A home-based restaurant or paladar. The government first allowed them to operate as small businesses in the mid-1990s, but recently relaxed restrictions have prompted many new paladares to open. Santiago, Cuba, March 23, 2012.  (VOA-J. Socolovsky)
A home-based restaurant or paladar. The government first allowed them to operate as small businesses in the mid-1990s, but recently relaxed restrictions have prompted many new paladares to open. Santiago, Cuba, March 23, 2012. (VOA-J. Socolovsky)

The Obama family’s first meal in Cuba Sunday evening provided a taste of change on the socialist island. They dined in central Havana at San Cristobal, an in-home restaurant called a paladar that reflects recent growth in private enterprise.  

Once, only state-run restaurants were permitted. Paladares have been legal since the 1990s, but, as Saveur magazine explains, the government set rules such as limiting the number of seats to 12 and restricting ingredients only to what was available from a state-run market. No beef or lobster was allowed.

Paladares have increased since 2011, when Cuba began implementing reforms to the socialist economic system that allowed for some private ownership of business. They now outnumber state-run restaurants, Saveur reports.

San Cristobal is named for chef-owner Carlos Cristóbal Márquez Valdés. It "specializes in Cuban food with Spanish elements and caters mainly to tourists and foreign visitors, as the prices are too high for most locals," the Havana Times reported Sunday.

The Obama administration has been pressing for more economic exchange with the island since plans to restore diplomatic ties were announced in late 2014.