Sticking to a vegetarian diet is tough in many parts of the world; in Cuba, it’s practically unheard of. Despite the pervasive shortages plaguing the island, Cubans love their meat.
You won’t see juicy steaks and fat hamburgers gracing most Havana dinner tables, but finding a satisfying, meat-free meal can still be a challenge. One of the only places with ensaladas on the menu is Coppelia, Cuba’s famous state-run ice cream parlor. And your choice isn’t between a Caesar or a Cobb salad; it’s between strawberry or vanilla ice cream. (That is, if they have more than one flavor that day!)
During the economic woes of the Special Period, which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many Cubans became quasi-vegetarians out of necessity. Now that times are better, the idea of forswearing arroz con pollo and ropa vieja is almost laughable.
So, what’s on the menu for vegetarians in Havana if the only ensalada in town is a five-scoop ice cream sundae?
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Lucky for you plant-based eaters, vegetarian-friendly restaurants have been popping up all over the Cuban capital as more and more private paladares open their doors. Now you can easily enjoy a meal that’s tasty, filling, and meatless — if you know where to look.
¡Sin carne, por favor! A Vegetarian’s Guide to Havana:
Here are Havana’s top 10 must-visit spots for hungry vegetarians:
1. El Shamuskiao (Old Havana) – A godsend for vegetarians and vegans, this gem is squeezed in among the throngs of cafes and souvenir shops lining the cobblestone streets of Old Havana. The menu is filled with creative dishes, but you can’t go wrong with a classic veggie burger and a refreshing glass of carrot and beet juice. Consulado 314, Neptuno y Virtudes, Habana Vieja
2. Camino al Sol (El Vedado) – Exquisite cakes fashioned from curried rice and sweet potatoes decorate the cafe’s display case. Sample a single piece—or take the whole pie! But Camino al Sol’s real specialty is its handmade pastas, which you can order as a sit-down meal or buy in bulk to cook at home. Make sure to try the pesto. Calle 3ra #363 entre Paseo y 2, El Vedado
3. Topoly (El Vedado) – This Iranian restaurant is a true oasis along Havana’s bustling Calle 23. With a charming porch and tranquil garden, this is the perfect place to take a break after a long day under the hot Cuban sun. The “Gourmet” vegetarian sampler plate, which comes with falafel and a variety of dips and salads, is the best item on the menu. Wash it down with a sweet glass of rose soda. Calle 23, esquina D, El Vedado
4. California Cafe (El Vedado) – Proudly boasting it’s Californian-Cuban fusion cuisine (whatever that means), this joint sits under a makeshift metal roof below a crumbling Vedado mansion. It makes a mean veggie burger and fries, and is a great place for people-watching around one of Havana’s busiest corners. Calle 19 # 3% N and O Vedado
5. Belview ArtCafé (El Vedado) – An expat favorite, this charming cafe is hidden among the chipping mansions of El Vedado. Belview is known for its sleek decor, eye-catching photography, and delicious breakfasts. The spicy shakshuka with artisan bread is a vegetarian’s delight. Don’t skip the mango smoothie. Calle 6 #412, esquina 19, El Vedado
6. Beirut (El Vedado) – This authentic Lebanese restaurant is perpetually packed with Cubans and tourists alike. The service is impeccable, as is the falafel wrap. Treat yourself to a frozen lemonade and savor the hummus at Beirut — and the air conditioning. Calle 1ra #237 entre A y B, El Vedado
7. Cafe d la Esquina (El Vedado) – The best time to visit this cafe is after dark, while the lights twinkle on the patio and a cool breeze blows in from the Malecón. Crispy pizzas and calzones are always a safe bet, but the real star of the show is the vegetarian roll-up, toasted to perfection, loaded with veggies, and paired with tiny dishes of olive oil for dipping. Cafe de la Esquina is one of the few places you can get a true ensalada—with vegetables. Finish your evening with a rich cone of gelato for dessert. 101 Avenida Paseo esquina, Calle 5, El Vedado
8. La Chuchería (El Vedado & Miramar) – A Cuban-style sports bar, La Chuchería draws crowds all day long. Look past waiters’ tacky referee uniforms to find affordable, tasty pizzas and sandwiches. Pro-tip: order a chocolate milkshake to go and sip it while listening to the waves (and maybe some reggaeton music) along the Malecón. Calle 1ra entre C y D, El Vedado ｜Calle 28, Miramar
9. Bella Ciao (Miramar) – Often cited as one of Havana’s best Italian restaurants, Bella Ciao does not disappoint when it comes to pasta and pizza. Foreign diplomats frequent this haven, tucked among the shady embassies of upscale Miramar. Everything on the menu is good, but sometimes a simple fettuccine al pomodoro is just what the doctor ordered. 19 y 72, Playa
10. Juguera de 6 (El Vedado) – Saving the best for last? Absolutely. This juice bar beats the trendiest American chains. Located in the corner of a run-down Vedado parking lot, you’d miss it if you weren’t looking hard. The menu is extensive, offering everything from the classic mango and guava juices to the more adventurous spicy tomato. A single juice —served in an old Havana Club glass— never costs more than 10 moneda nacional (less than 50 cents). Advice from a seasoned pro: order the coconut milk blended with chocolate, peanuts, and oats. And make sure it’s con lluvia shredded coconut on top. Calle 1 y 3, El Vedado
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Don’t have time to dine, or short on cash? Fear not — your fail-safe option is a cheap and cheesy peso pizza, available at every street corner. And if you’ve got a few moneda nacional, you can always scope out the local agromercado to see what fruits are in season.
Eating vegetarian in Havana can be an adventure, but it’s well worth the trouble. By the time you leave Cuba, you’ll forget that ensaladas don’t come in strawberry and vanilla!
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