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First Posted: Apr 14, 2013
Dec 5, 2014

Cuban Paladars

Paladar (plural: paladares) is a term used in Cuba to refer to restaurants run by self-employers. Mostly family-run businesses, paladares are fundamentally directed to serve as a counterpart to state-run restaurants for tourists seeking a more vivid interaction with Cuban reality, and looking for homemade Cuban food.

Origin of the Name

The term in popular usage has its origin in the Brazilian soap opera Vale Tudo, shown in Cuba in the early 1990s. Paladar (Portuguese and Spanish for "palate") was the name of the chain of restaurants run by Rachel Accioli, the protagonist, played by Regina Duarte. The broadcast of that soap opera coincided in time with the first issue of licenses for self-employers' work in Cuba, so Cuban popular culture designated the then-new type establishments by this name.


Privately owned small restaurants have always existed in Cuba. Until the 1990s they were illegal, but the fall of the USSR and consequent economic crisis in Cuba forced the government to make the economic reforms of 1993. One of the items in those reforms was the legalization of privately owned small businesses as restaurants.

Since its inception in the late 1990s, the paladares were subjected to limitations by the Cuban government concerning the amount and type of products they could offer, the hiring of labor force and the number of seats they could have. The process of renewal of the economic model started in 2010 led to a review of these measures, resulting in a substantial increase in the number of paladares and the diversification of their proposals.

The models that emerge are quite diverse, ranging from the typical business set up in a family home, up to more elaborated variations including different types of cuisine in rooms specially designed or modified for the activity. Similarly, while most retailers offer Cuban food, and Italian food, which is very popular in Cuba, others have produced more ambitious projects combining local cuisine with Mediterranean and international elements.

The composition of the staff has also changed, moving from a model in which they were composed mainly of people united by family ties with a low level of professional training to teams that integrate professional chefs, often with long experience in gastronomy with other specialties such as marketing, accounting, public relations, legal advice and more.

Cultural Reference

Academy Award nominated Cuban film Strawberry and Chocolate based on Cuban writer Senel Paz's short story "The Wolf, The Forest and the New Man" used a house en Havana's neighborhood Centro Habana as a stage for "La Guarida del Diego" (Diego's Dent), home of one of the main characters. A few years after filming, this place became "La Guarida" one of the most reputed paladares in the city.

Cuban reggaeton group Gente de Zona, used Vedado's paladar La Pachangato film a video clip for their popular song "Salte del sartén" (Get yourself out of the frying pan').

My husband and I really enjoyed our dinners in the paladars. Our favorite Paladar was Los Nardos. When you duck into the doorway there is a steep staircase that raised our eyebrows. The paladar is off of the first landing to the left. Inside is a wonderful surprise with excellent service, every course as delicious as the next, and lime daiquiris that are better than those at the Hotel National! We had several. Wow! The piano man had 5 years at the School of Music and was a graduate. He played one song after another including many classic songs from the US. We never anticipated that. Bill asked him if he could play Chariots of Fire. This professional closed his eyes and played, from the heart, without any music, a moving and perfect version of that song. It was truly impressive. This paladar, in our opinion, is a must visit if you go to Cuba. We had walked over in the afternoon and made reservations. When we arrived everyone remembered us and were warm and kind. It was a memorable dining experience. This Paladar is located right near the capital. Paseo del Prado #563, e/Dragones y Teniente Rey, Habana Vieja, Cuba. Telephone: 863-2985.

Paladar Los Nardos, our favorite!

We also enjoyed La Terraza which is not really a paladar but is run by a Spanish organization. The Asturian-Ciban food is superb. It is located at Prado 309 esq. Virtudes (537) 862-3626. I ordered lobster tail and when the meal arrived the lobster tail was so large I could have used it as a hand-fan on a hot day. The entire meal was absolutely delicious. The mojitos were also excellent.

One evening we just wanted a little bit of dinner. We went to the same building where the La Terraza is located. On the first floor of that building is a new Italian Restaurant called Restorante Italiano. We had a great time. The guitarist and singer serenaded us at our table which seems to be pervasive in Cuba. I ordered a lobster pizza which was delicious. Bill ordered the ravioli. He enjoyed his dinner, as well. The mojitos were really yummy, too.

Other paladars in old Havana:

Doña Eutemia which is a traditional home cooking in a traditional environment; some people say this is the best in town. Callejon del Chorro, Plaza de la Catedral, Habana Vieja (537) 81-1332.

Central Habana

La Guardia has excellent food in an evocative setting within a 1900 building of once-grand flats. This restaurant was made famous by the film "Strawberries and Chocolate".

San Cristóbal is an eclectic, eccentric space on the ground floor of an early 20th century mansion, chef-owner, Carols Cristóbal Márquez Valdés, serves his inspired interpretations of traditional Creole Cuban fare. Calle San Rafael #469 e/ Lealtad y Campanario (537) 860-1705.

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