La Chucheria is a privately owned cafeteria serving light meals, fast food and breakfast, although it also has a bar. If I remember well, it was one of the first pioneering establishments of its kind that opened right after Raul Castro’s 2011 economic reforms encouraged people to set up their own businesses. It has been one of the most reliably good and successful ones since its opening. As proof of its success, the owners opened a second branch some time ago.
The first establishment, La Chucheria of Vedado, has a coveted location: on 1st Street between C and D Streets, just across the Malecon, very close to the Melia Cohiba and Riviera hotels and also near Hotel Presidente, Hotel Nacional, Habana Libre and Capri. At first, it was designed as a sports-themed bar-cafeteria where people could watch football, baseball and other sporting events. Its decoration and the names of the dishes are all sports-inspired.
However, it quickly readapted itself to people’s tastes and refined its offering to satisfy the demand for light meals that don’t necessarily translate as junk food. There are now two La Chucheria in Havana.
It’s all so tasty it’s hard to make a choice: the menu, step by step
The quality of what’s on offer is what I like best and what ultimately constitutes this eating out joint’s biggest strength. Every item on the menu is well prepared: breakfast dishes, pizzas and pastas, sandwiches, salads… oh, the salads… they are the best for me.
The essential salads
It may be a paradox that La Chucheria stands out for its salads, because a mix of vegetables does not fit into the definition of a snack (the main meaning of the word chucheria in Spanish); yet, I have precisely become a regular client of this place because of this particular item on the menu. There is no other place around where you can have better salads or, at least, where the quality-quantity-price ratio can be beat.
Lettuce and tomatoes, always fresh, are the basic ingredients of almost all salads on the menu. In previous posts I have talked about vegetables in Cuba; they are very tasty and fresh when in season. The ones they use here meet all those expectations.
They serve five types of salad: Primavera, the meatless choice for vegetarians; Caprichosa, my favourite, with vegetables, cured ham and Parmesan cheese; Nueva Marinera, a mix of vegetables and tuna; Verano, also high at the top of my list, with vegetables, cheese dices and chicken breast; and, Chucheria, which breaks the mould, because it the only cold one with chicken, mayonnaise and fruits. In my opinion, you should try them all.
Exquisite pastas and pizzas
I love pastas and pizzas, and I am very hard to please, especially when it comes to pastas. In fact, my husband says I do not really like them, because I am never fully happy with them in any place. Here, they always offer spaghettis, very good ones! They are simply prepared with a napolitana sauce. I prefer their limited but well-cooked offer, to having an extensive choice with nothing of real good quality.
I really enjoy the pizzas at La Chucheria. They are excellent, thin and crispy but never hard. It’s very hard to find pizzas like this in Havana: they are either thick (deep-pan style with a bread-like dough) or ultra-thin like crackers, but I have never found any that meet you half-way – except here, of course.
You can also add as many extra toppings as you like. I recommend the one with cured ham, I thought it was a little bit of a strange innovation, but it was exquisite!
Hamburgers and sandwiches
Another dish I am very demanding with is hamburgers. I do love them and, by the way, I make very good ones, so you can trust me on this one. At La Chucheria, I recommend you go for the Half-marathon burger, a beef hamburger with some Chucheria Salad, or the Checkmate, more like a cheeseburger.
Last but not least, Sandwiches are also sublime and very varied, prepared with baguette or sliced bread, your choice. One of the nicest is the Helena Ruth, a Cuban invention consisting of roast chicken, cream cheese and strawberry jam, a delight. You can try any of them, because all the ones I’e tried (Catalonian, vegetarian, chicken, etc.) are all delicious.
The drinks you cannot miss
Other big winners here are the drinks. I’ll start with the juices and fruit shakes. They always have a minimum of four options on offer, which are hard to choose from, but any choice you make will most likely be a good one.
The ice-cream shakes are also a big draw. Many people come here just for them, and they even have disposable cups to take away with you (something of a novelty that you don’t frequently see in Cuba, but I’m sure it was simply a case of meeting a new demand for it).
Cocktails are also great, specially the gin tonic, the Mojito and the Daiquiri. Although for me this is not a place to go to for a casual drink with friends, I do find many people here sitting in the porch looking at the sea, and that inevitably goes with a good drink.
When sequels are as good as the original: La Chucheria of Miramar
Another element rescued from oblivion in the rapidly changing Cuba of today is the use of brands, not only for products, but also for services. La Chucheria is a fine example of Cubans experimenting with private brands and franchises; a couple of years after the first one opened, they opened a second one in the elegant Miramar district.
With a more attractive design and a larger venue, La Chucheria of Miramar maintains the quality standards of the original one. A few days ago, I went there for the first time. I tested them out on the menu dish I know best: the salads. I expected something would be different or not as well replicated here. Perhaps a smaller portion, some change in the ingredients, something… but luckily I found no difference; even the arrangement of elements in the dish was the same. Awesome in taste, too!!!
This Chucheria has an added bonus for families because they make it child-friendly with some child-oriented facilities. To achieve this, they have created a recreational area in the patio/garden with a fun playground that includes a slide and swings. There aren’t many places in Havana catering this well for families, where you can go with your small children and not have them stuck to a chair for an hour.
I think I’ve made it quite clear by now that I love these kind of places, and any of these two eateries (which are actually the same) is a good choice for having a quick bite, light meal, a coffee or a drink. If I were you, I wouldn’t miss it.