The joy of Cuban food

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Cuba changes fast..

I've just come back from my second trip to Cuba in as many years (lucky me!) and one of the things that really stood out this time was how good the Cuban food was - especially in a country famed for having some of the worst food around. A couple of years ago salt and pepper was top of the packing list before you went to Cuba as the food was limited to tasteless pork and rice. Things in Cuba change fast though and with the government ever so slowly relaxing their grip, new private restaurants are popping up all over the place and some of them are really world class.

Lobster plate, Cuba

Imaginative, tasty menus

Admittedly the Cubans don't have it particularly easy seeing as imports are limited, but this is almost what is so great about eating at what is essentially someone's house. It means the menus are imaginative, they change daily, and most importantly, it all tastes good. Take L'Atelier in Vedado which feels more like a trendy lounge in Ibiza than a hidden restaurant in Havana, or Sushi Santi where you can enjoy the freshest Sashimi straight from Fisherman Santi's beach shack. There are of course more traditional restaurants, like Paladar San Cristobal in the old town which, is crammed full of old furniture and paraphernalia from the pre-revolution days and serves yummy tapas style dishes. Or La Esperanza, one of the old-school paladars where there are no menus and the owner simply reads out what they've got that night. In some you'll find mismatched plates and glasses, while the newer ones have a slightly more sophisticated atmosphere. There are some pretty good state run restaurants which I'd happily return to as well. The key is knowing which ones are worth it. In Havana, the grand Café del Oriente is a little OTT on the elaborate décor front, but the food is good, the service attentive. For excellent seafood, El Templete overlooks the harbour and you can sit outside - perfect for your first night after a long flight if you don't fancy taking to Havana's backstreets in search of a hidden private house.

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Exploring outside Havana

Outside Havana, the choice is of course more limited and in some places still pretty awful, but there are still some cracking little places around so you won't go hungry for long. Paladar 1514 in Trinidad is bursting with atmosphere and as well as great food it has a fun little bar, in Sancti Spiritus, Meson de la Plaza serves up a mean Ropa Vieja (literally meaning 'old clothes', which is a delicious beef stew) and over in Vinales we met some lovely locals who invited us round to dinner. Finally, if you are spending some time on the beach, the chefs at Melia Buena Vista and Paradisus Rio de Oro, who hail from Italy and the Philippines respectively, certainly did not disappoint with their native/Cuban fusion creations!