Imagine yourself sipping a coffee on Zagreb's famed flower square; life all around you. The chorus of lively chatter and laughter is joined by happy yells of children chasing each other through the plaza. Hopeful pigeons waddle around groups of students eating sandwiches in front of the adjacent cathedral. You're starting to get hungry yourself... and just a bit wishful of some peace from all the urban hubbub.
Your needs are ready to be fully met - all you've got to do is walk three minutes southward. One cobblestoned left turn later, passing beneath Austro-Hungarian-era buildings, and you'll arrived at your destination on Masarykova street...
Beštija isn't immediately noticeable from the street, but a tell-tale signpost at the top of a courtyard's entry arch will point you in the proper direction. That's right - Beštija is, in fact, not located on the street but nestled a few steps within an open-air, terracotta rooftop-flanked courtyard. This ambience of delightful seclusion (while being still being within the bustling city center) is just one of the restaurant's many draws.
Once you've arrived, choose an indoor or outdoor seat. Inside, you'll be surrounded by a fabulous mix of funky green plants, tastefully exposed walls and a neon light reading "Beštija" - all illuminated by the big windows making up an entire wall of the restaurant. Wooden and metal furniture (which, per the owner, were procured from a Zagreb art dealer) is placed on grey, industrial-style flooring. Above and around you are designer mirrors and lighting along with cozy touches like a cut-out bookshelf.
The best seat in the house? One of the tables next to the mural remake of Picasso's Woman in a Hat with Pompoms and a Printed Blouse by academic painter Petra Held Potočnjak.
The sleek wooden bar topped with a black slate on restaurant's left side might catch your eye (with good reason) - and its allure may pull you in for a drink right away. Among top-notch choices are the delicious house wine - a white Kopjar Cuvee from Croatia's Međimurje region, gin cocktails crafted with homemade syrups (think strawberry, lemon, camomile and more) and a handful of Croatian craft beer.
If you'd prefer to go non-alcoholic, the house-made iced teas, one with hibiscus and mint, the other with camomile, elderflower and lemon (which the staff highly recommend for a summer refresh) are to die for.
If you manage to pull yourself away from the bar and beautiful interior, a world of wonder awaits outside, too. Beneath terracotta rooftops, family balconies showcasing tiramola (laundry drying on the side of building walls) and a few leafy trees including a fig tree guard a handful of black metal tables and chairs (procured the same way as those indoors).
Beštija is the only outdoor dining establishment in the peaceful, uncrowded courtyard, which rings out with sweet birdsongs.
No matter your choice, a casual-chic, inviting, and friendly atmosphere awaits; and it's all easy on the eyes to boot. Any of the affable staff members will be ready to help you choose a table - as well as recommend a meal once you're settled in.
And a recommendation you'll likely need indeed, because Beštija's offerings are mouthwatering - and plentiful - no matter what your eating habits are. Carnivores, pescatarians, and vegetarians are all more than catered to. The restaurant's menu is partially seasonal, and ingredients are always fresh; think just-bought fish from nearby Dolac Market, aka 'the stomach of Zagreb'.
A customer favorite is the mackerel fillet (fired up to perfection on barbecue bars, Dalmatian-style) with hummus and grilled collard greens. If you're going all-out, the staff-recommended appetizer is soup made from grilled tomatoes (hello, flavour!), and the lavender-sage panna cotta is a dessert treat for the taste buds.
Though many ingredients are Dalmatian, and owners, Maja and Ante Grabić (formerly of renowned Hvar burger joint Flying Pig) are from Hvar, Maja says 'The restaurant doesn't focus on a certain type of cuisine specifically, but rather the best delicacies from across the region.'
Beštija's menu will prove Maja's point: here, you'll learn that there's rarely a better combination than Adriatic fish and a Međimurje white.
The expert presentation of food is also hard to beat. As the waiter will happily confirm upon your delight at seeing a delicious, colourful plate arriving to your table: 'Jede se prvo s očima!' (We eat with the eyes first!)
Think the restaurant is a fine-dining joint (did we mention that it's Michelin Guide recommended)?
Everything (from its world-class food to designer decor) aside from its relaxed, casual atmosphere might point you in that direction. However, as Maja says, 'We try to stay away from being put into the 'fine-dining' category. With that comes a degree of stiffness, which our restaurant is not! This is a casual, cheerful spot where guests can come to fully relax, no pressure, and eat top-quality food.'
If you're in town for a day, a week, a month, or living in Zagreb - missing the fantastic culinary and at-home atmosphere that is Beštija would be a mistake; because this is more than just a restaurant.