In the heart of Havana’s Vedado neighborhood the Fonda la Paila paladar is an eclectic mix of workplace cafeteria, family barbeque, and old-west roadhouse that could only be found in Cuba.
From its elevated perch on what used to be a vacant lot near the Havana Libre Hotel this outdoor eatery has caught on like a wildfire among Cubans and tourists alike since opening in October of this year.
The atypical landscaping of Caribbean cacti and succulents sets the tone for what awaits at the top of the wide staircase: a scene that might be more fitting for a Texas roadhouse.
Bucanero in a bucket and terrace views
Metal buckets play a prominent role in the scenery, used as both lampshades and to serve longneck Bucanero or Cristal (Cuban beer brands) on ice. Placemats are made out of galvanized zinc, simple rough-hewn wooden tables are surrounded by modest chairs covered in cowhide. This most visible reminder you are in Cuba is the flat screen TVs are playing Enrique Iglesias music videos instead of college football.
Galvanized tin placemats
The outdoor venue offers more than ample space covered by a tin roof while the periphery is ringed by wicker chairs under the open sky. The juxtaposition is like the back porch meeting the colonial terrace.
Creative use of seating means you can show up at Fonda La Paila with a large group or for a romantic evening for two. And no matter where you sit you have a 180 degree view of the Vedado skyline and access to Havana’s famous year round sea breeze.
Simple and relaxed seating in front of the bar
While Fonda La Paila might be new to the Paladar scene its owners are no spring chickens. For several years they have been managing the upscale Las Terrazas restaurant in Havana Vieja overlooking the Prado boulevard.
However at Fonda La Paila they are employing a model more befitting the 21st century service industry. Instead of a 5 page menu often found in Cuban paladares they have opted for a one page, easy to understand bill of fare that is as friendly on the wallet as it is to the taste buds.
Get ready for grilled. All meats are gilled to order on a wood charcoal fire. Instead of relying on complex seasonings or fancy sauces La Paila stays true to barbeque and lets the quality of the meat, the heat of the fire and the skill of the grill master do the work. The results are astounding.
The grill is on fire!
The grilled octopus appetizer is the best I have had in Havana and the namesake dish “La Paila” offers a mix of fish, beef, pork, chicken, and shrimp that is like surf and turf on steroids. The rest of the menu reflects typical Cuban “comida criolla” as well as gilled pork, fish, and lamb which are offered by the pound, perfect for sharing.
Traditionally a “Fonda” was the colloquial Cuban name for a blue collar workers lunch rooms among Spanish immigrants to Cuba early last century. By creating a friendly atmosphere, quick no frills service, and tasty home cooking Fonda La Paila is rescuing a bit of Cuba’s past by looking toward the future.
Fonda La Paila Paladar opens every day for breakfast at 8:00am (fried eggs and bacon special) and stays open until 12:00am. Located on the corner of 25th and M Street in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana. Call for dinner reservations, this place is very popular 52-84-6072.
Photos and text by Graham Sowa.