By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon
Cuba Journal Contributor
It’s not every day that I have lunch in Havana. And it’s not every day that I have lunch in a repurposed peanut oil processing plant. But today I’m doing both.
Hidden in plain sight on a non-descript street in the Cuban capital’s Vedado neighborhood, El Cocinero is the type of casual-chic eatery you feel fortunate to have found.
Climb the circular iron staircase to the second floor and you’ll pass its elegant dinner-only dining room. But don’t stop there; continue to the rooftop one floor above, where you’ll find Havana’s hipsters lounging on low-slung butterfly chairs beneath the shade of a sun-dappled canvas canopy.
Surrounded by dilapidated Brutalist buildings and Spanish Colonial facades with peeling paint, the al fresco restaurant is a haven for young creatives and in-the-know visitors. And like the capital itself, its a beguiling combination of contrasts:
Patrons sip Acqua Panna water from Italy alongside the local Bucanero Fuerte beer. They season their vaca frita (a traditional Cuban dish made with beef) with OXO cruets filled with pink rocks of Himalayan salt.
And above it all, the chimney of what was once a working factory has been reborn as one of Havana’s hippest hangouts, the bar created within the smokestack crowned with a whimsical chandelier made of yellow snorkels.
It’s a scene ripped from Miami or Manhattan’s dining and entertainment playbook, made all the more appealing by its artful execution in the place where you’d least expect it. But appreciate it most.
El Cocinero is open daily, from noon to midnight. Dinner reservations are strongly recommended and the bar opens at 6 p.m. For more information, go to elcocinerocuba.com.