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Written by Kieran Proctor

Is Cuba A Travel Destination For Foodies?

Cuba is not a travel destination for foodies. As someone who spends months at a time in Cuba, I can ...

Cuba is not a travel destination for foodies. As someone who spends months at a time in Cuba, I can say with absolute certainty that the best food in Cuba, is often mediocre. And it can be downright terrible at its worst. Foodies should skip visiting Cuba.

I’ve tried almost every type of food and restaurants at all price ranges. In this article, I give you the lowdown on everything you need to know about the food in Cuba. But if you’re looking for a guide to the best restaurants in Havana or Varadero, I do have guides on this website.

Where Can I Find The Best Food In Cuba?

The food in Cuba is mediocre at best. The two best restaurants in Cuba, are in Havana. And they are La Guarida and Costa Vino. And the actual menu items at the two best restaurants, aren’t something to write home about.

If you’re looking for Michelin star restaurants, you won’t find any. Cuba has no restaurants or eateries that are in anyway near Michelin standards. Most restaurants are staffed by cooks and not chefs. There is no professional culinary training. Cuba is not a foodies paradise, despite what you might see on Instagram.

The best food in Cuba, as portrayed on Instagram by local Cuban foodies, is a farce. The images on Instagram are heavily digital edited in Adobe Lightroom. And reviews by locals foodies on social media, are paid for by the restaurants.

Unless you’re looking at reviews on Civitatis by foreigners, you won’t find genuine reviews online about food or food tours in Cuba. Any review online that claims a particular restaurant or food tour has the best food in Cuba, should be treated with skepticism.

Beware Of Food Reviews By Local Cuban Foodies!

I can’t stress this enough. But you should beware of any recommendations or food reviews, posted online about Cuba. I can’t even recount how many times I’ve wound up in ‘restaurants’ that gave me food poisoning, had atrocious service or that were downright awful. Just because I fell for an online review.

Hotels, restaurants and other establishments in Cuba, all promote themselves through Instagram. And they do this by hiring young locals to give them good reviews. Restaurants will pay for reviews and Instagram posts. And this is so they can pose as the hottest new spot and then charge customers, like you or I, several times more than they’re worth.

Instead of creating a better menu or improving their service, in order to get better reviews, restaurants will pay Instagram influencers to promote their businesses through social media. Social media is big business in Cuba.

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Does Cuba Have The Best Seafood?

If you think Cuba has fantastic seafood, you’re mistaken. And the only thing worse than the seafood, is the pasta or any food containing beef. Steak is often flown into Cuba frozen and for a premium from Spain. It’s awful. The pasta will have the consistency of chewing gum. Cuban’s have absolutely no idea, how to cook pasta.

For me at least, the seafood is the biggest let down for the island nation. You’d think the octopus, lobster, shrimp and fresh fish would be amazing. Yet it isn’t. The prawns and shrimp are often so small, I find myself surprised that they were able to catch the little blighters. The shrimp really are shrimp sized. They look more like plankton.

The Lobsters in Cuba are about the size of prawns anywhere else in the world. And if you order the Enchilado de Langosta (Cuban Lobster Creole) from somewhere like Costa Vino, it will taste like tomato flavored sand.

Best Food In Cuba
Looks delicious? It should with the amount of digital editing this photo received. In actuality, it tasted like tomato flavored sand.

Food Hygiene In Cuba Is Atrocious!

I’ve personally sat in a VIP area, of an upscale restaurant in Havana, and watched as the cook picked his nose while cooking. And when he wasn’t cooking, he was hanging his head out the door to have a cigarette. Food hygiene in Cuba is atrocious!

It’s no wonder to me, that people often get food poisoning from that restaurant. And while food poisoning in Cuba isn’t as frequent now, as it was in 2021, it’s still pretty darn common.

During 2020 and 2021, Cubans were often hoarding eggs for resale. And any product that contained milk or eggs, such as the croquettes in Cuba, would be guaranteed to have you running for the bathroom.

Today, it’s generally the longer life foodstuffs, that are subject to hoarding in unsanitary conditions. And I would definitely advise against buying anything from small shops or street vendors, that isn’t in a vacuum sealed bag.

As I found out when trying a peanut bar in Havana, Cubans are trained from birth by their mothers to detect the faint odor of cockroaches. They have a cockroach sniffing superpower.

Cockroach contaminated food in Cuba
A cockroach infested nut bar, that I bought in Havana.

Are The Cocktails Good In Cuba?

This is the one bright spot in Cuba. If you’re at an upperclass bar or restaurant, the cocktails can be quite good. While you have to be selective about where you drink and which bartender makes your drinks, when you do find a good place, the drinks can be excellent.

Consistency does plague bartenders, as much as it does cooks in Cuba. In the same way the food can be good one day and terrible the next, so can the drinks. But if you’re willing to pay more for cocktails in Cuba, than you would in other nearby countries with better food and drinks, you can get some good cocktails.

The island has a whole host of domestic cocktails that you won’t often find in other countries, like the ‘canchanchara’. The ‘canchanchara’ is my favorite Cuban beverage. And it’s made from aguardiente, lemon and honey, with crushed ice.

Canchanchara in Havana Cuba
A Cuban Canchanchara

The Cuban canchanchara is exceptional. And I’d recommend everyone try one while visiting. That is, when there isn’t a shortage of aguardiente in Cuba. When there is a shortage of aguardiente, which happens often, it leads to the canchanchara being made with cheap local rum. And with rum, the canchanchara is less than ideal.

You see, shortages are one of the main problems in Cuba. And it’s what leads to inconsistencies in menu items at restaurants. It’s something that drives me bonkers, whenever I’m visiting. Well, that and the often horrible service, food standards and food hygiene.

At least the more rum you drink in Cuba, the less likely you’ll be to get food poisoning. Well, for me anyway, the alcohol helps prevent food poisoning.

Food in Cuba
Also heavily digitally edited.

Are There Good Food Tours In Cuba?

Let me answer this question by stating that I’m currently editing a YouTube video, that will be entitled ‘feeding dog to American tourists on Christmas Eve’. And it’s about an American tour group, getting exactly what the title suggests.

Personally, I go it alone or with professional food tours booked through large booking engines. And I always avoid private tours booked directly with locals, because I’ve seen that go wrong too many times.

When I book my food tours, I book them on Civitatis. And this is for quality control reasons. Because bad tours and lackluster providers, are quickly removed from the platform.

I also check the reviews on Google and Civitatis. But I specifically pay attention to the recent reviews, by foreigners. And I look for places that I can see, that are frequented by lots of upperclass Cubans.

You should avoid paying attention to reviews by Cubans who are under 40 years of age. They’re likely paid or promotional reviews, by some local Cuban foodie or other Instagram ‘influencer’. In my experience, these aren’t genuine reviews. And they certainly aren’t reviews worth paying attention too.

I’ve had better luck finding decent food by myself using this method. Yet sometimes, I’ll take an organized food tour in Cuba. But by checking the reviews and not booking directly with a local, I’ve avoided being served dog meat, dressed up as Ropa Vieja.

Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?

I’ve made my Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba available on this website. And I recommend you read it, before traveling to Cuba. It will help you navigate Cuba and Cuban society.

My Complete Guide To Cuba will save you a lot of time and a significant amount of money on your trip to Cuba. Cuba is not the sort of destination in which you can just arrive unprepared. Read the most Complete Guide To Traveling Cuba.