What’s the best thing about travelling? FOOD!
Well, it’s one of the best things about travel, anyway. Which is why I spent most of my time in Romania scouting out the best restaurants Bucharest has to offer, and I was in for a real surprise.
Let’s be honest – you don’t go to Romania for the food. (True story: I went to Vietnam for that.) But, naturally, I still went on a search for Bucharest’s tastiest treats and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Maybe it was the lack of expectation that made it seem so great – but I don’t think it was just that. I think Romania genuinely has a lot more to offer than we give it credit for.
What comes to mind when you think of Romanian food? Much like the country itself, Romania’s cuisine is an eclectic mix of European influences.
If I had to describe Romanian food in one word, it would be ‘dry’. I only really noticed because I’m not a huge fan of dry food (I’m the kind of person who has to drown a Sunday roast in gravy to enjoy it), but I still like it for the most part. If you’re a fan of dry food, you’ll probably LOVE it.
It’s also hard to visit Romania and not eat pork, polenta or sour cream. And maybe sauerkraut. So while the diet’s not quite as heavy as somewhere like Germany, it’s still pretty filling and you probably won’t need to order as much as you think.
The best restaurants in Bucharest Old Town
If you’re staying in Bucharest, you’ll probably spend a lot of your time in the Old Town – and that happens to be where many of the restaurants are. These five restaurants are all in Old Town and I would happily visit each of them again and again.
Some of them have delicious local dishes. Some of them are great places in which to pass an hour or three. Some of them are just amazing spots for people watching. The one thing they all have in common is they’re well worth a visit. Enjoy!
1 – Caru’ cu bere: Bucharest’s oldest beer house
If there’s one restaurant you need to visit in Bucharest, it’s Caru’ Cu Bere. Although the food is delicious, it’s the building that’s the main draw.
The name apparently translates as “beer cart” but don’t let that fool you: this building is one of the most breathtaking you’ll ever enjoy a meal in. The inside’s where the magic’s at so no matter how desperately the waiters want to sit you at an outside table, please insist on sitting inside.
The menus at Caru’ Cu Bere are HUGE, and you’ll need at least 10 minutes to look through one. On it you’ll find all sorts of local dishes, but the front page is where the best food is. The cheese balls we started with were disappointing but the main course of Mancare traditionala din bucovina – a traditional dish of pork, polenta and sour cabbage from Bukovina – was surprisingly tasty. Wash it down with some homemade lemonade and a jug of beer (because, what else?).
Breakfast at Caru’ Cu Bere
On our final morning in Bucharest, we headed back to Caru’ Cu Bere for breakfast. We did this for three reasons:
- Despite claiming to serve breakfast, not many places open before 11am. Caru’ Cu Bere opens nice and early at 8am, so us early risers don’t have to go hungry for the first few hours of the day.
- We sat outside on our first visit and wanted to get a better glimpse at the décor.
- The breakfast there sounded really, really good.
And it didn’t disappoint. Aside from a large group of tourists coming in to take photos and use the bathrooms, we enjoyed a lovely last breakfast at Caru’ Cu Bere. We ordered a meštešugar baguette – my spelling may be wrong, but Google says this translate to “craftsman” – which came with cheese, ham, olives and tomato. I also ordered an iced coffee and it was one of the best I’ve had in a long time.
Non-meat eaters will also be pleased to know Caru’ Cu Bere is one of the few places in Bucharest with a separate vegetarian menu – if you can get past the “Food without the bone. The meat’s gone too.” joke on the cover.
Where to find it: Strada Stavropoleos 5, București 030081.
The outside seating at Caru’ Cu Bere
2 – Van Gogh Café: A healthy breakfast in Bucharest
Van Gogh isn’t the place to go for a cheap drink, but it does have one of the most extensive drink menus around. This is especially true if you stop by for breakfast, when you can choose from loads of healthy juices including a ‘liver cleanse’ one, no doubt designed for many backpackers and stag parties that pass through Romania’s capital. They also serve coconut coffee that tastes just as good as the most amazing coconut coffee I had in Croatia, so it was an easy winner for me.
The food menu isn’t quite as long, but still equally hard to choose from. There’s plenty of options if you feel like being healthy but not too healthy, and the salmon and cream cheese toastie I had was delicious. The cakes and sweets that guests around us ordered looked amazing (and huge!) but sadly it was a little too early in the day for us to start on the sugar.
Where to find it: Strada Smârdan 9, București 030167
Salmon and cream cheese toastie at Van Gogh Café
3 – Bistro Carusel
If you want to go somewhere that’s not packed and guaranteed to have a table, head to Bistro Carusel. While you won’t find any traditional dishes here, you will find a hidden gem of a restaurant with a glass ceiling that lets loads of natural light in. Oh, and did I mention how PRETTY it is?
Bistro Carusel is easy to miss if you don’t know it’s there. It sits on the top floor of the Cărturești Carusel bookshop and even if you wandered into the bookshop, you still probably wouldn’t know it was there. The only sign for it was tucked inside against the wall when we visited – which might be why we were one of only 3-4 groups eating lunch there.
The menu isn’t huge, but it’s a great place to stop for a quick (or slow) lunch. The staff are friendly, the WiFi is fast and the sandwiches are surprisingly filling. The homemade lemonade also comes in some pretty exciting flavours, including mango and pomegranate.
Plus, you can stop and browse the endless rows of books, toys and teapots on your way out.
Where to find it: Strada Lipscani 55, București 030033
Mango lemonade and the balcony area where you can sit and spy on customers in Bistro Carusel.
4 – La Placinte
Most people I know try to avoid fast food takeaways and chain restaurants when they travel, but it’s the one time I enjoy them totally guilt-free. Why? Because as much as we might hate to admit it, those fast food takeaways and chain restaurants are part of the local lifestyle.
The thing I love most about travel is learning about how others live. I’m fascinated by what others’ daily routine looks like, how they spend their free time and where they go to socialise. It would be naive to completely ignore a capital city’s chain restaurants because they’re not as “authentic” or undiscovered – if you want to get to understand how the locals live, it’s all part and parcel of it.
If you ever needed proof that that’s the case, try visiting La Placinte. It’s not quite a fast food outlet – if anything, it’s one of the slowest places to eat – but it sure seems popular among locals. Despite having three rooms of tables, we were told we’d have to wait 20 minutes for a table for two.
Waiting times aside, it’s well worth visiting one of the several branches of La Placinte scattered throughout Bucharest. If nothing else, it’s a great chance to try some tapas-style dishes such as the sauerkraut stew (varzā muratā înābusitā), which is surprisingly delicious, or the equally tasty potato stuffed dumplings (coltunasi cu cartofi) and cabbage rolls (sarmale cu smântâna).
Where to find it: Bulevardul General Gheorghe Magheru 26, Bucuresti 030167
Potato dumplings (with mushrooms!) and sauerkraut stew at La Pacinte.
5 – Il Peccato
I’m not sure how or why it happened, but I seem to have picked up a habit of trying the local pizza places in every city I visit. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been to Italy. Or maybe it’s because it seems to be the international food (who doesn’t love pizza?). Either way, Bucharest has its fair share of pizza to offer and, after a long day exploring castles in Transylvania, we hunted down some of the best when we got back to Bucharest at 11.30pm. (Don’t you just love how other countries cater to late night eaters? Points to you, Romania.)
It wasn’t an easy decision but we chose well in Il Peccato. The pizza options were more exciting than your standard pizza restaurant AND the truffle mushroom pizza I had was super delicious too. Plus, despite its size, the pizza was so light it didn’t leave any of that “man, I shouldn’t have eaten that” feeling afterwards.
Il Peccato sits on a corner of a street in the Old Town, so it’s also conveniently placed for people watching – which is always a bonus. During the time it took me to consume one pizza and two mojitos (another must-try in every country I visit), we witnessed puppies chasing each other, men playing accordions and a group of intoxicated men lose whatever dignity they had left over a Real Madrid football match.
So if you’re looking for some late night entertainment, along with good food that won’t make you feel guilty, look no further than Il Peccato.
Where to find it: Strada Francezã 30, Bucuresti 030167
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