It has been said before, and it's worth repeating: Do not come to Cuba for fine dining. In addition to mediocre food and service in general, overcharging is attempted with disheartening frequency.
Paladares (private restaurants) are common in Havana. They are officially limited to no more than 12 seats, and cannot serve lobster or shrimp. Quite a few have established themselves as some of the better, long-standing restaurant options in Havana. In fact, the best of these outshine most of the official government-run options. La Guarida, once Havana's most famous paladar, closed. If you visit a paladar in a far-flung district on a weekend night, it may be wise to book your return taxi journey ahead of time, as taxis are scarce then.
Aside from the restaurants listed here, fast-food chains have started to pop up around Havana. The most prominent of these is El Rápido, which has numerous outlets serving fried chicken, burgers, hot dogs, microwave pizzas, and other fast-food staples. Another chain worth mentioning is Pizza Nova, Calle 248 and Avenida 5, Miramar (tel. 7/204-6969), which also has outlets in Marina Hemingway and several provincial cities. This place has good thin-crust pizza and respectable pastas. Finally, for breakfast or a quick bite, look out for Pain de Paris storefronts, featuring a wide range of fresh-baked breads, croissants, and pastries, as well as simple sandwiches. For a coffee-and-cake pit stop, try the attractive Café el Escorial, Mercaderes 317, corner of Muralla (tel. 7/868-3545), where you can sit under the lemon-yellow arches, and sample the coffee, ice cream with amaretto, sandwiches, and cookies.
La Habana Vieja
Budget travelers swear by the Restaurante Hanoi (La Casa de la Parra), Calles Teniente Rey and Oficios (tel. 7/867-1029), although I was rather disappointed to find virtually no Vietnamese influence on the decidedly mediocre criolla and Chinese cuisine here. There's also the Restaurante Europa, Calle Obispo 112, corner of Aguiar (tel. 7/866-4484), a former candy shop, serving up a host of adventurous sauces in well-presented food. The set menu for CUC$15 is a good value.
I am decidedly unimpressed with the Asian food available in Cuba. This goes for the handful of Chinese restaurants in Havana's little Chinatown, too. However, if you do venture to the block-long Cuchillo de Zanja, or just crave a change from criolla cooking, your best bets are Los Tres Chinitos, Dragones 355 (tel. 7/860-4318) and Viejo Amigo, Dragones 356 between Manrique and San Nicolás (tel. 7/861-8095).
Vedado & the Plaza de la Revolución Area
You might try Sierra Maestra (tel. 7/838-4011), which serves nouvelle Cuban cuisine in an elegant setting on the 25th floor of the Tryp Habana Libre hotel, or Paladar Los Cactus de 33, Av. 33 3405 between Calles 34 and 36 (tel. 7/203-5139), which offers plain but filling dishes in elegant surroundings.
If you can't get a table at La Cocina de Lilliam , La Esperanza, Calle 16 no. 105 between Avenidas 1 and 3 (tel. 7/202-4361), is another excellent paladar set up in an old sprawling home in Miramar (Mon-Sat 7-11pm; CUC$13).
Habana del Este & Playas del Este
Try Mi Cayito at Laguna Itabo, Santa María del Mar (tel. 7/797-1339) or El Cubano at Avenida 5ta and Calle 456, Boca Ciega (tel. 7/796-4061), which serves lots of seafood.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.