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.
Did they ever weigh your cut at a restaurant? I found maybe two places– admittedly in touristy areas– that quoted prices by the decagram and then charged you accordingly, surely rounding up.
Lucas, let’s not forget that they weigh the fresh product. Cooking makes it lose some weight though.
This may happen elsewhere in the world too, but it’s definitely Romanian old school restaurant service. Quintessential!
There are a few places in Bucharest that still do it the old way… in all ways. Hope they don’t die in the face of civilization.
Great to hear that the quality of food in Romania is on the up. My last experience of eating out there left me spending most of the next 4 days in Budapest in the toilet!
I read your article with great interest. I am an American living in Romania now for a year, and I was here for 6 months in 2007, so I have a very good grasp of the food. I live in a small town close to the border of Moldova, and I have been to Iasi, the site of one of your recommended restaurants many times. What I absolutely love about Romanian food is it’s earthy naturalness. We rarely eat out here, as most of the restaurants serve what we would cook up at home. The basic “peasant” food is divine. Mamaliga with fresh sour cream, fresh salty cheese purchased that morning at the peasant market, sarmale made with brined cabbage, the ubiquitous mici, water drawn directly from well pumps…bread baked fresh twice per day. I have thrived mightily on Romanian food, and I shall mourn it when I return to the States and try to find something, anything, not laced with corn syrup, chemicals, and genetically engineered.
Thank you for showing the greatness of Romanian food to the world. And don’t forget Romanian chocolate bars!
@Lucas/Baiat – To the best of my memory, I’ve only had my food weighed in Romania when it’s been seafood. Of course, this was done behind the scenes, so I have no idea if it was done pre/post cooking. I DO know that the menu said nothing about the price being per decagram. So, when the price of my fish on the bill was three times higher than on the menu, there was a bit of a scene. My first restaurant rip-off.
@Carolyn – I lived in Iasi for 1 and 1/2 years. For a city of it’s size, the eating scene is still a bit lamentable, but it’s improving. And yes, re-entering the US after so much time with Romania’s fresh, earthy naturalness was a bit of a struggle. (even now, more than two years later!) Which is your favorite chocolate bar? I didn’t have much luck finding anything I really liked, but I have very high standards when it comes to chocolate.
You should travel to Transilvania to the Mures district to the small village of Cund to Valea Verde and experience the hidden retreat and beautiful food of Jonas Schafer. Romania’s hidden Gem.
Dear Lucas, I think u didn’t go to the right places. I wouldn’t say that Nora is one of the best restaurants in Timisoara.
You shoul try:
– La Vela
– Antinori (The best pizza in town, among other yummy things)
– Il Pomodoro
– Stejarul(a gourmet, 15 km outside Timisoara, in Bazos)
– Da Toni
– Casa Bunicii
– La Tavi (probably the best romanian restaurant in town)
– DAF (it’s a little bit far, but the food is nice, very cheap and in very big quantities)
– Gradina Banateana
– Il pozzo dei desideri
– Il duomo
You should also try the restaurant of Hotel Timisoara (the indian food is very, very good), the Jarvis Pub and the De Savoya Winery.
..and try the Recas wines (not cheaper then 10 Euro)
Best of luck!