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Although Havana may not, for the moment, offer a head-spinning number of irresistible gastronomical options, things are improving. And there are ways to have a good meal. Stick with the top paladares as much as possible. These privately owned establishments are, by law, allowed only a maximum of 12 seats and can be staffed only by family members. The food is usually fresh, authentic, and
The food is usually fresh, authentic, and inexpensive. Although there are regulations on what can be served (lobster, shrimp, and beef are officially forbidden at paladares), the owners are infinitely resourceful, often serving lamb instead of beef, or crab instead of lobster. The paladares have a cozy, clandestine atmosphere, and the tastes and aromas are the best Havana has to offer. The Vedado, Miramar, and Playa districts are prime paladar habitats, as the Habaguanex chain has squeezed nearly all of them out of La Habana Vieja. Centro Habana has the most famous of all, La Guarida.
State-owned establishments, with a few exceptions (such as El Aljibe), are mediocre at best. However, they're often in settings you may find hard to resist, despite the overpriced and uninteresting fare. Some hotel restaurants (not the cafeterias or buffets) are noteworthy, especially the Abanico de Cristal in the Meliá Cohiba, the Chez Emérito in the Hotel Presidente, and the Aguiar in the Hotel Nacional. Two caveats: beware of elegant but empty establishments, and opt for simple criollo fare over sophisticated or "international" creations unless you are in the top hotels.
Keep in mind that at this writing you will not be able to use a U.S. credit card in a restaurant even if you have a valid travel license from the U.S. State Department.