With the official greeting of "Welcome to La Guarida, a place where not everybody is welcome" , the famous quote from the award-winning and Oscar-nominated film Fresa y Chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate), one of Havana's most famous eateries beackons. Set in a house where a ground-breaking Cuban production was filmed, this charming paladar evokes a special time during communist Cuba, a time when said film raised awareness about the strong homophobia existing in the country after decades of homosexual repression.
Back in 1993, this internationally acclaimed film broke barriers between homosexuals and heterosexuals alike, just like the place where it was filmed has now broken culinary records in authenticity, uniqueness and timeless Bohemian allure. Emblematic, iconic and eccentric, La Guarida is the place in Havana to dine while submerging in the Cuban culture.
More recently it was made famous by the visit of Beyonce, and husband Jay-Z, who dined there as part of their tour of Havana. The famous couple's "La Guarida" experience took place when they travelled to the island in April this year to celebrate their wedding anniversary. But other distinguished guests have left their mark here too. and you can see them in the many photographs that adorn the walls of this quirky restaurant. From the Queen of Spain, to Hollywood celebrities such as Naomi Campbel, Jack Nicholson, Benicio del Toro, Steven Spielberg, Javier Bardem, Kevin Spacey, Gerard DePardieu, Pedro Almodovar and many, many more.
Finding La Guarida, a well-hidden wonder
The privately-owned restaurant, La Guarida, once the set of the film and the home of one of the film's two main characters, has now become an iconic and refreshing eatery at the heart of the crumbling, yet majestic Centro Habana (a district in Havana known for its decaying buildings and little else, in fact, this little restaurant has made the area all the more famous). A novelty restaurant in many ways, La Guarida offers a rather eccentric fine dining experience with a touch of candidness that only a place like this can exude.
The place itself is to be admired, not only because of the many old artifacts, paintings and Bohemian icons scattered everywhere and lovingly placed on corners or artistically displayed on walls, transporting diners to a different era reminiscing of an aging Parisian cafe; but also because of its striking allure as a once majestic colonial building, that after years of decay and abandonment, still defies the passing of time with a warmth only found in the smiles of the Cuban people, especially in the attentive waiters that serve guests in this exceptional restaurant.
After the success of the film in the early 90s, the owners of the crumbling yet majestic home, decided to convert their house into a unique restaurant with memorabilia from the film and authentic furniture that has attracted a long list of famous visitors over time, including Hollywood actors, top models and Queen Sophia of Spain, who came on an official visit and enjoyed a hearty meal at this very peculiar restaurant.
Upon reaching the rather narrow and ordinary street upon which this extraordinary restaurant rises, most diners will be surprised at the rather quaint location of this place, well-hidden among similar buildings and not standing out in any way, except perhaps for the red sign displaying the restaurant's name and logo. To help you find this hidden jewel, have a look at our handy map here.
Translated as The Hideaway, La Guarida, is a fascinating place to enjoy a cosy meal with a special someone, a group of friends or family. Whether you're enjoying Cuba holidays with a loved one, the whole family or you're travelling solo, La Guarida has a special appeal that attracts everyone. Its unique and inviting ambiance adapts to every visiting group and every kind of diner, whatever their dining preferences. With mouthwatering options for vegetarians and die-hard carnivores alike, everyone's sure to find something to tickle their taste buds.
The dining experience at La Guarida
You sit down in one of the mismatched, colonial chairs that have seen better years and a feeling of nostalgia strikes as you savour a fine wine (one of the many offered in the extensive wine list, featuring fine produce from all over the world including France, Spain, Italy and Chile and ranging from $18.00 CUC to $100.00 CUC).
For an entree you may choose from the list of inventive Creole and international appetisers, including the famous Malanga Gnocchi with Pumpkin Sauce and Bacon, Veal Carpaccio, Snapper Carpaccio or Rabbit Pickle and Confitted Sweet Tomato, or the delicious (especially appetising in a hot summer afternoon) Watermelon Gazpacho with Grilled Shrimps to name a few.
For the main course you may choose from a delicious selection of inventive pasta dishes and rices or risottos, including vegetarian and seafood paellas with tantalising flavours to die for. Main courses also include tasty seafood options such as groupers and snappers as well as tempting pork dishes and the famous Baked Chicken with Honey and Lemon Sauce, a signature dish of the restaurant.
But dessert can also be the real winner for many diners, with the authentic Fresa y Chocolate dish, consisting of homemade strawberry and chocolate ice cream, the rich Chocolate Tart with English Cream and the mouthwatering 3 Milks Chocolate, a truly inventive and tempting dessert for those with a sweet tooth.
The mood is set to the gentle sounds of sexy saxophones and soothing Jazz tunes, softly played in the background. Visitors fall into an enchanting trance as they dine, chat and admire at the rather peculiar and extravagant surroundings. There is a table for two located in the balcony and offering views of the street and the inner patios around: a great panorama of the real Cuba overlooking one of its picturesque backstreets.
The average meal in La Guarida costs between $30 to $35 CUC per person (with the price going up if you choose to include a bottle of fine wine to your meal) but the prices are very reasonable and reflect the excellent quality of dishes served, the speed of the service and the warmth and attentiveness of the waiters.
With capacity for a total of around 70 diners across a collection of rooms seating up to 16 diners each, with tables offering two, four, six and up to eight seats (although arrangements can be made to fit larger parties), La Guarida is divided into four different dining rooms, each uniquely decorated, like the emblematic Rocco Room, the room where the old American fridge affectionately called "Rocco" in the film, sits overlooking the tables and the diners.
Having opened on 4th July 1996 and after having achieved the Certificate of Excellence 2011 awarded by TripAdvisor, La Guarida is undoubtedly one of the best restaurants in Havana and, no doubt, in the whole of Cuba.
Just before you go - remember to book in advance
Whether you've seen the film or not, a visit to La Guarida will prove a great motivation to do so, or simply to immerge in the reality of daily Cuban life, learn about the typical decor of a humble home in Old Havana and dine among locals . However, if you plan to stop by La Guarida during your next Cuba holidays, there is one thing you must make sure you do in advance: book ahead. As this place is so popular among international visitors and locals alike, reservations tend to fill up quickly, especially for dinner, so it's a good idea to book one or two days in advance, depending on the season, and whether you're booking for lunch or for dinner, you may have to wait three days or more for availability. But the good news is that you can plan ahead and book even before you travel to Cuba, as you can place a online reservation through La Guarida's website by logging onto laguarida.com.
The place where fiction and historical Cuban characters converge, La Guarida has been declared the "the most famous of Havana's Paladares" by the New York Times and has also been dubbed "La Paladar des stars, la Stars des Paladares"...the dining place per excellence, the most charismatic, enchanting and charming and the number one restaurant not to miss during any holidays in Cuba.