For June, our theme is wanderlust and we could think of no better person to wax poetic on foreign adventures than Kate Thorman, a professional travel writer. Kate’s impressive credentials include being an editor for Mr. & Mrs. Smith as well as the host/producer of the web-based travel and food program The Innocents Abroad. (In fact, she’s actually the cofounder of the show’s production company Abbott & West.) If you think you had the itch to explore before, we can guarantee that you’ll be ready to pull the trigger and book your next plane ticket after reading her travel-savvy posts this week.
If you’re like me, you structure trips around when and where you want to eat. I can tell you all about the cafés, markets, bakeries, taco stands, and beer gardens everywhere from Mumbai to Minneapolis, but don’t ask me for directions to major tourist sights.
Normally, this is a foolproof system. After all, everyone eats, and it’s not usually hard to get good food. In Cuba, however, I ran aground. The country has been on rations for half a century, and it shows. Before 2011, most of the country’s eateries were government-run tourist institutions, with no incentive to improve.
Now, however, paladares–privately run restaurants–are legal, and locals have spent the last couple years improving recipes and service. As ingredients slowly become more available, a hierarchy has begun to emerge, especially in the capital city of Havana, where truly delicious meals are possible if you know where to look…
Paladar Doña Eutimia
A homey dining room that spills out onto an alley in Habana Vieja, the city’s UNESCO-protected historic center, this charming little paladar serves the best ropa vieja you’ll ever have. A twist on the traditional recipe of the Cuban national dish – lamb instead of beef – has diners making pilgrimages here.
Paladar La Guarida
Hidden upstairs in a crumbling colonial building in the Vedado neighborhood, this elegant paladar serves the best meal you’ll have in Havana. A Cuban told me he didn’t like it because they didn’t serve enough rice and beans – one of the reasons you’ll love its fresh, modern take on Cuban cuisine. Reservations necessary.
Just off the Vedado waterfront, in an airy 1930s Art Deco penthouse, this chic seafood-specializing paladar wouldn’t feel out of place in Miami. Sit on the breezy patio to cool off, and just keep ordering beers – there are only two in Cuba, light or dark – long after the ceviche is gone.