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The former holder of this title was shut-down by Cuban authorities late last year, and it doesn’t look like Starbien is going to be opening ever again. This is a great place eat, its’ location in Old Havana makes it accessible to most American visitors to the island, who usually spend a fair amount of time in Old Havana because of the museums and colonial history which is concentrated here.

What we take for granted in the United States, and expect when we travel overseas, is oftentimes absent in Cuba. The country has been ruled by a self-proclaimed revolutionary government for well over fifty years, and most revolutions are tumultuous events, and Cuba’s on-going fifty plus year one is no exception. When you eat out in Cuba or are involved in just about any activity that requires customer service, you are usually in for a revolutionary experience. Customer service, and regard for the needs of patrons was unheard of on the island for many years, and this has had a permanent effect on the island’s inhabitant’s understanding of how to treat consumers. While in the rest of the world the customer is always right, in Cuba it is usually the other way around. Employees at state run enterprises, which up until a few years ago included most commercial enterprises on the island, are surly, rude, and generally lack any understanding of the term customer service. Retail and service workers are usually not interested in taking care of their customers, but rather prefer to spend their time in of the many scams that they have evolved to steal from their employer, the Cuban government. As most service emplees average salary is approximately $20 per month (Yes, that’s right, $20 American dollars for 30 to 40 hours of work) they have devised ingenious ways to skim a little everywhere, and thus supplement their income, so they can afford the items they must buy at other revolutionary stores. Restaurants are no exception, and it is not uncommon to walk into an empty restaurant and be ignored by the staff.

Chef Justo is right across the street from Cuba’s beautiful former presidential palace, which was converted to the Museum of the Revolution by the current government. The Museum is obsolete, because the entire island has become a museum of the revolution, with dilapidated buildings and homes, basic lack of sanitation from running water to garbage pick-up, everything in Cuba muddles along. The men who are accredited with leading the revolution are now between eighty and one-hundred years old, they are the oldest revolutionaries who have ever existed, running a revolutionary government that restricts the choice any is against any kind of change.

Chef Justo and Al Carbon are in the same building, but Al Carbon allows smoking in its semi-open setting, and menu options are the same.

Their four-milks, cuatro leches, dessert is amazing

By Frank Gonzalez

March 16, 2018

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