Café del Oriente, Havana (tel. 7/860-6686)
Arguably the most elegant restaurant and cafe in Habana Vieja, this place serves well-prepared and creative international fare in a beautiful room just off the Plaza San Francisco. When the weather is nice, you can even sit at an outdoor table right on the plaza.
El Templete, Havana (tel. 7/866-8807)
This is truly fine dining portside in Old Havana, with outside seating with roadside and harbor views and sophisticated interior dining.
La Guarida, Havana (tel. 7/862-9047)
Atmosphere, fame, good food, and good times all combine in equal measure at perhaps the most famous paladar in Cuba. To walk up the rickety steps to this third-floor private restaurant is an experience in itself.
Roof Garden Restaurant, Havana (tel. 7/860-8560)
The creative French-inspired menu and stunning setting make this probably the best high-end dining option in Havana. Try for a window table on the elevated area ringing the restaurant.
La Cocina de Lilliam, Havana (tel. 7/209-6514)
Lilliam Domínguez has raised the bar for paladares around Havana. Her delicious criolla cooking always makes the most of whatever ingredients are locally available, and her softly lit garden setting is stunning.
La Fonda de Mercedes, Las Terrazas (tel. 8/577-8647)
Working out of her apartment's simple kitchen, Doña Mercedes Dache serves up wonderfully prepared criolla cuisine. Meals are served on large tables in an open-air terrace overlooking a mountain lake. If you come to Las Terrazas, don't leave without eating here.
Paladar Estela, Trinidad (tel. 41/99-4329)
A colonial house with a pretty garden patio dining area, this private home restaurant in the heart of the historic quarter of Trinidad serves epic proportions of well-prepared Cuban specialties. The friendly owners also rent a room.
La Campana de Toledo, Camagüey (tel. 32/28-6812)
Located on one of the most authentic and elegant colonial squares in Cuba, this handsome, rustic restaurant with a pretty patio is a great spot for a midday break from the heat or a relaxed dinner. Dishes are more imaginative than the basic Cuban fare at most state-run establishments.
Hostal Florida Center, Santa Clara (tel. 42/20-8161)
This is a popular casa particular serving dinners with enormous platters of delicious seafood and chicken, plus salads and fruit dishes. The garden is candelit at night.
La Colonial, Baracoa (tel. 21/64-5391)
The government seems to support the competition of private restaurants only nominally, and this is the last surviving paladar in Baracoa. The nicely decorated colonial house easily outclasses the state-run options in town, and it has good service and a changing menu with several fresh fish dishes.
Restaurant El Morro, Santiago de Cuba (tel. 22/69-1576)
Perched along the cliff next to the El Morro fortress, with spectacular views of the Caribbean, this popular open-air restaurant is a good-value lunch spot. There are plenty of fish dishes and a fixed-price midday meal, all served under a canopy of hanging plants that help patrons beat the heat.
ZunZún, Santiago de Cuba (tel. 22/64-1528)
One of the few upscale dining experiences in eastern Cuba, this elegant restaurant has several small, private dining rooms scattered throughout a large 1940s house in one of Santiago de Cuba's most pleasant suburbs. Attention to detail and presentation -- dining elements seldom given much thought in Cuba -- are a welcome surprise. It's best known for its top-quality seafood.
Paladar Salón Tropical, Santiago de Cuba (tel. 22/64-1161)
One of the most elegant paladares in Cuba, this attractively decorated place offers a smorgasbord of tasty choices. It's just such a shame that the service is glacially slow.
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