Varadero Restaurants That Will Tempt You to Leave Your Resort

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Varadero is known as the home to one of the best beaches in the Caribbean, if not the entire world.

But it’s also an all-inclusive beach destination so not many travelers have high expectations for food in Varadero.

And that’s a shame because the city along with Varadero restaurants, have come a long way.

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    When people tell me that Cuban food is bad, I know their reference point is almost always from staying on a resort.

    And I understand that.

    I’ve stayed at all inclusive resorts in other countries, and no matter the country the food is often pretty mediocre.

    And therein lies the problem when people describe Cuban food being terrible. But the great news is that Varadero is not just a strip of all-inclusive resorts.

    There is a main town, albeit touristy, with lots of bars, shops and restaurants in Varadero.

    When I stay at an all-inclusive resort I usually get bored by day 4. At this point I’ve already resorted to water aerobics to keep myself busy and I am all too familiar with the buffet.

    If the same is true for you then popping into town is a great idea. Not only is it safe to walk around, but there are lots of great options.

    A meal in a tourist restaurant runs about $6-30 CUC depending on what you order. Certainly lobster is a bargain in Cuba and usually runs $10-15.

    It’s possible to eat for less.

    If you know a bit of Spanish or feel comfortable winging it, look for locals eating at a small spot often called a cafeteria.

    What is Criollo Food?

    Traditional Cuban food on a table.

    Criollo is different than creole, but only because of geography. But, criollo food is based in Spanish cuisine, where as creole is based on the French.

    This is why there is creole cuisine in New Orleans. The Cajuns are the French Acadians who fled Canada after expulsion.

    Criollo food is typical Cuban food. Along with pork, chicken and beef it’s common to have rice, beans, yucca, plantains and taro root.

    Cuban Food

    Cuban food is not spicy but some tourist restaurants will have hot sauce on hand. Also, the Cuban sandwich isn’t from Cuba.

    It originated in Tampa Bay as a filling way to sustain Cuban labourers. However, so many tourists come to Cuba looking for it that hotels and restaurants are beginning to offer it.  

    There are two types of restaurants in Cuba: paladares and state-owned restaurants.

    Until the mid-1990s, the government ran all of the restaurants on the island. Afterwards they allowed paladares, or private-owned restaurants. 

    This list of best Varadero restaurants divides the choices between the two with an explanation of what to expect at each.

    Smoking a cigar, drinking coffee and tasting rum in Varadero.

    Paladares: Private Varadero Restaurants

    A paladar is a private restaurant. The word literally means palate.

    But the name comes from Vale Tudo a popular Brazilian soap opera that aired in Cuba in the 1990s.

    The main character owned a chain of restaurants called Paladar.

    The government first allowed private restaurants in 1995 during the special period. The Berlin wall had fallen and the Soviet Union fell apart and Russia was no longer sending money to the Cuban government.

    It was an economic crisis for the country as there were food shortages and the average person lost 12lbs.

    The government changed regulations to encourage economic development. People were allowed to create restaurants out of their homes.

    It has become so popular today paladares aren’t in people’s homes and just look like regular restaurants. 

    Paladares tend to be a bit more expensive than state-owned restaurants. But they are also more modern, have better service (sometimes) and almost always have better food.

    If you’re looking to put money back into Cuban’s pockets this is the way to do it.

    Lai Lai

    Many people do not realize that pre-revolution there was a healthy Chinese population in Cuba.

    Although many left with the revolution, some remain and there is still a Chinatown today in Havana. This Chinese restaurant in Varadero is in mansion on Varadero beach.

    It’s about as authentic as Chinese food in small towns in Canada or the United States. Lai Lai has a menu of popular items like wonton soup, peking rice, teriyaki chicken, spring rolls (which is Japanese) and dumplings.

    NOTE: It appears that Lai Lai has closed in recent weeks and has a large crack in the side of the building. But it hasn’t been said if the closure is temporary or permanent.

    Read Reviews of Lai Lai

    Grilled octopus on a white plate at Las Terrazas restaurant


    This Varadero restaurant is worth leaving your resort and reflects how much food in Cuba has changed over the years.

    If you’re looking for a dining experience, expect perfectly cooked octopus, along with fantastic seafood and meat options.

    International wines are available and the bar has a full list of classic Cuban cocktails.

    The restaurant has a front bar that is enclosed with air conditioning. You can pop in here for a drink, well you can purchase a single Cuban cigar for an after dinner treat. Prices are very reasonable.

    Read reviews of Terraza



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    Nonna Tina

    While I generally shy away from Italian restaurants in Latin America, Nonna Tina surely shows that they understand pasta and pizza. 

    With a wood-fired oven, it’s far from the peso pizza you get in small Cuban shops.

    Here you can find thin-crust pizza, classic Italian pastas and cured meats. The tiramisu with cappuccino for dessert is very popular.

    18 DELICIOUS: Cuban Fruit

    Terracita’s Cafe

    Quickly becoming one of the most popular restaurants in Varadero, prices are less than you’d expect on the main drag. 

    It’s a small terrace area with outdoor seating and is quite cozy. It may have the best cappuccino in the city so don’t leave it until the last day.

    Although most people come because it’s known to have the best breakfast, they return to eat lunch or dinner.


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    Varadero 60

    While most Varadero restaurants tend to be quite casual, Varadero 60 is one of the most popular fine dining options in town.

    The walls are decorated with posters from the 1960s and there is definitely a retro vibe with a live band at night.

    You can choose from Cuban or international options on the menu. Paella is one of the most popular dishes, along with cheese fondue, lobster and octopus. 

    Read reviews of Varadero 60


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    Salsa Suárez

    Perhaps the most trendy as well as pricey restaurant in Varadero, Salsa Suarez is also one of the most popular.

    It consistently gets rave reviews for its vast menu that also includes vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.

    And there’s really something for everyone from sushi to tapas to typical Cuban criollo food.

    The steak is highly praised but you can’t beat the fresh seafood dishes.

    It has a beautiful lush patio and a cocktail list that will keep you there a long time.

    While it is one of the more expensive Varadero restaurants tourists return for the great customer service and staff that are accustomed to working with English speakers.

    Read reviews of Salsa Suarez


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    Waco’s Club

    If you’re struggling with Cuban food, this is the place to try it. Waco’s Club is one of the most popular Varadero restaurants. if you love lobster you can have it several different ways, including flambeed in rum.

    Or splurge on the surf and turf.

    Food is more expensive than some spots but very reasonably priced for what you receive. The seafood is fresh and staff speak English and consistently get rave reviews. 

    If the weather is good there is a rooftop patio.

    Read reviews of Waco’s Club


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    La Vaca Rosada

    Translated to the Pink Cow, this is one of the Varadero restaurants with an excellent rooftop patio. 

    Servers all wear pink shirts and serve classics like cordon bleu and stuffed peppers, although it’s really the fresh seafood that shines.

    Skip the shrimp, which is always a hit or a miss in Cuba. Instead get the lobster or fish of the day. Portion sizes are very generous. Vegetarian options are also available along with house made pizza.

    Read reviews of La Vaca Rosada

    La Rampa

    A modest private place that’s family-run and rightly lauded for its thoroughly decent food. Seating is half inside and half out.

    The lobster tails are recommended (and amazingly cheap).

    Tucked away in a side street, La Rampa is a charming restaurant with a typically Cuban vibe and delicious, affordable meals like the famous Cuban lobster tails and a deliciously indulgent shrimp in tomato sauce.

    The tiny patio seating area is rustic and airy, ideal for those hot Cuban nights.

    Read reviews of La Rampa


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    La Gruta del Vino

    One of the more interesting Varadero restaurants, you can dine in outside but there is also a cool air conditioned cave.

    But you’ll need a reservation to sit here as it’s a very popular spot.

    Located in Josone Park, there is live music and plenty of international food options.

    Although the restaurant specializes in skewers, but it’s known for its lobster and filet mignon steak imported from Alberta Canada.

    Bring your country flag as they collect them and proudly display them in the restaurant.

    It’s a perfect spot for a romantic date night.

    Read reviews of La Gruta 


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    Mesón del Quijote

    Another usual restaurant in Varadero, it’s located in the eastern peninsula in a tower with a statue of Don Quixote in the front. 

    It’s not known to have the best food in Varadero, except it does one thing well – steak and lobster for $25 CUC.

    Do not go here if you don’t want to eat this as the other dishes get mixed reviews.

    It’s across the road from the Varadero hotel Villa Cuba, which means you can skip taking a cab into town. Try to time dinner with sunset as the restaurant also has a beautiful view.

    Read reviews of Meson del Quijote

    Esquina Cuba

    Esquina Cuba is a typical thatched roof restaurant with a breeze cooling down the dining room. If you’re looking for Cuban food this is the place to go.

    The theme is retro with both the 1950s classic car and retro menu taking you back to another time. The menu is simple, but also inexpensive with most dishes around 10 CUC.

    Service is a bit more typically Cuban so slower and don’t be offended if you have to waive a waiter over to pay the bill – it’s the Cuban way!

    It is well known for fantastic roast chicken, the pork special with a side of rice and beans and plantains. Ropa vieja, the national dish of Cuba is also a good bet.

    Read reviews of Esquina Cuba

    Ropa vieja a traditional Cuban dish, from a restaurant in Varadero

    Sabor Cubano Cafeteria

    Want to eat on a budget? Or with locals? Then you’ll love this restaurant in Varadero.

    comida rapida or fast food spot, it is not fast food as we know it. But you will find authentic typical Cuban food delivered fast for Cubans working in Varadero.  

    It won’t have the same style of foreign service as in resorts or the tourist restaurants but it will have an authentic experience. Cubans love this casual spot.

    Just remember in Cuba, typical service doesn’t have a server asking if you need anything or if your food is good. You need to flag them down for everything, including the bill.

    There is no TripAdvisor page because Cubans don’t use it but they are on Facebook.

    Shrimp cocktail at a state owned restaurant called Kike-Kcho in Varadero

    State Run Restaurants in Varadero

    At one time the only restaurants you could eat in were owned and run by the Cuban government.

    These restaurants have a (deserved) reputation for being inexpensive, with criollo food but horrible customer service.

    In some cases these restaurants still list prices by the weight, which is by far the cheapest food in Varadero.

    Technically, if you are American you cannot eat in state-owned restaurants.

    If you are traveling under the OFAC category “Support for the Cuban People” as that category means you are eating in paladares rather than supporting the government.

    However, Cuba does not report anything to the United States so if you paid in cash I’m not sure how anyone would know. 

    In general I do not eat at state run restaurants for all the reasons listed above. However, there are always exceptions.

    People who give the advice “You should eat here even though it’s state run” are people I trust. If you have food preferences and require things like vegan options it may be more difficult.

    Here are a few good state run restaurants in Varadero if you’re curious.

    La Barbacoa

    If you’re looking for an old school steakhouse this is a fun experience. La Barbacoa is known to have the best steak in Varadero and at much cheaper prices than in private restaurants. 

    Servers are classically dressed but the service is a bit stiff. Don’t take it personally.

    Instead look for retro dishes like the t-bone in a pepper sauce, surf and turf and shrimp salad.

    Vegetarians may find it difficult but the french onion soup and mushroom toast is apparently fantastic.

    Read reviews of Barbacoa

    Josone Parque in Varadero Cuba


    Over 25 years old, this Italian restaurant in Varadero continues to flourish even with competition from paladares. Prices are very reasonable despite having formal dining service.

    The patio looking out onto the duck pond in Parque Josone is stunning for lunch. The house specializes in pasta, so the cannelloni, lasagna and penne are all very popular.

    There is also a make your own pasta option, but keep in mind that Cuba does struggle with keeping a steady supply of ingredients so at times some options may not be available.

    Read reviews of Dante

    Caribbean lobster served in Varadero Cuba


    Considered to be one of the most decadent Varadero restaurants, the dining room is out on the water in Marina Gaviota.

    It may have the most fresh lobster in Varadero as it’s caught, kept live and stored in water on site.

    You can watch them grilling it from the dining room. There are also lots of fresh fish options as well.

    Read reviews of Kike-Kcho

    La Fondue – La Casa del Queso Cubano

    Perhaps it’s not the best fondue in the world, but it certain is one of the most fun Varadero restaurants.

    Get a spot on the patio and start off by sharing a cheese fondue. You can move onto a normal fondue, which is dipping meat and seafood in hot oil.

    But the accompanying sauces of ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise are limiting. However, the bourguignon fondue seems to be the most popular.

    If that’s not appealing move onto traditional Cuban favourites like ropa vieja (shredded beef) and the tamales. 

    You can end with a dessert of chocolate fondue. Cubans also make the best version of a flan, with a slightly different recipe that makes it creamier than what you’ve had in other countries. 

    Read reviews of La Fondue

    La Vicaria

    If you’re looking for cheap, cheerful and big portions La Vicaria is the most popular budget restaurant in Varadero.

    It doesn’t have the absolute best food nor the best service. But budget travelers love this spot with an outdoor dining room. The most economical options are fried chicken, pork steak or ropa vieja for $4 CUC.

    Seafood options begin $5.50 for a grilled fish fillet up to $14.95 for lobster. The restaurant is known for it’s house special of lobster, shrimp, beef, pork and chicken for $22.

    Read reviews of La Vicaria

    Varadero Restaurants that Take Credit Cards

    Some Varadero restaurants do take credit card. This is only available for non-American travelers as credit card companies in the United States do not permit transactions in Cuba. 

    This is also true for credit cards with banks that have ties to the United States. For a list of eligible banks check this post on money in Cuba.

    Travelers have reported using their credit card in the last year. There is often a fee (2-5%) to use a credit card to cover the processing fees.

    As always you may want to get your hotel to call ahead and confirm as things can change.

    Map of Best Restaurants in Varadero 


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