Overall Experience - 4
Summary : This is the Cuban equivalent of a New York slice joint -- which was cool to see -- but the pizza was pretty awful. Some points must be given for the vibe, however.
I recently spent a week in Cuba as part of an academic trip with Columbia Business School. You may have read my review of La Carboncita, a somewhat upscale pizza place in a residential neighborhood of Havana. My classmates and I enjoyed our meal there, but I wouldn’t say that it was a typical pizza meal in Cuba. Roam the historic streets of the old city and you are bound to pass by dozens of hole-in-the-wall pizza places. In order to eat like a real Cuban, I made it my mission to try as many of these places as possible.
To be honest, they weren’t good. La Carboncita, as I described in my previous post, is a privately run restaurant that, in theory, has some control over the quality of its ingredients (i.e. it can source its cheese from a farm of its choice). But most restaurants and pizza places are government institutions and have no say as to where their ingredients come from. That is one of the reasons why Habana Pizzas — and many of the other places I visited — were so bad.
Habana Pizzas sits along one of the main drags in Havana: Avenida 23. Perhaps my favorite thing about the place is the tagline on the sign out front: facil de encontrar, dificil de compartir. This translates to: easy to find, difficult to share. The place is pretty bare bones. Enter through a gate and walk up to the counter where you place your order. There is only one option, a pizza napolitana, which you can order with one of five toppings… the most expensive being shrimp.
To refresh your memory, there are two types of currencies in Cuba — the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Convertible Cuban Peso (CUC). One CUC is roughly equivalent to one US dollar and worth 24 Cuban Pesos. Most government run establishments, which cater to locals, post their prices in Cuban Pesos (CUPs). The $12.00 Pizza Napolitana below is therefore the equivalent of about $0.50 US cents. Not a bad deal. A shrimp pie would still cost you less than $1.00. Generally regular pies at these types of establishments ranged from $8.00 CUPs to $12.00 CUPs.
The pies here are made to order, unlike at some establishments where a frozen pie is simply heated up in front of you. The pies were made in a kitchen behind the counter. And for $0.50, I wasn’t even upset about the fact that I saw a rolling pin being used to stretch the dough. In fact, I was impressed to see what appeared to be fresh dough!
My pie arrived in roughly five minutes. It tasted… fine. It cost $0.50 cents, so I’m not quite sure what I should have expected. The cheese was a little funky tasting. The sauce was manageable. And the crust was cracker-thin. Folded in half, it’s about the equivalent of a New York City slice. I may have enjoyed it more than I would have, had a similar pizza been served to me in New York. But this is what pizza is like in Cuba, and for a few moments it was nice to eat my pie alongside locals, who were most certainly enjoying their meal more than I was.