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The 19 Foods You Have to Try in Cuba

ViaHero
Updated November 30, 2020

Food in Cuba is a delicious mix of Native American, Spanish, African, and other Caribbean influences. You'll have plenty of options, which is why we asked some Cuban locals for their advice about the must-try dishes in Cuba. Here's what they said! 

Where to Eat in Cuba

From high-end restaurants to private homes to street food, the food in Cuba is surprisingly diverse these days. Cuban food has a reputation for being bland because, for many years, it was bland due to lack of access to ingredients like spices. Rice and beans are popular because rice and beans are cheap and plentiful. So even today, while you can find great food in Cuba, many lower-end restaurants and street food stalls offer plain meals only.

Meat and Platter Food in Cuba

State-run Restaurants

Not long ago, travelers mainly had a single option for dining out: state-run restaurants.  These are now just one of many options because the Cuban government has allowed privately owned restaurants to open up alongside their government-run ones. The food and service are generally blander in state-run restaurants than at privately owned restaurants, but sometimes you'll find an exception to the rule. Prices range from 4-12 CUC per person depending on what you eat. About half of these restaurants operate in CUP (the currency locals use) and the other half in CUC (the currency for tourists), especially outside of Havana or typical tourist destinations.  

Just avoid any restaurants associated with hotels or entities on this list of restrictions from the U.S. State Department. Have questions about this list? Ask one of our Cuban travel experts.

Havana Restaurant Food in Cuba

Paladares

A paladar is an independent restaurant run by individual entrepreneurs, not by the Cuban government.  Paladares are the place to eat the most unique food in Cuba. They're a new type of restaurant that the government approved starting in 2010. Locals and foreigners find them an excellent alternative to state-run restaurants.  Prices are almost always in CUC and range from 7-15 CUC per entree. Affluent Cubans and travelers are the most frequent customers since the food does tend to be more expensive in paladares.

Paladres Food in Cuba

Casas Particulares

Casas particulares are the best places to get authentic, homemade Cuban meals (the best kind of food in Cuba).  You can book them through Airbnb or booking.com and they're our Cuban Heroes' favorite form of accommodations in Cuba. If you're staying in one, definitely take advantage of any meals offered by your hosts. Breakfast is almost always offered for about 4-5 CUC extra.  Often, owners will make lunch and dinner upon request, which usually runs from 6-10 CUC.

Tip: Even if you're not staying at a casa particular, you can email or call a few casas to arrange meals.

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Cafeterias

Cafeterias are an option for fast, cheap food in Cuba. Cubans will eat out at cafeterias regularly, so try at least one to get a real feel for the local way of life. You can expect to find rice and beans, burgers, and sandwiches on the menu.  The prices are almost always in CUP, and typically run around 20-40 CUP/1-2 CUC. Many cafeterias are open 24 hours making them a good stop for a late-night snack.

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Bakeries

The typical Cuban bakery sells Cuban bread (like a wide, dense baguette), usually at a specific time of day. Many bakeries will also sell small treats like pastelitos, which are pastries packed with fruit filling. Bakeries are a convenient, cheap option; a snack will cost you no more than 12CUP/0.50CUC.

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Street Food

When you travel to Cuba, you'll find a variety of street food sold from windows, stands, or individuals walking with baskets. A typical street-side window offers empanadas, pizzas, or plain ham sandwiches. Carts might sell pre-made boxes of classic Cuban dishes consisting of meat, rice, and beans. It's nothing too exciting, but it is cheap. You can fill up for only 8-20 CUP/0.30-1CUC. Some smaller carts or individuals sell snacks such as peanuts wrapped in paper cones, popsicles, and ice cream. Street vendors take CUP, but if you only have CUC they will simply give you change in CUP.

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Local Markets

Local farm markets, called either agromercados or agropecuarias, are the best place to find produce. You can choose some delicious tropical fruit as a snack, and vendors will often peel and squeeze fresh juice for you right on the spot if you ask.  Prices are listed in CUP.

Cuban Cuisine

What do Cubans eat? A typical meal at home often includes a sandwich or rice and beans, simple but filling. These are some typical dishes that you might encounter during your trip.

Breakfast

For breakfast, Cubans eat light. One of the following might be breakfast, or for something heartier, order a little of each of these items.

Eggs and Toast - Just like it sounds—eggs are served scrambled, boiled, or fried with some crusty, toasted Cuban bread on the side.

Cafe con Leche - Strong coffee with warm milk. Feel free to add sugar.

Fruit - Pineapples, mangoes, and oranges are common but you might also be offered soursop.

Sandwiches

Cubans eat lots of sandwiches, usually ham and/or pork with other fixings.

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Cuban sandwich - Sometimes called a mixto. This is a popular lunch of sliced roast pork, thinly sliced ham, Swiss cheese, dill pickles, and yellow mustard sandwiched in Cuban bread. (This is the most similar Cuban sandwich to what you might find in Tampa or Miami.)

Medianoche sandwich - It's much like a Cuban sandwich but it is served on egg loaf and sometimes without ham. The name comes from its popularity as a late night snack, medianoche translates exactly at midnight.

Pan con lechón - This is a traditional pressed sandwich. It contains roasted pork, mojo sauce, and onions on Cuban bread.

Pan con bistec - This pressed sandwich is similar to pan con lechón, but in this one sirloin steak replaces the roasted pork.

Savory Dishes

For lunch and dinner, Cubans eat all kinds of rice-based dishes and plenty of beans. Some dishes are a bit bland and others are quite flavorful.

Moros y Cristianos - Rice cooked in black beans is a traditional, simple dish served at nearly every Cuban restaurant.

Arroz con Pollo - Simple but delicious: chicken breast or leg served on a bed of rice.

Vaca Frita - This is one of the rare dishes made with numerous spices. If you're bored with the food you're eating in Cuba, find vaca frita. Typically, skirt steak is marinated in oregano, parsley, cilantro, garlic, cinnamon, and red wine vinegar, then braised until it just falls apart. It's served with lime-infused onions and peppers.

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Ropa Vieja - Another flavorful option, ropa vieja is braised shredded flank, brisket, or skirt steak swimming in tomato sauce and served over fluffy white rice.  

Sweets

Cubans eat plenty of desserts, too. Make sure you save room!

Pastelitos - These are small puff pastries that can be either sweet or savory. Most often you'll find pastelitos filled with cream cheese, guava, pineapple, and/or coconut.  

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Flan - Cuban flan is made with the addition of the whites of two eggs and a cinnamon stick. Sometimes you'll also find flan made with coconut, guayaba, or rum raisin topping.

Copa Lolita - Similar to flan, but even better. It's a small caramel flan topped with a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream.

Tres Leches Cake - A sponge cake soaked in three types of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream.

Snacks

Between meals, Cubans eat simple snacks that you can make at home or pick up from a street vendor. Sweets, fruit, and peanuts are good snacks in addition to these fun, fried choices.

Tostones - These twice-fried plantain slices are similar to potato chips and just as easy to snack on.

Fried Sweet Plantains - This classic snack is made with overripe plantains fried in hot oil to produce maduros that are sweet and tender.

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Malanga Fritters - Malanga is similar to a yam in appearance and a potato in flavor. For fritters, malanga is shredded and mixed up in a batter before frying. The typical dipping sauce is Tamarindo Ketchup.

Yucca Fingers - These are essentially the Cuban version of the French fry, except thicker and made out of yucca. They're great salted with or without dipping sauce.

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For more on Cuba travel, check out:

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