Foodies abroad: Aussie cafés in LA
For a little slice of home (and a few slices of avo toast).
If you’ve ever wanted to travel back in time, a trip to Havana - Cuba’s colourful capital - will catapult you right back to the 1950s, when open top Cadillacs ruled the streets and the internet was just a daydream.
While it might be the crumbling architecture and top-down drives along the Malecon that draw you there, the never-ending mojitos and drool-worthy tapas you’ll find at hidden bars and restaurants dotted throughout the city will have you wanting to stay. Plus, rum is cheaper than water – need we say more?
Hot tip: We’re not joking when we say that internet access is sparse – unless you can get your hands on an internet card and find a wifi zone, it will become nothing more than a distant memory. Do all your research and book everything in advance; we’d also suggest downloading Google Maps and starring our must-visit places so you don’t need to resort to using a paper map (a what, sorry?).
Combine a backpacker hostel and your nanna’s house and you’ll get something close to this boutique (or should that be antique?) B&B in the heart of Havana’s old town. All jokes aside, the cosy hotel is as warm and friendly as they come, complete with a cigar lounge for meeting new friends and a continental breakfast included out on the breezy terrace.
A city trapped in time is glamorous and romantic – until you realise that your hotel mattress is probably as old as the 1950s Chevy out on the street. Not so at Revolution Boutique hotel, one of the few modern boltholes in Havana, where stylish rooms open out to a leafy courtyard perfect for post-dinner drinks.
Without a doubt one of the prettiest hotels in the heart of Havana, Loma Del Angel is the place to splash out on if amenities like free wifi, a mini bar and a hairdryer are non-negotiable necessities – and you’re prepared to pay for them. Pricey it may be, but you’ll be glad of the luxury when you finish off a long day exploring the streets with a sunset rum on the terrace.
The one dish you must try while you’re in Havana is ropa vieja – literal translation: “old clothes”. While it might look like Google Translate is having you on when you point it at the Lamparilla menu, it’s actually a traditional stew of shredded beef with capsicum, tomatoes and spices, and far tastier than it sounds. Take a group of fellow travellers and match it with plates of tapas like ceviche, ham croquettes and grilled octopus – and plenty of cocktails of course.
A decent latte is hard to find in Havana, so El Café’s boutique beans and expert baristas will be a godsend for any caffeine addicts who land in the city (they even have soy milk – we may have wound up on first name terms with the waiters in the space of three days). The fact that they do the best brunch in town is just a bonus, and if you want to hit the hard stuff early, you can also get a damn good mojito with your banana hotcakes – so there’s really no need to ever leave.
No need to take a break from drinking mojitos to go and find dessert in this city, just make a pitstop and Helad’oro, where you’ll find mojito gelato to scoop up, along with a multitude of other exotic flavours. Get a double and try the mamey flavor, a Cuban fruit unlike any other. You can even get tubs to take back to your hotel – mojito spiders, anyone?
Once you’re done draping yourself casually over the romantic, crumbling staircase at La Guarida’s entrance for an impromptu Instagram shoot, head upstairs to find one of the city’s most iconic (and tastiest) restaurants. Traditional Cuban feasts are the name of the game here, and you can dine like a king on fresh lobster on a backpacker budget. Be sure to stop by the rooftop for a sunset cigar on your way out.
Part art gallery, part performance space, part bar, the Fabrica de Arte Cubano is three stories of everything from futuristic fashion shows to photography exhibitions, with plenty of bars scattered amongst the many rooms. Pay the 2 CUC entry fee, grab yourself a drink and get lost in the chaos – you’ll find yourself stumbling out at 3am not quite sure what you just witnessed but knowing you definitely want to go back.
What’s better than cheap mojitos? Happy hour cheap mojitos! A chic industrial bar with friendly staff and far better daiquiris than at the infamous Floridita bar, Mas Habana shakes up half price cocktails between 4-7pm every day. Too comfortable to leave once happy hour ends? Just stay for dinner and sample the equally impressive dinner menu – and a few more cocktails of course.
Rub shoulders with locals and fellow tourists alike at this Bohemian neighbourhood bar, where surprisingly, a mojito isn’t the drink of choice – that privilege goes to the pina colada. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to catch live local music while you cosy up in the vintage couches.
Only in Cuba for a couple of days but don’t want to miss the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico (or the chance to drink out of coconuts on the sand)? A half hour taxi ride will take you to Playas Del Este, where you can sunbake, dip your toes in the balmy ocean (seriously, it’s almost warm) and drink cocktails by the sea to your heart’s content – at least until it’s time to stumble your way back to your hotel.
Without a doubt, the best way to see all of Havana is by cruising around in the back seat of a retro convertible, wind in your hair and sun on your face. There’s plenty of companies who offer such tours, with English speaking drivers to boot, like Havana Vintage Car Tours, who’ll even happily drop you off to the nearest mojito-mixing bar at the end.
A night at the Tropicana has been a staple on the itineraries of visitors to Havana since the very first cruise ship docked in the port of Cuba’s capital – and it’s just as full of sequins, feathers and high energy cabaret performances as it was in 1939. You can pair dinner with the dazzling show, but we suggest having an early bite and saving all your attention for the high kicks and acrobatics.
Did we mention the mojitos?