Enjoying the sun and drinks of the local cafes.

Traveling to Cuba is hard. And it sounds like it might only get harder in the coming months. But we promise it’s worth the effort.

Cuba is a complex country where your best bet is to expect the unexpected and leave all Western ideals at the airport. It’s a country where grand palaces hide behind crumbling facades, where propaganda hangs in empty storefronts and live music spills out from every bar.

In Havana, the recent changes in political and economic policies have brought about a host of restaurant and bar openings. Where before you might have been lucky to stumble upon some decent ropa vieja and rice and beans, today travelers will find a wealth of private and state-run restaurants serving Spanish, Swedish and French foods, as well as fresh takes on Cuban classics.

Here are some of our favorite Havana restaurants and bars. Booking a hotel in the Old Town will put you within walking distance of most of the spots below.

Havana’s oldest microbrewery, the Factoria Plaza Vieja.

Factoria Plaza Vieja

Havana’s oldest microbrewery, the Factoria Plaza Vieja serves up only three varieties of beer: light, medium and dark. Beer is available by the glass or, if you have a few friends, in giant beer bongs. All of the beers taste like they came straight out of a brew kit, but they’re still a nice change of pace from the Cerveza Cristal you get everywhere else in Havana.

Cervecería Antiguo Almacen de la Madera y El Tabaco

The city’s newest brewery, Cervecería Antiguo Almacen de la Madera y El Tabaco sits in the shell of a former lumber and tobacco warehouse. Enjoy your beers and bites — the brewery has a robust menu of seafood, sandwiches and snacks — inside under the high ceilings and exposed columns. There’s also a large patio overlooking the sea. Like Factoria Plaza Vieja, the beer only comes in three varieties and is served by the glass or beer bong.

Dona Eutimia

Ignore the touts trying to lure you into other restaurants nearby and head directly to Dona Eutimia. Regarded as one of the best places to eat in Havana, this pleasantly unassuming restaurant serves delicious takes on Cuban dishes like ropa vieja and picadillo. You can also find fresh seafood and lamb, as well as salads and snacks. But no visit to Dona Eutimia is complete without a taste of their mojito frappes. Here the classic Cuban cocktail is available in the form of a slushy daiquiri that somehow manages to taste even better than the original. Make reservations if you can. This place fills up fast.

El Dandy Bar and Galeria.

Casa Del Queso La Marriage

Just a few blocks from the bars of Calle Obispo, this small shop serves up a wide variety of wines from Europe and South America. The staff knows their stuff and the better your Spanish the better luck you’ll have finding a wine that suits your tastes. Come hungry. The Casa Del Queso La Marriage is said to have one of the best cheese selections in Havana. The cafe also serves salads and bruschettas. But the best part is the price. Expect to eat and drink well for about $10 USD per person.

Casa Miglis

Prices are a bit higher at Casa Miglis. But their unique Swedish and Cuban fusion dishes are worth every penny. There’s the tostada skagen, made with local shrimp, dill and a dab of horseradish. The ceviche, with its pineapple, avocado and lime, is equally delicious. And it’s a good thing the seafood casserole comes with garlic toast because you’ll want to soak up every last drip of the saffron wine sauce. Casa Miglis also has a strong collection of local beers, many you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in Havana, and a strong cocktail menu. Finish your meal with the house milkshake, a frothy mix of rum, bananas and cane sugar.

Los Nardos

The only indication there’s a top-notch restaurant in this strip of shops across the street from the Capitolio is the long line that forms everyday at lunchtime. Managed by the local Spanish Asturianas society, Los Nardos is said by some to be another of Havana’s top places to eat. And you know what? They’re completely right. The portions of paella, smoked pork loin and garlic prawns are big. The prices are small. And the setting — with its tall ceilings, mahogany tables and exposed wine racks — is an ideal retreat from the busy streets outside. While you’re there, try a pitcher of the sangria Asturiana, made with white wine, brandy and lemon.

El Dandy

A former street level apartment, this bar and cafe serves snacks and sandwiches with a Mexican kick. Come for breakfast and enjoy spicy scrambled eggs. Or stop in a few hours later for pulled pork tacos (the homemade hot sauce is ace). El Dandy also makes Mexican-style micheladas using local beers, lemon and chili. A robust rum lineup and cocktail list rounds out the menu. For another unique twist on the classic mojito, order it El Dandy-style: with cilantro instead of mint.

Helen Anne Travis is a freelance writer based out of Tampa, Fl.