Here we are, the final post for Romania Month. I’m happy to close things out with a list that, not even six years ago, wouldn’t have been possible. A few standout places aside, when I first arrived in Romania in 2004, restaurants were pretty dreadful. Both food and service frequently fell far short of what I had assumed was the bare minimum of quality and effort. On my first LP research trip in 2006, with rare exception, eating wasn’t about the pure enjoyment of the food as much as simply preventing death by starvation.
Well, the landscape has changed dramatically. Though wretched places still exist in mystifying numbers (I challenge anyone to find a decent meal anywhere in Craiova), new places, particularly in larger cities, are popping up that meet and exceed expectations that I’d normally hold for restaurants in the US. For me, traveling Romania used to mean losing 5-10 pounds. Now I only lose 3-5.
This is a snapshot of an admittedly somewhat arbitrary list that changes pretty much every time I come back from Romania. (The living version of this list can be found here.) I picked these places for a variety of reasons that don’t always necessarily include the strict quality of the food. But rest assured, each one will provide a memorable meal, in one way or another.
In no particular order, my picks for Romania’s best restaurants:
Str George Baritu 2
This place gets full points on food, service, atmosphere and variety. It’s pretty much everyone’s local favorite too. The lovely cavernous basement of red brick and candlelight serves up a few Mexican dishes, but keeps the focus on very tasty Romanian fare. The shot of ţuică and chips with excellent salsa that’s served upon arrival is icing on the cake.
Str 9 Mai 60
Not far from the train station, this busy place serves gimmick-free Romanian cuisine at great prices.
Crama Sibiul Vechi
This popular, evocative brick-cellar spot off the main crawl reels in locals for its tasty Transylvanian armory of delicious soups, mutton, sausages and fish.
3rd Gate, Citadel
Built into the citadel’s eastern wall near the ‘third gate’, this cavernous restaurant-bar has medieval weapons hung around a cool brick-walled space. Though it screams ‘tourist trap’ I was amazed at the creative and delicious food they were serving up.
Str General Eremia Grigorescu 51
With Italian food being happily butchered in most of Romania’s “Italian restaurants”, finding this gem was pleasant surprise. It’s among the best pasta you’ll find in the country, with no pizza to clutter the menu or a long wine list.
Str Sf Atanasie 21
Up the hill from Casa Bolta Rece is one of Iasi’s best Romanian cuisine options, owned by singer-musician Laura Lavric and decorated in classic musical instruments.
Piata M. Kogalniceanu
This place opened just after I’d made my visit in 2009, so I haven’t eaten here, though I’m assured by discriminating locals that this is the best food in the area. The food here is French with Asian influences that is gourmet caliber “at Piatra Neamt prices”.
Str Mihai Eminescu 18B
This cozy restaurant, using fresh ingredients, is a top choice for backpackers wanting a stomach-distending, proper, savory Romanian meal. It’s one of the best value Romanian restaurants in the country.
B-dul Dambovita 49a (corner of Str Transilvania)
Reservations are a must to nab a spot on the terrace at this very popular, casual Romanian restaurant.
Str Stefan cel Mare 1
The attractive, orderly wood interior and exceptional menu (one of the best in town) miss the true mark of an Irish pub, but you can get your pint of Guinness here. Try the thin grilled pork chops, served with a side of mashed potatoes.