I went to Cuba anticipating some serious binge fest on Cuban food.
I love Cuban food and rarely get to eat any.
About 3-4 times a year when I visit my mom I get to have some maduros, or tostones, or Vaca Frita; my absolute favorite thing! My standard order is always Morros, Yuca, platanitos fritos and a can of Materva, which technically isn’t Cuban, but I grew up drinking it with Cuban food.
Sadly, the state of Cuba’s scarcity for the last 60 years has done much to kill the flavor and variety of ingredients available to the Cuban people. None of the food we had eaten for the majority of our time there had flavor. It was challenging to find something that tasted fresh and even Paladares, privately owned eateries springing up everywhere, weren’t very exciting.
One of the interesting things that is going on in Cuba, is that for the last 10 years or so, the government has begun to allow it’s nationals to own their own businesses. This can be a bit difficult unless the Cuban citizen has access to money from a relative abroad, or has been working in the Tourist industry in Cuba and has managed to accumulate a lot of money by way of the dual currency system. I’m not even going to get into that here because this is a restaurant review and I struggle with talking about this without rabid prejudice.
I say all that to explain some of what has happened to create restaurants like Ivan Chef Justo, which was a lovely revelation for us in the quest for good food. This restaurant is one of the more richly sourced and appointed private restaurants let alone, a Paladar.
Name: Ivan chefs Justo
Address: Aguacate 9, esquina Chacon Havana, Cuba across the street from the Granma Yacht in Havana Vieja
Number: +53 7 8639697
Price range: $13 – $28 CUCs a plate
The restaurant has been open just over 2 years now. It has made it on the radar for traveling foodies, and you can witness an entire wall of pictures with known visitors when you go there. The Facebook photo album shows the same.
In fact the restaurant has done so well that in the two years they have been there, they have gone from renting the small restaurant space in a building built in the early 1700s, to buying the building outright. A second restaurant call Al Carbon was recently opened downstairs.
The space is small, but lovely. A mixture of collected old pictures, some quite recognizable and others hailing back to a bygone era. There are lovely pieces of furniture, chalk boards with the days menu and a nostalgic and classic stream of cuba music in the background. They have air-conditioning, which becomes a necessary detail to know when in Cuba during the very hot months.
Excellent. Very attentive, willing to go through the menu with you, offer recommendations and speak English quite well.
INGREDIENT FRESHNESS + Cuisine:
I need to say that this was the one place we went to in all of Havana that had quite a lot of vegetable on the menu. No where else had this. Cuban cuisine for the most part is very protein and white carb heavy. Not so here. A variety of salad greens, squash, avocados, cilantro, various peppers, and tomatoes could be found throughout the menu. The food was so much more flavorful and fresh than anything else I had had in Cuba. In my research of the restaurant, I read that the chef is on the phone daily cultivating relationships with farmers and finding ways to bring in fresh food daily. The chef knows what he’s doing.
Go… then come back here and tell me what you think. It was by far one of the highlights of our trip.