Some of the worst meals I’ve had in Italy have been in fancy expensive Michelin star restaurants. Some people get super excited about Michelin stars and deem those restaurants better than others. I do not get it. The Michelin star system started out as a way to get the tires worn out. Italy does not need these fancy restaurants. Actually the Michelin star system has nothing to do with how fancy the restaurant is but solely the food, cooking, and constituency of those things. The general public seems to not know this. Michelin is not even all over the world yet (they say that they are taking is slowly). Michelin has not reached South America yet. Imagine that! There are restaurants in Lima that should have a star, but Michelin hasn’t gotten there yet. If consistently making good food was really the reason to give a place a star, then many more would have them.
The food in Italy is already natural, local, and delicious. The various types of Italian cuisine (there are many) are based on local, simple, and delicious. Michelin seems to go for innovative, expensive, and small portions. Add to that how hard it is to get a reservation at a Michelin star restaurant, and it is just not my idea of a good food experience. Some of the finest dishes I’ve tasted were not by a Michelin star chef.
One thing that many people like about small portions is that it allows them to try many things and it is a form of portion control. You can try that anyway in Italy. The portions of appetizers and first courses are not necessarily that huge. Or share with a friend. Most restaurants will even split the dish onto two plates.
The last Michelin star restaurant experience underlined why Italy doesn’t need Michelin Star restaurants. One of the dishes “invented” was a bao, a steam Asian style bun. But it wasn’t as good as the authentic ones and I do not think it highlighted the ingredients. Then we had an appetite stimulant of pickles which were the most sour I have had in Italy. I can see how this was innovative for Italy where sour is not sour. One dish was a roasted escarole (half an escarole head). It cost 38 euro.
I guess my biggest peeve with these restaurants is that they are so pricey and pretentious. Most of the places on my list are not expensive, and not pretentious. Nothing makes food taste bad like attitude.
The current system where restaurants are listed in the Michelin guide is just like Yelp or TripAdvisor. The guide in Italy is Gambero Rosso. The Michelin guide is separate from a chef earning a star, of which there are 367 (318 have one star) in Italy. I am glad when a woman gets a star but I don’t think that makes the overall system better. The Michelin guide badge is a round red sticker that you can see on many restaurant doors alongside the ones for TripAdvisor.
I tend to use Google ratings because I like the democracy of the system. It relies on average eaters reviewing places and not a specialized team of experts who want to wear out your tires in France. In Italy, most restaurants make consistently good food. Or consistently bad. Try them for yourself.
Obviously, this list is a work in progress as I have not been to that many restaurants, not even 100. First, a word about dessert. Stick to the tiramisu. Except when you really want to try the cannoli and the young man says that they make it in house.
This list is only places that are not super super famous. But, first let me mention one famous place in Verona. Antica Bottega del Vino was recommended to me by a sommelier. It is all the pomp and atmosphere that you did not know you wanted to watch with your food. Maybe they hire the barkeeps to look like Roman gods? The food was clearly cooked by someone trained as a professional chef. It looked like that too. But was still great. I have not included any photos from there because their website shows what the place looks like quite well.
Peccato del Vino, Otranto, Apulia: The owner will make you feel so welcome and the bubbly doesn’t hurt either. Her dishes are riffs on classics and not in a way that makes them unrecognizable, but in a way that makes them delicious, and distinct.
‘nni’ Lausta, Santa Marina, Salina, Aeolian Islands, Sicily: of the many excellent restaurants we tried on Salina, this was the one with the most refined food.
Mamma Santina, Santa Marina, Salina, Aeolian Islands, Sicily: For their innovative eggplant parmesan, made with local anchovies but still a traditional dish. All their other food was also excellent. This restaurant is located in a hotel but don’t be put off by that. The restaurant is open air and overlooks the town and the sea.
La Tagliata Fattoria, Positano, Amalfi Coast: A recommendation. Also famous, but still on my list, not for the food which is homemade and good, but for the magical view, and the family. And the elevator.
The place that most likely not to be on anyone else’s list was a camping site. In fact, I can’t even find it on my Google maps… But, don’t judge. If the food served there had been served in a fancy place in Bologna or Verona, people would be raving about it. Their pasta alle vongole was so good that we each had our own serving. The cannoli was as gourmet as you can get (as you can see from the photo at the top) served on a slate plate and with a dusting of powdered sugar. Although cannoli are famous from Sicily, this one was at the other end of Italy… the lesson is that if your navigator (me) says to go there, then try it!
Trattoria il borghetto, Salve, Apulia: I recommend this place because the “mayor” of Torre in Pali sent us there. The restaurant is in a small hilltop village and one eats inside a castle courtyard. It has that sort of fairytale feel to it. The meal is a large one with many first courses so make sure you are hungry.
Finally, I also recommend the steakhouses (we went to one called 101 Best Steakhouses located near the train station) in Florence. Even if you don’t eat meat. Just thinking about their steak makes me weak at the knees, but their vegetarian ravioli was good too.
Was that ten? But, as I keep finding new ones… I will update this list.
With the return of visitors to Rome, people are asking me for advice on where to eat. Therefore I will publish this list before I’m really ready to as I have not found ten places off the beaten path that I would recommend. Instead, this list is mostly famous places.
First, my recommendations out of the famous places:
Pierluigi, Piazza de Ricci 144 (downtown Rome): it is on its own piazza and you can enjoy the people watching. It is a seafood restaurant, but it has the most delicious vegetarian pasta and tiramisu. You will need to make a reservation.
Colline Emiliane, Via degli Avignonesi 22 (near Piazza Barbarini): This place makes delicious food. It is the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna (Bologna, Modena, Parma, etc.). Small and with no outdoor seating. But, they have a window where you can watch the pasta being made fresh every day. You have to call to make a reservation.
Tonnorello (several locations in Trastevere): I thought it was a zoo eating there, way overcrowded and the same food you can get most places. If you go at 12:30 pm, you can probably get in to one of the locations.
La Matriciana (across from the opera house, near the Termini train station), Via del Viminale, 44: Classic place from 1870.
Then the less famous places:
Fuoco Lento, Via Flavia 63/65 (in Ludovisi/Sallustiano): Old school waiters, outdoor seating as well, never had anything bad here. It’s my “go-to” place. Open on Sunday night as well. Outside the touristy area so much easier to get a table.
Da Bucatino, Via Luca della Robbia 84/86 (in Testaccio): outside the tourist areas, has outdoor seating, and is an old school place.
Tratteria Valentino (not to be confused with Trattoria da Valentino on Via Cavour, which is also fine.), Via del Boschetto 37 (in Monti): great local place on a side street in Monti. Near Quirinale palace. Hidden in plain sight because they kept the old facade from when the space was a ice shop.
And one that is not famous:
Osteria del Rione, Via Basento, 20 (near Villa Borghese): Just north of the Via Veneto neighborhood, this place is a real local place located in a basement. There is almost no other business on the street, an extremely limited menu (basically what Bruno, the owner, tells you he has), and a set menu for 10 euro.
Lastly, I recommend one place outside Rome (near the airport) Osteria dell’elefante, which I wrote about before.
Once I have been to ten places that are fairly unknown, like Osteria del Rione, I’ll write about them.
It so transpired that I got an insiders’ list of a different kind. Through a cousin of a former colleague’s colleague, I was sent a list of recommendations of, “names of restaurants and trendy places attended by upper class and local inhabitants.” Not all these places are upscale.
At the restaurant Quinto Roma, you can eat in igloos.
Il Datterino Giallo, Piazza Ledro: “Il Datterino Giallo, vi propone una cucina genuina e verace, al contempo sana e molto attuale, in un ambiente sofisticato ma non troppo, un mix di arredo tra il provenzale e l’industriale in una ‘location’ prestigiosa come quella del quartiere romano…” translates to: … offers traditional Italian cuisine, Mediterranean, at the same time innovative, in a welcoming location, inspired by a hybrid style between Provencal and industrial… in a prestigious location of Rome.
I have not been to any of these places. If you go, let me know how it was.
*******Update October 19, 2019****** Since Peruvians love hamburgers, it’s hard to pick the best, since there are so many burgers to try… But, for the fun of it, I will. At most places, the meat patty is about 250 grams. Peruvians like a meaty burger. Not thin patties.
1. Don Doh: Given that one of the co-owners is the butcher who runs Osso, I’d expect the burger to be good. The black bun is slightly chewy and moist due to the squid ink that makes it black. Inside the burger is a good 200 grams and made with chopped kimchi.
2. Osso: It’s a steak house so they should have a good burger. The burger is actually a chopped steak burger. It’s meaty. But, the fries are what makes me keep coming back.
3. Sushi Pop: Thin and made from Angus beef. The patties are more like Five Guys in the U.S. As you can see below, it’s hard to find the patties under the cheese, sauce, and fried onion… but the meat was good even if it was hard to find. Next time I’ll get it without the sauce. Sushi Pop serves the burger on a “bao” or steamed bun.
4. Cosme: The burger is good.It’s just another secret thing about Cosme.
5. Papachos: They no longer have a Wagyu or Kobe. The “luxury” Angus burger is a solid burger. I’m told that many think that the burgers are too salty. I didn’t think so.
6. Juicy Lucy: This burger isn’t that large but it’s a solid tasting burger. The fries are local round potatoes. (This chain is from the same owner of Carnal so at Carnal you can get the sinfully delicious version of the juicy lucy.)
7. Bon Beef: The burger is a burger much like at Fridays or Chilis. Bon Beef is that sort of place.
8. Django Burgers, Hipolito unanue 101, Miraflores (10th block of Ejercito): good burger. so so fries.
Okay, eight. Then there are these other places that have been recommended to me or that I have been to:
Cafe A Bistro: This gas station bistro was recommended to me for their burger. I thought it was okay until I hit a piece of cartilage (set the grind on a finer size!). Then I stopped.
El Jefe: It’s a burger but I didn’t find the meat tasty and it had that mealy cardboard texture that makes me think of certain fast food chains…
Food Rockers (not Fuddruckers): Located a bit off the beaten track in San Borja, this place has a burger but it’s the black ice cream that’s worth the visit. More about that in another blog posting.
Quisso: First raclette based restaurant in Lima. They melt cheese on everything including an artisanal burger freshly ground for the restaurant.
I have not been to this place but, Hamburguesas Artesanales, Av. Gral. Eugenio Garzón 977, Jesús María, won the 2018 Burger Fest.
Lima’s main attraction as a city is food tourism. Otherwise, Lima is a pit stop on the route to Machu Picchu. The main reason for Peru’s rise as a gastronomic powerhouse is Gaston Acurio. He, single-handed, has promoted the gastronomy of Peru on to the world stage.
Gaston Acurio (La Mar, Astrid y Gaston, Panchita, Tanta, Madam Tusan, etc,) is the businessman of the chef trinity. The others are Virgilio Martinez (Central and Mil) and Rafael Osterling (Rafael, El Mercado, and Felix Brasserie). Virgilio is the genius of the food scene (all photos are from Central) and Rafael is an excellent cook.
The newest addition is Mitsuharu ‘Micha’ Tsumura of Maido, currently one of the top restaurants in the world.
These chefs have paved the way for the multitude of chefs working in Lima today: Moma of Jeronimo and Chinka Tu Taco, James Berckemeyer of Cosme. Pedro Miguel Schiaffino of Amaz and Malabar.
*** Updated January 29, 2020 *** I get a lot of questions about the “must eat” restaurants in Lima. Lima is a gastronomic tourist’s South American destination. So here is the list, from the fanciest (as in they are listed on the list of 50 best restaurants list) to some that I recommend, including breakfast places. Or you can go according to this list from Eater. All these places (even La Grimanesa–see photo above) are not hole-in-the-wall places, and some are downright white tablecloth fancy-pantsy. Michelin has not bestowed any stars here yet (Michelin only recently moved into Asia and North America — Michelin was a company just trying to get their customers to wear out their tires by going for drives…).
3: Maido (it’s Japanese-Peruvian), Ca. San Martín 399, Miraflores
4-7: La Mar, Av. La Mar 770, Miraflores, is a cevicheria which is part of Gaston Acurio’s empire, as are: Astrid y Gaston, Madam Tusan, Panchita, Tanta, Papachos, Los Bachiche (Italian-Peruvian and no longer part of his empire-sold to an Italian) and his newest place, La Bodega.
8: Cosme (best secret), Tudela Y Varela 160-162, San Isidro
9: Malabar, Av. Camino Real 101, San Isidro
10: El Mercado (also a Rafael Osterling restaurant), Hipólito Unanue 203, Miraflores: get the shrimp mini burger. It’s the most unusual dish here…
11: Osaka (Japanese), Av. Pardo y Aliaga 660, San Isidro: I wish they would turn up the lights but the single best bite of food that I had in 2016 — was here.
12: amaZ (Amazonian food), Av. La Paz 1079, Miraflores
13: El Seniorio de Sulco (on the malecon with a view of the ocean), Malecón Cisneros 1470, Miraflores
14: La Isolina, Av San Martin 101, (serves heritage Peruvian dishes): as it’s in Barranco, go during a summer lunch time. From the son of the lady who started La Red.
15: La Grimanesa (the only slightly hole-in-the-wall place), Ca. Ignacio Merino 466, Miraflores (practically across the street from La Mar). These are the award winning beef hearts on skewers. If you are going to do it, do it here.
16: Chez Wong (known for cooking in his home). Ca. Enrique León García 114, Santa Catalina
17: El Pan de la Chola (go for breakfast or for a light dinner), Av. La Mar 918, Miraflores. His newest location in Calle Miguel Dasso serves completely different breads etc. Jonathan Day, opened a pizzeria on Avenida La Mar in June 2018 just down the street from his flagship location.
32: El Rocoto: named after the famous large picante red chili from Arequipa.
33: Maria Almenara (for breakfast) or lunch, or dinner.
34: Blu (gelato), in Barranco
35: Paseo Colon, Av. Pardo y Aliaga 697. Like a TGIF or Friendly’s of Peruvian food.
36: Aji555, Av San Luis 2879, San Borja (delicious and Thai — really!!!), started in the ‘hood but moved to San Borja (and the prices reflect this).
37: Cafe Mozart (Italian and Euro flavor)
38: Spizza (in San Isidro). Great Italian style pizza. The best.
39: Taller Razeto, in La Punta.
40: La Mora (also for those who like a good northern European style meal or schnitzel) is a chain with reliable food and more cozy European cafe feel.
41: Las Vecinas, in Barranco, just down the small street by La Isolina. A cafe which is pet-friendly and eco-friendly. And they serve eggs for breakfast, and all the way till 2 pm!
42: Don Cucho’s, in Pachacamac. It’s way out by itself, an adventure to find, and sprawling. ****closed**** but, apparently the employees opened their own place somewhere nearby.
43: Tzu Chifa, Larcomar Mall, Miraflores. It’s elegant, got great views of the ocean, and the food it Chinese.
44: Jian Xing, in the old Chinatown or “Barrio Chino” downtown. A restaurant with the same name is on the new Chinatown (Aviacion). This place in downtown is not fancy like at Tzu but it’s economical.
45: Arirang, Calle Las Orquídeas 447, San Isidro. Authentic Korean barbecue.
46: Tambo Rural, Kilometer marker 52, Panamerican highway, south. Fresh bread out of the oven, stuffed with olives and cheese. Plus coffee so local that you might not understand the accent.
47: Juicy Lucy, Av Mariscal La Mar 1328, Miraflores . Go for the name alone. It’s burgers.
48: El Batan, Km. 198.5, Carretera Panamericana Sur, Chincha Alta. The MOST delicious lomo saltado to date. It’s located at a gas station in the middle of a town.
49. Amorelado, ice cream shop across from La Mar. Just because you will need something to do while you wait for your table at La Mar… try the lucuma. Then you can tick that off the list.
50. 500 Degrees, on Av. Camino Real. They have breakfast from 7-12. Then lunch. It’s a sunken patio. The juice is good, the salads are good.
51. La Ciccolina, Cusco. It’s upstairs from a courtyard. One of Gaston Acurio’s kingdom.
52. Fiesta Gourmet. The original place. Now they also have La Picanteria.
53. Amoramar, Garcia y Garcia 175, Barranco. For the love of seafood. The large restaurant is hidden behind a wall on one of the residential streets of “the other part” of Barranco as in the non-touristy part. The food and drinks are good. It’s a bit pricey, and some dishes are slightly off (too salty, etc.) but overall, it’s worth recommending.
55. Bao, José Domingo Choquehuanca 411, Miraflores (go west from La Mar and turn on Jose’s street). Not completely authentic but, who cares? It’s got hipster vibe. Also in Calle Manuel Bonilla off of Parque Kennedy.
56. Jeronimo, Av Mariscal La Mar 1209. Apparently one of the top places to eat. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. Completely international class food. The beef short rib was great if you are a meat lover. The grilled artichokes were a delightful surprise (scrapping the flesh off the leaves with fingers slick with garlic butter…) Also, the Poke (“poke-A”) bowl is passable for those who miss Poke.
57. La Cucharita. Also tapas, across from Jeronimo.
58. Morelia, Calle Atahualpa 196, Miraflores. Home made pasta, nice salads, and crispy flatbread pizza.
59. Mantra, Avenida Alfredo Benavides, 1761, Miraflores. Third best place to eat Indian. (Massala is not on the list.)
60. Puku Puku, Narciso de la Colina 297. Premier cafe with biodegradable straws.
61. La Linterna: The location in San Isidro is a family place where many of the local families walk over. The pizza is flat Peruvian style and the food is much like I imagine a Peruvian Italian grandma would serve.
62. Rasson. Calle Gral Mendiburu 1007, Miraflores. The name is the reverse of the last name of the siblings who opened this place. They also own La Panka. Rasson has lots of space. Comfy food. I liked their warm choclo with cheese, their grilled mushrooms, the anticucho of chicken breast was juicy (and healthy), the brownie dessert was excellent, and their “waters” with fruit infusions and lots of mint leaves are good as well. And they have SWEET POTATO FRIES!
63. Pan Sal Aire. Almirante Miguel Grau 320, Barranco. The best pizza so far. Service is slow but the atmosphere and the pizza is great. Too bad they use canned mushrooms. One of the few places with fancy breakfast. The interior is quite stylish and you can take your upper crust friends here. But, why, why, use canned mushrooms?
64. Homemade. Revett 259, Miraflores . They serve breakfast all day. It is homemade and organic. And yes, everything is homemade.
65. Franklin, Avenida Alvarez Calderon 198, in the Roosevelt Hotel. Very American food including pastrami.
66. La Milanesa Verdadera, several locations. It’s chicken fried steak. Also have salads and veggie options.
67. Antica, several locations. Good pizza, good pasta, good salad.
68. Quisso, Av. Paseo de la República 5250. Open 1-3 PM, 5-11 PM. The name is combo of “queso” and “guisso” which are are the words for cheese and stew. It’s a raclette restaurant (the first in Peru) but the idea is typical Peruvian fast food (burgers, hotdog and fries) with a raclette-melted ooze of cheese on top.
69. Dondoh, Av. Los Conquistadores 999, San Isidro. According to some, the best sushi place in town (Maido is in it’s own class).
70. Fuji, Av. Paseo de la República 4084, Miraflores. Apparently a favorite with the Japanese. It was good and they have a menu all in Japanese. Probably the most “authentic” Japanese food in Lima.
71. Punto Italiano, La Molina: Good Italian food.
72. Matria, Calle Gral Mendiburu 823, Miraflores: one of the few restaurant owned by a female chef.
73. Frida, across from Matria: Chef Moma of Jeronimo and Chinga Tu Taco’s Mexican restaurant, opened in August 2018, and a raging success.
74. Los Dos Hermanos Coreanos: on Aviacion. Korean and quite authentic.
75. Statera, Av Mariscal La Mar 463, Miraflores. Described as “like Central but bigger portions.”
76. La Pizza de la Chola: Chola of El Pan de La Chola’s third iteration. Italian style artisanal pizza but the oven uses gas after a bit of wood for show. As of May 2019, they now serve breakfast.
77. Las Tres Suecas, Av. Gral. Córdoba 1193, Miraflores: Three Swedish ladies have opened this little corner of Scandinavia, right around the corner from Avenida La Mar.
78. Dhaasu, Avenida Republica de Panama 245, Barranco. Delish food! Indian food has arrived in Lima! This place opened in early October 2018 and it’s blowing up Instagram. The line is going out the door. Luckily, the owner, Rish, and his Peruvian girlfriend, Camilla, both speak excellent English, and Spanish, so they can explain “what is hindu food?”
80. JianXing, Avenida Aviacion 2619, San Borja: across the street from Viet. This place serves authentic Chinese Chinese food, not Chifa. Not sure if this is true when not with a Chinese speaker…
81. Siete Sopas, Av. Arequipa 2394, Lince (Open 24 hours; seven days a week): This is a soup restaurant from the chain La Lucha Sangucheria. They have three soups each day. They always have “criolla” and “diet” (chicken soup) and then the day’s soup. It’s advertised on the wall outside so you can see the soup of the day from outside (or just have it memorized like some of my friends… “today’s Tuesday, so not MY soup day.”). As of May 2019, they have a second location in Surquillo.
82. Bangkok, José Bernardo Alcedo 460, Lince: This is the other Thai restaurant with Thai owners (a factoid that seems to be important to some). Some of the dishes were nothing but their papaya salad and green curry were good.
83. Carnal, Calle Elías Aguirre 698, Miraflores: steak. This is where the Juicy Lucy chain was born. Same owners.
84. Mérito, Jr, 28 De Julio 206, Barranco: Venezuelan chefs making delicious food. Biggest yuca fries…
85. El Mexicano, Calle Manuel Bonilla 248, Miraflores: Lots of sauces.
86. Sushi Pop, Calle Manuel Bonilla 112, Miraflores: Surprisingly good burger (Angus) and so on.
87. Guru Kebab & Curry, Av. Alfredo Benavides 4518, Surco: Second best Indian. Sit down restaurant.
88. Maria Panela, on La Mar. It’s Brazilian. It’s a cute little place. Not amazing but I did like some of the food. Did I mention it is cute? The owner is friendly.
89. Las Reyes, corner of Mendiburu. Third restaurant from La Red, La Isolina…
90. Boca y Vaca, on Dos de Mayo. It’s a steak house but has everything on the menu.
91. Kaikan, Ovalo Guitierrez, from the same people who brought you Noruto. Cute manga figures and the place is like a Fridays or Chillis of Nikkei food.
92. Enkai, from one of the former chefs at Maido. The hottest new place to go!
93. Monstruo, Nicolas de Pierola 113, Barranco: sandwiches and juice. Open since the 80s. Open from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m.
94. Bingsu, in downtown and Jesus Maria. Korean style shaved ice dessert. Yum.
95. Cafe A Bistro, Av. Augusto Pérez Araníbar 2193, San Isidro, brunch and other things. Located next to a gas station.
96. TipTop, Av. Arenales 2499, Lince: open since 1953. A drive-in diner where you can still get your food on a tray attached to your car. Delicious soft serve. Go to this location.
97. La Traviata, small Italian place with a really good caprese salad.
98. La Casa de la Nonna Lina, Av Brasil 3898,Magdalena: Some of the dishes were acceptable. Not bad. Spacious interior.
99. Siete, Jirón Domeyer 260, Barranco. It’s got a dark Madrid cosmopolitan feel. Food is good.
100. Troppo: Calle Los Libertadores 199, San Isidro. Best pizza dough in town. Excellent pistachio gelato, tiramisu, meatballs, pasta, salad, ricotta, and bread.
Obviously, I’m not including the places I’ve been where the food was awful or mediocre.
Three years ago, when I first ate in Lima, I did not foresee that I’d ever be able to call Lima home. But, after the first 48 hours of constant eating, and the subsequent many visits, eating modern classics (ceviche classico) and trying less famous dishes (pejerrey roe sandwich), my cultural advisor (and friend), said to me one day, “you’ll just have to move here so we can try more dishes.” So I did.
My original posting was written in 2014 but, three years later, I still include the same places in the food tour. I include a photo from El Pan de la Chola, as I did not include that in my original posting, but it is part of my current food tour of Lima for my visitors.
Food in Lima. I finally created a book with some of the foods I’ve tried on my many visits to Lima these past few years. Buy it here, on Lulu, if you wish. It’s just a little book, 7×9 inches, so it will fit in a bag easily (that way I can carry it around with me).
In reality, since my first visit, when I first had the classic ceviche as seen in the photo, all of my visits to Lima have been “food tours.” Some day, I’ll even get to Mistura, the food festival. I will, I will!
In the frenzied days before my move to Colombia, each evening involves, sometimes twice, a “farewell and hasta luego” dinner. Each evening, the question is the same, “what type of food will you not be able to get in Colombia?” That’s something we’ll find out, but for now, my farewell meals have included: Vietnamese pho, banh mi, Chinese hot pot, Korean barbecue, American hamburgers, Italian pizza, British pub fish and chips, donuts, and coffee cake topped with coffee flavor ice cream.
During my time in Washington, DC, I have enjoyed exploring the eateries, and of the the new restaurants I’ve tried, I’ve most enjoyed the new “it” restaurant, Rose’s Luxury. The last time I went there, the tattooed-swears-like-a-sailor-waitress remembered me from my visit in February… and then she guided us through most of the menu, including drinks. I didn’t think all the dishes were worth it but since they change their menu on a continuous basis, there is usually something you’ll like, but it may not be on the menu the next time. Sometimes the dishes really work and the staff (with *#&&^% added for emphasis) are eager to explain how to eat the dishes to get the full alchemy of the flavors.
Okay, maybe this posting was just an excuse to post food photos.
Finally, I reached my goal of trying 100 eateries in Dhaka (I did it in 18 months which is six months ahead of my goal). If you wish to read my previous restaurant reviews, please do: part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five. Or, read about where I find the restaurants to try. I base my reviews on food quality, service, and price (I set less emphasis on presentation and atmosphere). Later, I’ll blog about the FAQ (frequently asked questions) that I get about restaurants in Dhaka including where’s the best sushi… but first, the top ten.
THE TOP TEN
1. Goong, “the Castle”. New name, same location, Road 50, house 12B, Gulshan — look for the wooden fortress style gate with the red and blue yin yang symbol(13/13) (Previously called Dae Jang Geum and not to be confused with the Dae Jang Geum which opened down the street). Korean palace food. A meal will run between 1,000-6,000 Taka ($12-80) per person. But worth it. The best food in town. Even if you don’t like Korean food or fish… get one of the many other dishes on the menu.
2. BBQ Tonite, Dhanmondi (13/13): Meat on stick. Delicious outdoor atmosphere and smoky grilled meat. Delicious fresh flat breads including “rumali” which is thin yeasty stretchy “handkerchief” bread, paratha (fried bread), and naan.
3. Northend Coffee Roasters (12/13): Coffee and baked goods. Must try: cinnamon buns warm from the oven. Now they have a berry crumble that is super delicious.
4. Bamboo Shoot, Gulshan Avenue, Gulshan (10/13): Chinese. Special Chinese (scribbled Chinese characters on a scrap of paper) menu on weekends. Take a Chinese person with you and have them insist on seeing the Chinese menu. This place also serves Sichuan hotpot.
5. Golden Goose at Lakeshore Hotel, Gulshan (9/13): Continental. I had a good pizza, good naan, good salad, etc. here.
6. Roll Express, Gulshan (9/13): Butter Paper Dhosa filled with potato is one of my favorites here. The chicken reshmi roll is also good cold as a takeaway sandwich.
7. Spaghetti Jazz, Gulshan Circle, Gulshan (8/13): Italian. Closest thing to a thin Italian style pizza in Dhaka. Pasta is home made. I get my garlic and chili carb fix here.
8. Panini, Road 19 in Banani (8/13): The spaghetti with garlic and chili is made with smoked chili flakes and the scent may haunt your dreams.
9. Istanbul, road 118, Gulshan (8/13): Turkish food. Fresh cheese and freshly baked bread. Weekend buffet for 1,000 taka. Turkish. Road 118. You can’t even tell you’re in Dhaka. It’s a massive multi-world restaurant with wood fire oven, Las Vegas painted sky ceiling, and a two level castle for children. They have a creamery on location and sell fresh cheese and bread. Soon will have a level with hookah/nargile/water pipe.
Movenpick, Gulshan Avenue across from Pink City (10/13): Ice cream, Swiss style. Also serves one sandwich type. Must try: a warm freshly made waffle with pecan ice cream and maple syrup.
Spitfire, Gulshan Avenue, Gulshan (8/13): Continental/Western food. Same good juice as Saltz upstairs. Must try: serves warm bread rolls with every meal.
Diner 360, Madani Avenue, on top of VIP photo (8/13): Diner food. Some local dishes. Inexpensive. Steak dinner for $11.
King’s Confectionery, Road 11, Banani (7/13): Baked goods. Sells chicken with curry. Must try: Donuts on a stick.
Villa Ideas – formerly Ideas Manzil, Road 79, House 19, Gulshan – food by appointment only – call or email (11/13): International guest house with private set menus – Bangladeshi, Indian, Thai, European, and seafood. All the food was fresh. The antique shopping was also fun. Unique location much like a secret garden in Dhaka. You must contact them ahead of time to arrange the menu. Owned by an expat who grew up here.
Dhaba, *** Road 10, (was on Road 12), Banani (7/13): Street food in a safe but dark environment. Try the phoughka. Good garlic naan. ***Apparently they have moved to a brighter location.
Prego at the Westin Hotel (7/13): Pizza, pasta, appetizer and a juice for $80. Insanely expensive.
Splash at the Westin Hotel (7/13): Poolside bar.
Bakery at the Westin Hotel (8/13): Good baked bread. Coffee is Illy and they have imported the South Asia Illy Italian expert. Ciao!
Time Out Cafe, Road 10, Banani (9/13): Indian-Bangladeshi-Asian. Note: Dhosa, wings, and noodles can all be had in their courtyard. It’s in the hip area of Banani. Young Bangladeshis like it.
Mallika Snacks, Rupayon Mall near Agora, Gulshan (8/13): Phoughka. It’s a local place and it’s more a snack place. Best phoughka in the Gulshan area. Very local place.
Le Souffle at the Bellagio (6/13): French. Must try: the red mirrored bathroom. One of the few places with a liquor license. Popular with business clientele. The most expensive restaurant in Dhaka. 6,000 Taka for dinner for one.
KFChicken (9/13) on Road 13: Batter fried chicken. The best fried chicken in Dhaka.
AND THE REST
Sakura Golden Rice (5/13) near road 118: Chinese/Japanese/Bangladeshi. Reopened and still mediocre watered down food.
Topkapi, Gulshan Avenue(6/13): Buffet. Mostly Bangladeshi and Thai food. The papaya salad was not bad and it was spicy!
Emerald Thai (8/13): Thai. Located in Uttara near the flagship Arong store but very hard to find… interior decor is elegant but the food is not Thai spicy. Made for the Bangladeshi palate.
New Cathay (8/13): Chinese. This new location in Banani, on Road 11, is modern looking but the food and the waiters are as good as they have been for 25 years.
Gloria Jean’s (7/13): Cafe with food. Nice enough atmosphere inside and a place to hang out and grab a light bite to eat. Wi-fi and perky staff seem to be some of the reasons there’s hype about this place. I’m not really into it but then I don’t need a cafe to work from.
Orange and a Half cafe (7/13): New place! Cafe with coffee, shakes, desserts, and sandwiches. Located in Tejgaon, the industrial zone. The cafe is hip looking and located in the Shanta Western building. The owners want a “western” level place. Let’s see if they can reach it. For not, it’s coffee is okay, some of the sandwiches and cakes are okay… let’s see how they do once they have been open for a while. Their goal is to match Gloria Jean’s.
Nagasaki (7/13): Japanese. This place is like stepping back in time 50 years… there are holes under the tables so that you sit Japanese style but don’t have to sit on the floor if you are out of practice. Soggy rice. Not fresh sashimi. Located out in Uttara.
Just Juice, Gulshan Avenue (4/13): Juice and sandwiches. Has a few seats out in front and is otherwise a very small shop.
Attin, Road 24, Gulshan (9/13): Arabic. Located on Road 27 in Gulshan, this is a hipster sort of place with a rustic loft feel. The middle eastern appetizers are not bad and the waiters are talkative.
Cuppa Coffee Cafe (7/13): Continental/Bangla-Asian. Located with a great view of Gulshan II circle, the people watching is the best thing about this place. Usual hit or miss with dishes covered in mystery white “special sauce” or red ketchup chili.
Baristo (7/13) – Road 6, Banani: Cafe/Italian/Smokers Lounge/Lounge. Opened in February 2013. Have the coffee while sitting in a car… this is a large place suited for large groups. Will soon have hookah/nargile/water pipe.
American Burger (5/13) – Road 11, Banani: Burgers and fries. Okay fries. Burger was okay. Small, take out sort of place with three tables.
Rush Tex Mex (5/13) – Road 6, Banani: Burgers and fries. The advertised Mexican dishes were mysteriously not available… small place with two booths. Fries were okay.
Spicy Restaurant (4/13) on Kemal Attaturk: Opened March 15, 2013. Usual burgers, kababs, banglese (bangla/chinese) stuff. Also has Wifi, I think. Has four booths (or half of the table is booth and the other side is chairs) and a table for six.
Atrium (7/13): Chinesey Bangla food. Some Indian. The lunch buffet for under 600 taka is okay. The exterior Japanesey garden and tables could be nice if it weren’t right on one of the busiest roads in the area.
Quesadilla (3/13); The quesadilla was actually okay. Not greasy and edible. The “Mexican pizza” was like a basic frozen pizza with some charred crumbled beefish added plus a few loops of green pepper. The nachos were a plate of fried wonton skins covered in brown beans, cheese, and decorated with swirls of “mexican” sauce — a slightly sweet pink sauce. The garlic bread with melted cheese was so tasteless as to be useless.
Samdado, near Westin (6/13): Japanese/Sushi/Korean. Old established place to take business clients at lunch. Note: saw a rodent skitter across the floor during our incessant wait for the bill.
Crepe-au-Lait, Gulshan, near Thai Kitchen and London Sausage House (5/13): Crepes, savory and sweet. Hip new place filled with hipsters. Note: Savory crepes were not bad. Service is slow.
Kozmo (6/13): Cafe. Hip place in Banani. Various Indonesian and other cuisines on small menu. Note: Mini chicken kebabs are cute.
Bella Italia, Gulshan Avenue (7/13): Pizza and pasta. The Penne a l’Arabiatta (spicy pasta) was the best dish. Note: It’s in the building with Royal Thai and the sign for Roy Rogers Roasters.
Dhansiri, near Gulshan 2 circle and Westin (6/13): Bangladeshi. Next to the Westin. Acceptable local food when you need have people who want to eat Bangladeshi food.
Sura BBQ, Road 71, Gulshan (7/13): Korean BBQ, same owners as Sura. Across from Soi 71. Note: It has LA style kalbi (beef rib slices). Most of the food had something missing from the flavor. Too bad. The raw fish was bad.
Do Mi Ok, Road 11, Banani (7/13): Korean BBQ. Try: the cubed daikon radish kimchi was crunchy and acceptable. There was no traditional napa cabbage kimchi served. Rest of the food was uninteresting.
Shwarma, Banani (3/13): Shawarma and mini pizzas. This place is so popular but I can’t really figure out why. The “meat” was chewy and not in a good way.
Cheng Chong, Banani north of Kemal Ataturk (7/13)): Cantonese. Fried rice was good. Corn soup was good. Will try more stuff later.
Spices (3/13): It’s the airport restaurant. They serve fresh juice and all kinds of other items.
The Village, Gulshan Avenue (8/13): Pakistani. Kebabs. Much talked about place. Food okay. Large space is good for business and clients. Noisy. Humid interior has a roof but no airconditioning in the main area. Note: Quirky interior.
Mainland China (7/13): Cantonese. The restaurant revolves at about one rotation in 70 minutes. The food is okay although everything seems covered in “chili sauce” which is fairly common in Bangladesh. Its a sweet red ketchupy sauce. Mainland China is to the north of the airport so almost impossible to get to for dinner during non-Ramzan traffic. Note: the place has a good view.
California Fried Chicken (2/13): Fast food. The service is slow, the marketing looks promising, and the food is awful. Weird rubbery dark meat with bone in the “burger” and the strawberry shake was like bubble gum. Note: also sells cakes and snacks from a separate counter.
Shing Heong (5/13): Cantonese. Average to not good southern Chinese food. Note: they plan on serving dim sum soon.
Club Gelato, Road 11, Banani (3/13): Gelato and cakes. Seems promising but then the flavors are all fake and faker. Disgusting really with a chemical aftertaste. Note: serves coffee and looks like a good place to go.
Urban Spice, Road 11, Banani (8/13): Indonesian. Food is acceptable. Tom Yum soup was good, though not Indonesian. Best chicken satay in Dhaka. Note: Decor is modern and chic.
Hotel Al-Razzaque (5/13): Local Bangladeshi. Very local place downtown Dhaka. Note: So authentic that expats are “protected” from using the bathroom.
Coopers (6/13): Bakery. Dry cakes. Note: popular with locals.
Nandos (7/13): Chicken South African style. Yup, just like in South Africa. Note: Yes, it’s the chain from South Africa.
BBQ at the Ascot (3/13): Continental. Note: Strange small pieces of meat. Some things okay. Some not.
Boomers (4/13): Bangladeshi Chinese fast food. Very popular with locals. Note: The pizza with sweet canned milk on top is too sweet for most expats.
@Corner , Gulshan 1 cirlce (6/13): Thai. Considered by many to be the top Thai restaurant in town. Note: It is located on the top floor of a shopping mall walking past the open latrines can scare newbie expats.
The 8 (7/13): Pan Asian. Great variety. Pepper steak will make you choke from the fumes. Note: looks nice and elegant inside but the food is only okay.
Izumi, Road 118? (8/13): Japanese. Elegant interior. Large. Good for business clients. Note: Interior is dark. Black walls.
Kasturi, Banani (7/13): Bangladeshi. They claim to be the best Bangladeshi restaurant in the world… Note: They have an outdoor patio dining area. It is truly local food if you avoid the Indian and Chinese items on the menu.
New Kings Kitchen, Iqbal Tower, Banani (5/13): Cantonese. Note: they have karaoke.
Saltz, Gulshan Avenue (8/13): Seafood continental style. Like an underworld theme park. Must try: the fresh juice.
New Mermaid Cafe, Gulshan 2 circle (9/13): Large airconditioned location on Gulshan Circle. Note: wish they had an elevator but maybe that would not be eco-friendly.
Rok, Banani (8/13): Meat of choice on volcanic hot rock. It’s a gimmick. Note: interior is more swanky than caveman.
Sajna, Road 11, Banani (7/13): Indian. Good for business meetings. Must try: Can’t think of what.
Red Shift (6/13): Cafe. Rooftop. Note: It’s a coffee shop. Enough said.
Flambe (4/13): Random menu but not much to offer. Note: some dishes okay but not a repeat kind of place.
Pan Thao, Road 12, Banani (8/13): Best Thai food in Dhaka. Note: Service can be slow… slow.
Thai Kitchen, Gulshan (8/13): Thai cooked by a Thai cook – must try: chicken dumplings steamed.
Oh Calcutta (8/13): West Bengali food – must try: Luchi/puri = fried bread. Elegant interior and good for business clientele.
El Toro, Gulshan 1 (3/13): Mexican. Must try: going on a night when they have avocados.
Soi 71 (7/13): Thai. Must try: the play room in the basement. Good for business clientele.
The Steakhouse (8/13): Steak. Must try: Australian beef medium rare.
Khazana (7/13): Indian. Must try: the naan? This place is the place recommended by Indian business clientele.
Heritage (7/13): Indian/Bangladeshi. Must try: the buffet lunch for 450 Taka? Also popular with business clientele.
Don Giovanni (4/13): Italian. Must try: fried cheese.
Wasabi at the Bellagio (5/13): Japanese. Must try: a drink at the bar. One of the few places with a liquor license. Popular with business clientele.
Arirang (3/13): Korean.
Koreana (7/13): Korean. Must try: jigae.
Sura (3/13): Korean. Must try: shabu shabu.
Best Western (2/13): Hotel food.
Cream and Fudge (6/13): Dessert. Ice cream, homemade waffles, and cake. Why don’t they serve the freshest waffles when ordered? Note: The toilet sign is out of this world…
Ichi, Road 11, Banani (7/13): Japanese. Looks like “South Pacific” inside and the ramen is too authentic smelling for me.
Cafe Italiano, Road 11, Banani (7/13): Italian. Illy brand coffee in K-cups. Good view (fourth floor) of Road 11. I could see folks hanging out to do some telework here.
Korean Guest House, Gulshan (4/13): Korean. The Bangladeshi manager lived in Korea and speaks Korean.
Olive Garden, Road 24, Gulshan (6/13): Chinese. Bare bones interior but clean. Why go? To laugh at the plastic pandas in the aquarium.
Melange, Gulshan (4/13): Who knows? It’s a melange! Looks like a brothel inside.
Royal Park Hotel, Gulshan (7/13): Sri Lankan. They have a buffet. It’s okay food. Don’t order pizza.
Sky Room, Kemal Ataturk, Banani (3/13): Not sure what the cuisine was… some of the salad was so awful smelling that we worried it might be poison.
Chang Pei, Kemal Ataturk 22, Banani (1/13): Chinese. The place is lit with a weird dim green light. The ladies’ room is labeled, “SHI…” because someone rubbed off the arms on the “E.”
Maple Leaf at Sweet Dreams Hotel, Kemal Ataturk 60, Banani (2/13): Whatever-you-like cuisine. This is located in a 24-hour hotel with only men waiting on the leather couches… it took 90 minutes for our pineapple juice to arrive, the glasses covered in plastic wrap. The glasses still had the tidal marks of juice up the sides of the glass from the rickshaw ride (I’m fairly sure that there was no cook or kitchen at the “restaurant.”)
The title of this blog post is a tribute to the Washingtonian’s annual roundup. As they say here, “shesh”… done. I am done. From now on, I’ll only eat at the places I like. Reshmi chicken…
1. The best restaurant — Goong, the Castle, road 50, house 12, Gulshan (look for the wooden gate. Previously called Dae Jang Geum until another restaurant named Dae Jang Geum moved in on the same street. Also, not to be confused with the Dae Jang Geum in the mall downtown). Korean palace food. Best sashimi in the country. If you want raw fish, get it here. Great vegetarian options as well (vegetarian bulgogi called Kong Bulgogi is Chef Kim’s bean product which almost tastes better than meat). If you want to eat at the best restaurant in Bangladesh (even if you don’t like Korean food), then this is the place for you.
2. BBQ Tonite, Dhanmondi: Meat on stick. Delicious outdoor atmosphere and smoky grilled meat. Some of the meat dishes like “reshmi chicken” are incredibly spicy even to a Bangladeshi. The “Kandahari chicken” is not spicy. Great freshly made flat breads of which the “rumali” roti or “handkerchief” bread is my favorite for it’s thin stretchy warmth.
3. Bamboo Shoot, Gulshan Avenue, Gulshan: Chinese. Special Chinese only (written in Chinese) menu on weekends. Take someone Chinese and insist on seeing it. This place also does authentic hotpot (boiling pot of soup in which you must cook your own food) and it may be the only place in the country.
4. Roll Express, Gulshan: Flat bread sandwiches. Dhosa. Fuchka/Phoughka. It’s a popular brunch place although they do not serve American style brunch. This is a good place to take new visitors or newbies to this part of the world. There is a nice courtyard as well. They do have fresh juice and other menu items but I tend to stick to the “reshmi chicken roll,” “paper butter dhosa,” and “fuchka” as these are good introductions to the food of South Asia and Bangladesh.
5. Spaghetti Jazz, Gulshan Circle, Gulshan: Italian. Only some of the food is good but try it out. Very dark interior lit with candles so it could be considered romantic except that you’ll usually run into other people you know there.
6. Spitfire (and Saltz above it is a seafood place), Gulshan Avenue, Gulshan: Continental. Fresh rolls. But service is excruciatingly slow.
7. Istanbul, road 118, Gulshan: Turkish food. Fresh cheese and freshly baked bread. Weekend buffet for 1,000 taka. But apparently dropping in quality.
Plus, one coffee shop: Northend Coffee Roasters. This place is better than most coffee shops in the U.S. It is run by an expat couple. For those who like a “do-gooder” feel, this place also does philanthropic/development work in their staff development style, and goods sold (khanta blankets are made of old sharees by women as a form of income). Or just come for the cinnamon rolls and atmosphere.
There are some others that are okay like Diner 360 and Dhaba. Lastly, I have intentionally omitted Le Souffle/Wasabi at the Bellagio because their food is sometimes good and sometimes bad. I cannot recommend a place that is unreliable. Also, the Prego at the Westin Hotel is not good enough for the price.
Again, these recommended places are on my map. Enjoy!