Surf and Turf
El Floridita (Obispo #557, esq. Monserrate, Habana Vieja, tel. 07/07/867-1300, daily noon–11 p.m.) has a fantastic fin de siècle ambience—the sole reason to dine here, due to the excessive air-conditioning, ridiculous prices, and surly service. A shrimp cocktail costs CUC15; oyster cocktails cost CUC5. The house special is langosta mariposa (lobster grilled with almonds, pineapple, and butter; CUC42). Many of the dishes are disappointing; stick with simple dishes such as prawns flambéed in rum. The wine list is impressive.
The simple La Casa del Escabeche (Obispo, esq. Villegas, tel. 07/863-2660, daily noon–11 p.m.), open to the street, serves delicious escabeche (cube chunks of fish marinated with lime and salsa) for pennies. You can opt for a modern air-conditioned area.
The ritzy Café del Oriente (Oficios, esq. Amargura, tel. 07/860-6686, daily noon–midnight), on Plaza de San Francisco, serves some of the best food in town. It has a marbletop bar, tux-clad waiters, and a jazz pianist downstairs in the Bar Café—heck, you could be in New York or San Francisco. Upstairs is even more elegant, with sparkling marble and antiques, French drapes, and a magnificent stained-glass ceiling. It offers mostly steaks and seafood dishes (CUC12–30), including calf’s brains with mustard and brandy cream sauce and a divine filet mignon.
Restaurante El Templete (Av. del Puerto, esq. Narcisco López, tel. 07/866-8807, daily noon–midnight) is recommended for its harborfront position, where it receives the breezes. Housed in a restored colonial mansion, this seafood restaurant with rustic decor has heaps of ambience, plus a diverse menu ranging from oyster cocktails (CUC5) to overpriced lobster (CUC28) and a delicious chocolate brownie dessert, all prepared by Gallego chef Arkaitz Etxarte.
The adjoining sibling Restaurante La Barca (tel. 07/866-8807, daily noon–midnight) serves pastas and continental dishes.
© Christopher P. Baker from Moon Cuba, 5th Edition