Once, eating out in Zagreb meant choosing from a slew of local restaurants with menus featuring meat, pastry, and more meat. But the capital's recent gastro-revolution has changed that. A wave of recently-opened bistros are making lunch a more exciting prospect in the capital, and most of them are the projects of passionate entrepeneurs - which means that these independent little places offer top-quality food and hand-selected decor. Like a traditional French bistro, those in Zagreb master breezy, intimate atmosphere, but their menus - often based around global 'street food' - are a welcome update. Here's our batch of the best bistros in Zagreb.
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If you enjoy high-quality food served briskly in informal surroundings, then Lari i Penati (named after a pair of Roman household gods) will be the kind of place you'll find it difficult to stay away from. The only problem is its small size, with 12 high stools pressed against small tables and a street-facing window ledge. Succeed in grabbing a place and you'll be treated to a delectable and dizzyingly cheap range of sandwiches, soups-of-the-day (20kn), light main courses (a tasty fillet of fish will set you back as little as 45kn), and in-house cakes and muffins. What's on offer depends on the season and what the chefs feel like cooking that day – the menus are changed daily.
Opened towards the end of 2015, Bistro 75 is still finding its way in Zagreb’s ever busier bistro/snack scene. A prime location helps, in the heart of the city’s bar quarter and not two minutes’ walk from the main square. At Bistro 75, food is at its best at lunchtimes, when locals tuck into the signature pulled-pork sandwiches, complemented by fat chips drizzled with zingy barbecue sauce. If this sounds like a diet-busting recipe for a sleepy afternoon, there are salads and three different types of falafel, with soups and stews offered in winter - fresh-fruit juices or craft beers may accompany. The place tends to throng on warm evenings, when punters are drawn in by its terrace, decent music selection and superlative cocktails.
Bistro Apetit offers superb standards of food, wine and service. One key to its success is the location, hidden in a hedged garden on a tranquil residential street, just a short walk north of the city's Gradec old quarter. The cooking mixes the best of Croatian/Adriatic cuisine with the contemporary European mainstream, chef's, Goran Kočiš, recepies. At 70kn-90kn for a starter and 120kn-160kn for a main, Bistro Apetit is by no means beyond the average pocket, and there are always some truly outstanding dishes on the seasonally-changing menu. And the desserts are truly heavenly.
Having spent several years building a solid culinary reputation in Zagreb's northern suburbs, the Bistro Apetit team have opened a branch in the centre. Bustling, busy but also moderately smart, Apetit City is intended for lunching city folk as well as more romantically inclined evening diners. The menu charts a course between modern European and traditional Croatian cuisine, including much that looks deceptively simple or old-fashioned – the fried calf livers with gorgonzola (85kn) are superb. Steaks and fillets of fish also feature on a list of mains that hover in the 90kn-145kn range.
Zagreb’s hot new bistro cites so many international influences on its menu – Afghani, Himalayan/Nepalese, Spanish/Basque – that you wonder if Divas isn’t spreading itself too thin. Not to worry. What arrives on your plate will be tasty, healthy and well presented, portions substantial enough to satisfy without weighing you down for the rest of the day. Yes, contemporary Divas is daytime-only, operating in synch with the longer-established Divas Café some 200 metres away, under the same ownership.
The growth of Zagreb’s new business district along Radnička cesta is provoking something of a shake-up in the gastro world – there’s increasing demand for a more varied choice of high-level cuisine, but also a growing need for the fast, bistro-style fare that suits busy go-ahead business types. Les Ponts, the latest venture from the superb Herzegovinian restaurant Mostovi just up the road, is a highly successful stab at meeting both requirements. Situated below the Green Gold centre and boasting the kind of minimalist-but-swanky decor that suits the location, Les Ponts focuses squarely on French, or at least French-influenced Mediterranean, fare. There’s a lot in the way of fresh Adriatic seafood, but the treatment – complete with sauces and accompanying vegetables that you won’t find in your average Dalmatian konoba – carries a pronounced Parisian flourish. Bouillabaisse, snails and quiche also feature; and the meaty side of the menu runs to rabbit and duck. On-the-move customers are kept happy with a well-chosen mixture of quick-fix snacks, with eggs Benedict and baguette sandwiches leading the way.
Occupying a premium spot on Tkalčićeva, Zagreb's bustling thoroughfare, Otto & Frank is a bistro with an emphasis on breakfast, booze and bar snacks. Finding a flawless full English in Zagreb isn't easy — breakfast here is a typically light affair, constituting pastries, cheese and cured meats, but there's now a growing rooster of restaurants you can go to for a good old-fashioned fry-up. Otto & Frank lay on a killer all day breakfast. Beside the traditional bacon and eggs, you can go the whole hog with the 'Modern Zagreb Breakfast', a distinctly Croatian take on the classic featuring poached eggs, grilled ham, cottage cheese and horseradish. A stellar cast of craft beers from local breweries provide speedy replenishment for your hangover, and a daily selection of soups, salads and sandwiches are good for the lunchtime munchies. Veggie options are dissapointing (salad, anyone?) but this isn't surprising: Otto & Frank is all about the beer, meat and grease.
Further proof of Zagreb’s ongoing outbreak of bistro fever is provided by Mundoaka, a cramped but highly enjoyable spot just round the corner from the main square. It advertises itself as a ‘street food’ establishment but offers sit-down fare of the highest order, with an imaginative and globe-spanning menu that takes in ribs, deluxe pulled-pork sandwiches, raw tuna with ginger and a host of other lip-smacking ideas. Soups, bruschettas and cheese platters will more than satisfy the snackers; the prospect of freshly made cakes and muffins may well keep you rooted to your table for one more course. The choice of wines and craft beers admirably complements the food. It’s a busy place and you may end up perching on a stool or sharing a table; there is outdoor seating at the pedestrianised end of Petrinjska in spring and summer.
A fairly new addition to Zagreb’s growing bistro scene, the small, superbly located Fajn succeeds on many levels. Occupying a lovely spot in the pedestrianised old town – just off the tourist thoroughfare between St. Marko church and Museum of Broken Relationships – it's exterior facade is blink-and-you'll-miss-it unassuming, with a small sign and a printout of the daily menu on the door. Here, the focus on quality over quantity means a limited menu of affordably creative cuisine, based on the daily catch at the fishmongers or butchers in nearby Dolac market. The result is sensationally good. From the small open kitchen, protégés of celebrity chef Dina Galvagno put the recipes of the day to the test. The menu features starters like risottos, daily soups or a cheese board with prosciutto and Croatian favourites for 70kn. There’s usually two or three mains: sea bream in almond crust with cauliflower cream and roasted beetroot; for the meatheads, pink slabs of steak or rabbit goulash, hovering around the 90kn mark. The owner is English speaking, and quick to offer up smart suggestions from the Croatian wine-list. The low-key soundtrack of jazz and classical makes a hospitable hum, and the seven-cover size ensures an intimate, polished experience. It’s deservedly popular, booking recommended on weekends.
Opened in late 2014 and already a leading light in Zagreb’s ongoing bistro revolution, Bistroteka strikes the right balance between snack-nibbling informality and slap-up sit-down dining. The menu displays a playful interest in an anything from Croatia to the wider Mediterranean and the Far East, ranges from thoughtfully compiled ciabatta sandwiches to major meat-and-two-veg meals, all of which is prepared and served with aplomb. The menu changes according to what’s fresh and seasonal; daily specials are chalked up on a board. The in-the-know wine list offers a good mixture of boutique and mainstream production from all over Croatia. The place itself is a pleasant place to sit and contemplate the good things in life, with white-painted brick ceiling, kooky light fittings and unobtrusive background pop.
Recently moved to this location by Britanski trg, Sherry’s is no po-faced wine bar serving fine vintages to a high-end clientele. Rather, this friendly, funky spot is a party-minded venue that serves, mainly, wine, 150-plus domestic varieties, as well as a selection of sharable snacks. Hosting live acts, DJs, exhibitions and book signings, Sherry’s is tucked away from the constant tram rattle along Ilica, its terrace a convivial daytime getaway of a dozen tables. Inside and downstairs, the wine cellar is where these acts perform, dancing breaks out and a casual, chatty atmosphere underscores any given evening. Craft beers complement the scores of Croatian reds and whites.
Far from being the ad-hoc field kitchen the name (which means something like ‘Forest Cook’) implies, thus is arguably Zagreb’s top address for veggie, additive-free, healthy eating. Šumski’s trademark hemp burgers, tofu dogs and falafel are only the start; they also have an imaginative selection of vegetarian mains, inexpensive daily specials, and delicious cakes. The woody interior underlines the wholesome message behind the food, and there are good views of Tkalčićeva if you get a window-side table.
Another of Zagreb’s burgeoning range of daytime- only dining options, Pithos is a simple concept: home-made food served in a home-like atmosphere. Of sufficient quality to warrant a master chef, Taiba Redžepagić, and sous chef, Lejla Kopić, its cuisine centres on finely crafted Mediterranean mains served to an in-the- know, urban clientele. There are also cakes, pies and pastries should you be after a tasty start to the day or mid-afternoon pick-me- up.
Established with the aim of offering good food with a minimum of expense or fuss, 'Spoon and Fork' is decked out in cheery contemporary bistro style, the plastic flowers on the tables being the only sign of chintz. Solid Croatian favourites like veal stew, čobanac (paprika-rich goulash), roast chicken and fish fillets crop up regularly on the temptingly low-price lunch menu, which is chalked up daily. They'll begin to run out of some of these lunchtime dishes after about 3pm, although there's a slightly more pricey à-la-carte menu in the evenings. Excellent food and attentive (if at times in-a-bit-of-a-rush) service are the order of the day.
Another addition to Zagreb’s growing roster of bistros with a twist, Kiša opts for a menu of healthy mid-priced food with a Russian-Caucasian slant. Nettle soup and borscht feature regularly among the hearty soups; Georgian hachapuri (bread with cheese and egg) and Azerbaidjani kutabi (ravioli-style parcels filled with meat or spinach) are the more exotic of the mains. There’s a charming unorthodoxy to the interior decor too: light fittings come in the form of coffee mugs and tea cups hanging upside down from the ceiling; mood music is provided by a vinyl turntable and heap of LPs beside the bar.
More a classy restaurant than a bistro, Karlo brings a touch of modern-European culinary experimentation to central Zagreb's standard repertoire of grilled meats and Adriatic fish. The menu is small and subject to daily changes: the chef will come to your table and tell you what's fresh. Lamb-brain panna cotta is the most out-there of the regular starters, although delicate seafood risottos will calm the nerves of the less adventurous diner. There's a small handful of main courses on offer, with classic steak, lamb and fish dishes well represented - each accompanied by innovative garnishes. Portions are small, and prices are high, but the outlay is usually worth it. The bright white interior is relaxing and cheery, although several details – spangly chandeliers and over-ornate picture frames – err on the side of kitsch.
With a welcoming orangey-brown colour scheme that resembles the skin tones of a long-necked African mammal, Žirafa is unusually funky for a neighbourhood café in this part of town. It is five minutes' walk west of Maksimir Park and a nice place to end up after an afternoon stroll, with an outdoor terrace set back sufficiently from the busy thoroughfare of Maksimirska to offer a tranquil vantage point from which to observe the street life. Good coffee, a range of rakijas, and wireless internet.
Mali Bar serves up exquisite lunches and inventive nibble food in an informal, five-table dining room. Main courses change daily. Everything else comes in the form of tapas – like small portions – grilled octopus, spring rolls, own recipe mini burgers and various salads. Superb desserts, too. Presiding over the kitchen is Ana Ugarković, prolific cookbook author and TV chef.
Actors, creatives and thirtysomethings come here for home-made food with an imaginative, Adriatic-Asian take on culinary fusion. The interior aims for chic modernity without going totally lounge-bar, while the background music is cool, jazzy but sufficiently unobtrusive to allow for earnest conversation. The menu changes with the season. Pauza's wok-fried dishes mix Mediterranean seafood with Asian flavourings; although there are plenty of more traditional Croatian treatments of meat and fish for those who want something a bit more straightforward. Dishes of the day, chalked up on the inside wall, are excellent value at 45kn-70kn. Wines by the glass and the draught beer are equally affordable.
Hidden behind Kota, this smart bright bistro serves up dedicated vegan fare, with the accent on wok, noodle and pasta-based recipes. Ingredients are sourced from a local organic farm. There’s a reasonable choice of desserts and the courtyard setting provides something of a calming oasis in this busy downtown neighbourhood.