Planning a Trip to Cuba: To-Do List Before Travel (Updated May, 2015)

Goodbye Guatemala, Hello Cuba! Our Journey from Lake Atitlan to Havana

Havana, Cuba – Could This Be Our New Favourite City?

Finding the Real Cuba in Viñales

Have you been to Cuba? What did you think of the food there? Tell us about it 🙂

Like it? Pin it! 🙂

7 Dishes That Will Shatter Your Misconceptions About the Food in Cuba

Dariece Swift author's bio Goats On The Road

Written by

Dariece Swift

Dariece is a co-founder of Goats On The Road, and an expert in saving money, finance management, building an online business and of course... travel. She loves meeting new people, trying new cuisines, and learning about the unique cultures of our world. She has over 12 years of experience helping others to realize their travel dreams and has worked in numerous jobs all over the world to help pay for travel.

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18 thoughts on “Food in Cuba: 7 Dishes That Will Shatter Your Misconceptions”

  1. You had me at lobster tails 😀 I pretty sure the people who complain about the food in Cuba are the people who have never been and just heard if from somewhere. Before we traveled throughout Central America, we heard many times that the food is not good there but I have to disagree. We found quite a few dishes that are among our favorites now. Glad you too didn’t listen to the others and just experienced Cuba for yourself.

  2. Aaah, you two definitely picked the best places in Cuba to eat! La Botija, El Olivo and Doña Eutimia are among the best picks in the whole country and I always recommend these when people ask me about good food in Cuba 🙂 Did you know that it’s actually illegal to serve lobster in casas particulares? They can officially only be served in paladares, but many cooks in the casas find their way around this with illegally transported lobsters into their house 😉 Great post, looking forward to more Cuba posts!

  3. Hey guys! Thanks for the comment. I agree, many people just repeat what others have told them, without experiencing it for themselves. Central America may have rice and bean dishes, but there’s much more to it 🙂


  4. Whoa! I didn’t even know that people saying Cuban food was awful was a thing! I wish I could have met them to show them where to go to get the good stuff. I haven’t gone to Cuba yet but there are some great Cuban hole-in-the-wall restaurants around where I live (NYC-especially Queens). I can’t wait to enjoy their cuisine on location. Anyway, thanks for the great post!

    P.S. One of the first things I look forward to when planning a trip is all the amazing food I know I’m going to eat, haha

  5. Hey Katherine,

    Thanks for the comment! ya, before we went we heard a lot of negative things about the food in Cuba, and we’re glad those people were wrong 🙂

    Oh, and we too look for what dishes we’ll eat when planning a trip! haha.


  6. I remember when I was planning my (aborted) trip to Cuba a few years ago, I was really excited at the prospect of lobster! And yes, I kept reading complaints about how boring the lobster and fresh fruit got… are you kidding me??! The tamales also look yummy!

  7. I’m definitely putting those paladares on my list, especially since Edith confirmed their status as top restaurants. I’ve heard what people say about the food in Cuba, but we’re actually planning a food tour there (which will take us to some of the top spots, along with farms) to see how things have changed for the food industry over the years in Cuba. I think it will be highly educational and very tasty. Thanks for sharing your recommendations!

  8. Exactly! haha. It’s true that the food isn’t as amazing as say, India, China, Mexico, Italy, etc. But it’s definitely not as brutal as people say! We loved the fresh seafood and the tapas we found. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  9. it is also important to mention that almost every week there are new paladars (private restaurants) , even at this moment there are some which are ‘gourmet’ paladars . The same with private vacation rentals, there are for every kind of budget and needs: for whole families, for people who come to congress, for group of friends, etc. so, I thnk that in a few months it will be almost impossible to be “updated”.

  10. I have been pouring over all of your Cuba posts. They are getting me so excited for my upcoming trip. Where did you get the lobster pictured above?!

  11. The food scene in Cuba is really booming now. We love eating at casas particulares – you can rarely go wrong with a home-cooked meal. The cheap street food can be a little bit unexciting, but it’s so cheap that it’s still not quite right to complain about it. Great overview!

  12. I thought the food you shared in your pictures looked delicious! I really liked the look of the enchilado de la casa since I love spicy food. The amount of sauce it had on it definitely made it look like it had plenty of flavor!

  13. If only Cuban people could have access to all that food
    Instead they are able to buy leftovers bones with no meat. People should not go to Cuba .

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