A deliciously curated collection of Vinales, Cuba’s must-try places to eat and drink.
Just a short bus, or taxi, or horse –or a combination of the three– ride west of Cuba you will find the beautifully quaint town of Vinales. While the area has recently gained a lot of tourist attention, the simplistic old-school feel of the town remains unchanged… genuinely setting the stage for a near-different-century ambiance.
Without getting into the details, the small rural town is basically an agricultural (tobacco) hub that happens to sit in one of the most geographically awe-ing areas of Cuba, making it a popular hub for all sorts of sight-seeing adventures –horse back riding, rock climbing, hikes, and the likes.
However, the true beauty of Vinales is found on the front porches of nearly all the town’s single story cottages: a rocking chair, a cold drink, and a day of (seemingly) 1900’s-era people watching!
Oh… and the food…
Disclaimer: Due to a peculiar combination of water-movement and livestock operations in the area, the water in Vinales is known for having potentially-diarriah-causing influences. The locals know this, so your Casa Particular will take precautions to wash foods with and serve filtered water… however the same courtesy has been known to not be offered by some of the local eateries and bars.
Hotel Los Jazmines:
This hotel’s perfect location, offers a snap-as-many-photos-as-you-can view of the valley, that makes for the ultimate spot to sip on a frozen beverage, read a book, snag a Cuban style caffeine-fix, or puff a locally grown cigar.
Your probably thinking, “Pina colada? …why not a mojito?!”
…because, everywhere in the country has top notch mojitos!
Step out of the box!
The hotel is a few miles out of town… I recommend not taking the trek on foot.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again… I love the fact that all food in Cuba is a fusion. What I mean by this is simple, because the country hardly imports any food, all eateries are forced to use their local Cuban ingredients to represent their desired cuisine –unlike in the states, where “Chinese food” in California and Florida tend to strike an uncanny resemblance.
Case in point: this “Mediterranean” restaurant, who’s menu is a delicious celebration of Cuba’s finest ingredients!
While I enjoyed a few dishes at this spot, I gotta say the octopus plate takes the prize.
And before you shrug it off based on previous octopus-experiences… let me say, this dish is simply a class of its own.
… I’m honestly still trying to figure out what sort of wizardry was responsible for creating such a ridiculously tender melt-on-your-mouth texture.
NOTE: This place is aimed at tourists, as such, it costs wayyy more than the usual Cuban-fare.
Dark Chocolate Rabbit
This bar and restaurant has the sort of super-modern decor and vibe that is sure to put a hop in everybody’s step. The menu itself is a bit of a French-Mediterranean fusion (?), and while they serve up a variety of lip-smacking eats, and killer drinks, this rabbit is what’s worth going out of your for.
The ridiculous combination of mole-like spiced herbs and bitter cacao, perfectly compliment a heroically prepared, fall off the bone tender, rabbit… a combo that is sure to suspend any pre-existing doubt about rabbit’s place on the menu.
Note: This spot is for tourists, and the price tags reflect it.
Finca Agroecologica El Paraiso:
Thought that the “Farm-to-table, Organic, Eat-local!” movement was just going on in hip cities in American? …Think again!
Located a short taxi trip outside of Vinales this eatery –located on their own organic farm– focuses on locally sourced, organically grown, farm fresh eats… and they serve them up feast-style!
Seriously though… it goes like this:
…Walk through small organic garden.
…Sit down and order drinks.
…Get distracted by jaw-dropping views of the valley.
…Get entire table covered with heaping quantities of absurdly-delicious seasonal foods –no menu.
…Gluttonously nosh until you’re about to explode.
…Realize there are EVEN MORE dishes coming.
…Have friend slap you to see if dreaming.
…Get served coffee and dessert.
…Realize you have found an edible-fantasy-land.
…Find out it is $10 a person.
…Spend the next week smiling with food-induced euphoria.
Your Casa Particular’s:
So of course I understand the appeal of adventuring around a new area while experiencing the local cuisine at the hands of celebrated chefs… but when it comes to Cuban food, none does it better than the locals.
The good news is, you will likely be staying in a “Casa Particular” (government approved houses, where families rent out bedrooms, like a bed and breakfast). These houses often include breakfast, but generally offer to prepare both lunch and dinner for an extremely reasonable price.
My suggestion: ask your host for, “Su plato especial” (your special dish)… it will likely be an un-assuming presentation-lacking plate of chicken, pork, or fish …that will proceed to literally blow your food-fixated-mind.
Seriously though, the best pork, fish, lobster, and chicken —I have ever had— were served to me at my Casa Particulars on my last trip.
I stand by the fact that what Cuban women do in their humble kitchens… is nothing short of culinary-magic.
Been to Vinales?
What were your favorite spots to nosh?