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Havana's secret restaurants

Kathy McLeman's top 10 paladares

A welcome change from the mainstay of state-run restaurants, paladares are eateries run by self-employed Cubans - often from their homes or in cosy buildings on cobbled streets. These 'private home restaurants' were legalised by Castro's Communist government in the mid-1990s to make money from tourists in a time of economic crisis, but they flourished far more than he'd guessed. The solution was to tax them to the hilt, ban the serving of beef and premium seafood, and pretend they didn't exist.

1 La Guarida

The most famous paladar in Cuba

You'll have to climb three flights of steep stairs in semi-darkness to reach the most famous paladar in Cuba, but it's worth it when you reach the open kitchen and converted apartment. A celeb haunt thanks to its starring role in Cuban blockbuster film Fresa y Chocolate, La Guarida serves decadent cuisine in candlelit surroundings. Feast on Cuban favourites ceviche and gazpacho, followed by fresh red snapper in a zingy sauce, all accompanied by fine wines. Be sure to take a taxi and book ahead.

Concordia No.418 /Gervasio y Escobar, Havana        +53 7866 9047

2 La Fontana

Serving contemporary Cuban cuisine since 1995

Set within a walled garden decorated with fountains, Paladar La Fontana has been serving contemporary Cuban cuisine since 1995. The extensive new menu includes Chef's specials prepared daily with fresh produce from organic vegetable markets or the restaurant's own patch, as well as old favourites. Sample hot and cold starters, pasta and rice and an array of grills, from lobster to churrasco. There's also a serene bar and lounge to chill out in, with celebrity guests including Jay-Z and Beyonce.

3ra. A Ave. & 46, Miramar, Havana        +537 202 8337

3 Le Chansonnier

French Flavours

A taste of French chic in the Havana neighbourhood of Vedado, Le Chansonnier isn't the easiest place to find, tucked away in a faded mansion, but this hidden gem is well worth seeking out. Here you can enjoy classic French cuisine and wines, and fusion fare, including signature dishes such as duck terrine, rabbit with mustard and seafood gazpacho. Be sure to admire the original artwork, created by Damián Alquiles, which adorns the bathrooms.

Calle J No 257, between Calles 13 & 15, Vedado, Havana, Cuba        +53 7 832 1576

4 Dona Carmela

A hidden gem with an atmospheric outdoor area

Only a few minutes by taxi from the centre of Havana, Dona Carmela is one of the smallest paladares. Set within a picturesque walled garden near the fort, it is a hidden gem with an atmospheric outdoor area. Specialising in fresh seafood, all mains are complemented by authentic side dishes like black beans and rice. Check opening times and book ahead, and set aside an evening to linger over your dinner here.

Comunidad No 1, Casa 10, Morro-Cabana, Habana del Este        +07 863 6048

5 La Casa

Authentic Cuban food from the Robaina family

Run by three generations of the Robaina family in a California-style house serving authentic Cuban food, La Casa also serves an array of international dishes, such as Spanish tapas, pasta and Greek moussaka. The weekly Japanese night on a Thursday is a great experience, while wonderful wines and cocktails are also on offer. Ask for the table where Matt Dillon and Diego Maradona have eaten

Calle 30 No 865 e/26 and 41, Nuevo Vedado, Havana        +537 881 7000

6 Esperanza

Intimate Art-Deco-style atmosphere

Sit back in the living room of this family home and sip a Mojito while lounging in comfy chairs, before heading to the Art-Deco-style dining room. In the heart of Miramar, Esperanza serves a range of international dishes, local cuisine and a house speciality of tender pork stew. The intimate atmosphere caters for up to 20 guests and offers great service. As always, reserve in advance!

Calle 16 #105, Entre 1ra and 3ra, Miramar (Between First and Third), Havana        +53 202 4361

7 San Cristobal

Art-nouveau 20th-century mansion

Cuban Creole cuisine is the order of the day at this new-breed paladar named after its inspired owner, Carlos Cristóbal Márquez Valdés. Seat yourself on the sunny patio or in the cosily cluttered art-nouveau 20th-century mansion and sample flavoursome traditional malanga, yucca, cerdo asado (roast pork), lobster, fresh fish and shrimp. Find an accompaniment from the wine list and finish off with a taste of the dessert menu.

Calle San Rafael No 469, between Lealtad and Campanario, central Havana        +537 860 1705

8 Cafe Laurent

A 1950s style restaurant

Unlike many of Havana's paladares, Café Laurent is a stylish restaurant rather than a home-style family-run affair, but it's no surprise that it still takes some effort to find. Take a small antique lift up to the penthouse with its 1950s feel, and be tempted by the Spanish Basque-based menu - red snapper with clams and shrimp, meatballs and salads, and tasty Sunday specials.

Calle M No 257, between Calles 19 and 21, Vedado        +537 831 2090

9 Atelier

A modern paladar with a retro feel

Run by the passionate Niuris Higueras and experienced chef Enrique, Atelier is a modern paladar with a retro feel and a daily-changing menu. The eclectic array of dishes includes falafels, duck confit, sirloin steak with shrimp and celery mousse, and rabbit in wine, to name but a few. Desserts are authentically Cuban and, on sunny days, the cosy cushion-filled balconies are great places to dine.

Calle 5, between Paseo y Calle 2, Vedado, Havana        +537 836 2025

10 Dona Eutimia

Traditional home-cooked Cuban recipes

Ironically located opposite the state restaurant on Cathedral Square, this charming paladar owes its appeal to its elderly owner and the traditional Cuban menu of her mother's home-cooked food. Take your time to dip into totally authentic dishes that are never reinvented, from shredded steak in tomato sauce to octopus and pork, rice and beans. There's often a queue but it's worth the wait!

Callejón del Chorro No 60c, Plaza de la Catedral, Old Havana        +537 861 1332