La California Paladar

La California is a well-established centric Havana favourite for a classy meal of Cuban or Italian cuisine. It is almost as famous for the quality of its menu and service as it is for the historical relevance of the block in which it is situated. Its location is known as the birthplace of Latin Jazz, which later took New York - and the world - by storm.

La California is one of Havana's best known restaurants and can justifiably stake a claim in the city's history books. The lovingly restored 19th-century colonial building which houses La California restaurant is part of the cultural project, "El Solar de la California". This historical block was the subject of a song written by (the recently deceased) Los Van Van front man Juan Formell and famously performed by Isaac Delgado.

The song was a timba remake of the famous Eagles hit, "Hotel California" and described the slum conditions from which some of Cuba's greatest black musicians, doctors and other community leaders emerged. It was in this neighbourhood where Latin jazz was ostensibly born, largely due to legendary Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo, who later found fame, fortune and an early death in New York City in the 1940s.

Great Italian and Cuban cuisine

The local restoration project is proceeding at a typically Cuban (slow) pace and on first sight it is hard to imagine the gem of a restaurant which is hidden inside this rundown neighbourhood. Do not despair! Once inside La California, visitors are greeted by funky decor, good service and a menu of excellent Italian and Cuban classics.

For starters, try the bruschetta or pumpkin soup. Diners rave about the thin-crust pizzas prepared in a wood-fired oven (the variety is truly extensive!). The pasta and lobster also get great reviews. For dessert, don't miss the homemade coconut ice cream, the cakes or the pies.

A warm welcome

Owner Charles Farigola is often on the premises to offer menu advice or chat to customers and ensure that they have an all-round positive experience in his establishment. As well as individual customers, the restaurant is also popular with tour groups. Regardless of the size of group, the food is consistently reported as fresh and excellent and the staff friendly and attentive.

Fitting with its position in Havana's history, La California now offers a package of a one-hour historical city tour in a vintage American car, followed by a welcome cocktail and lunch or dinner.

For an elegant and authentic dinner in one of Havana's most historical restaurants, seek out La California at 418 Concordia Street, on the corner of Gervasio y Escobar, just a block back from the Malecón.

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