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La Bodeguita del Medio
Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez
Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez

Time goes by and nothing is the same. Everything “ages,” “moves on,” settles, or disappears. La Bodeguita del Medio, situated in the very heart of Havana for 76 years, still arouses expectations. Its walls, bar, and very old tables and raw-hide chairs smell of history, taste of live memory.

It has become one of the very few Cuban cuisine brands worldwide with franchises in different parts of the world because its founder, Angel Martínez, knew how to apply with authentic cordiality and sincerity the fundamental principle in the service and gastronomy industries: PLEASING his initial clients (almost all of them well-known intellectuals, artists, and characters from bohemian Havana) and those who came later attracted by its fame, among them many renowned Americans such as Errol Flynn and Rita Hayworth, just to name two.

One of the nationally and internationally most popular local cocktails is the house’s obligatory signature: the mojito, with its indispensable mint, but without the drops of Angostura. This drink attracts dozens of tourists that every day spilling into Empedrado Street because they don’t fit inside the emblematic bar, waiting to live the experience of drinking a mojito from La Bodeguita…. I prefer it with Angostura, because it brings out the freshness of the mixture and neutralizes the sweetness, which lends more “elegance” to the cocktail. But I can confirm that –despite deservedly unfavorable reviews a few years ago– today the coveted mojito from La Bodeguita is very well-prepared with its exact proportions of Havana Club 3-year rum, sugar, lime, and very fresh mint leaves. I ordered one and wanted another….

Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez
Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez
Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez
Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez
Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez
Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez
Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez
Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez

On the top floor it has another bar and a happy environment is created among the clients and staff, all entertained by a group playing traditional Cuban music.

The menu is simple, with some representative dishes from Cuban cuisine that are preferred among habaneros, like the Cuban-style minced meat, steak, cod, and lobster; the fried pork; the ropa vieja; and the shrimp in tomato sauce. All are accompanied by fried tubers, white rice, and black beans, or the moros y cristianos (rice and black beans cooked together). Because of the immense demand of groups arriving into the bay of Havana on cruise ships, the minced meat is set aside as part of the menu for them and, because of this, on many occasions other customers, like myself, are told that they don’t have that dish. It is true that all of Cuba has problems with the availability of food –even more so in these state-run restaurants that take on complicated mechanisms to acquire food, drinks, kitchenware, and dining room ménage– but there must be a solution so that all those who go to La Bodeguita can taste this recipe if they want to.

The beef croquettes as hot starters are served in abundant quantities – silky, crunchy and with a delicate flavor, we recommend accompanying them with the chef’s sauces, a very popular trend in many Cuban restaurants.

The fried and roast pork, also in abundant quantities (each dish serves 2 or 3 people), conserve a marinade of natural juices and crushed garlic, and are adorned with fine onion and green pepper slices. The black beans with bay leaves, cumin, and oregano mark the sweet tones typical of this Cuban recipe. The service is fast and informal, the pride of those who work there and their desire to please with gusto is evident. The value is good, the 10% service tax is not included. Homemade desserts of flan and French toast (made according to a Spanish recipe) are on offer, both made just right; I liked them much more than those I’ve tried in paladares in vogue.

Time, a great deal of it, has passed through La Bodeguita del Medio… It’s not the same as it used to be (it can’t be, these are “different times”) but it’s still there: coveted by almost all visitors to the island and by those of us who live here, who continue to feel a very special emotion when we look at its stained-glass windows, listen to its “life stories” over and over, and savor what no one better than we Cubans know how to identify as authentic “national cuisine.”

Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez
Photo: Otmaro Rodríguez

Dining Room: 9.75
Kitchen: 9.11
Bar: 9.62
General: 9.49