Kornat heads an increasingly upmarket scene, vying with Foša, Pet Bunara and Hotel Bastion’s Kaštel for top table in town. Some of the key gourmet specialities on offer in the region are Pag cheese, and marvellous home-cured pršut from inland villages like Posedarje. The locals attribute their flavours to the powerful Bura wind, which is ideal for curing ham and instrumental in making Pag grass salty. Look out for cherry-cake dessert using Maraschino liqueur native to Zadar. Made from local Marasca cherries, Maraschino is a key local product and the ideal souvenir to take home.
Increasingly a local favourite when it comes to traditional Adriatic fare with a contemporary twist, Pet Bunara has a reputation for digging out old recipes, sourcing local ingredients and giving them a new lease of life. Typical starters include orzotto (like a risotto but made with barley), house ravioli with scampi and figs, and a black squid stew with chick peas. Signiature mains include steak with figs, or fish fillets with orange and chickpea puree. They also do some of the best pizzas in the city. The desserts, which again make full use of Dalmatian ingredients such as carob, quince and fig, are excellent.
Reasonable candidate for best restaurant in town. By the ferry port adjacent to the Q bar, the Kornat is classy enough to have a cloakroom, refined enough to have a superb selection of Croatian wines but relaxed enough to avoid giving a stuffy, formal dining experience. The bottles are on display around a bright, modern interior, its 20 tables ably manned by equally bright, fluent-English staff. Although prices are much as elsewhere in the town centre, the ingredients are not: truffles are used in sauces to garnish the stand-out monkfish, dry porcini mushrooms to help flavour the steak. Specialities include black risotto, angler fish and the chocolate cake. The set lunches (choose between a meat or fish main course) are a steal at 60kn.
This loveliest restaurant terrace in Zadar overlooks the sunset on Maestral Bay, a 15-minute walk from town. Inside is a wonderfully cosy café-restaurant, the decor more modern than the traditional, neat waitstaff would suggest. Lungo Mare is equally appreciated for its fresh seafood and meat dishes, such as the house fish plate or pork fillet, stuffed with scampi, cheese or pršut and mushrooms. Prices represent excellent value, while the wine list runs into three figures and includes a few French and Italian names among the classic Croatian ones. Don’t leave without trying the house cheesecake.
This well established fish restaurant stands just outside the city walls in a recently-renovated stone building at the Foša harbour. While the interior is all clean lines, natural woods and pale colours, the outdoor terrace offers an altogether traditional (and rather delightful) panorama of moored boats and distant islands. All the standard white fish and shellfish are served, either with traditional local green blitva and potatoes, or as part of a seafood risotto or pasta dish. There’s also a range of carpaccio dishes, including raw monkfish on a bed of rocket. Other dishes include stewed lobster with polenta, cuttlefish brodet and grilled pork with lentils. Prices are a notch above average, unless you opt for one of the three-course set menus, which deliver soup, fillet of fish and a dessert for a very reasonable 120-150kn.
A stone’s throw from main street Kalelarga, Croatian Master Chef judge Mate Janković serves up fresh local ingredients in small delicious dishes; the wine selection is impressive and can be ordered by the glass. Decorated tastefully in a modern style that respects the building’s age, it also has a small terrace shaped like a wooden boat in two halves. After nightfall, Atrij becomes an intimate jazz bar with the odd soul performance.
One of the first restaurants to be privatised in former Yugoslavia back in 1963, Niko is not too pretty from the outside, but houses one of the most popular kitchens in Zadar, almost an institution. Set near Marina Borik on Puntamika’s southernmost headland, Niko contains both a small hotel and a proud restaurant with an extensive choice of wine. Fresh fish arrives daily and is then prepared with carefully selected olive oil over a wood-fire grill. Regulars tend to favour the green tagliatelle with scampi and the tiramisu. A spacious terrace looks out towards the Puntamika yachting marina.
A relatively recent addition to the Old-Town dining scene, Bruschetta offers brisk, informal but good-quality dining in a crisply-furnished, glass-fronted space. It’s hugely popular with local lunchers, eating their way through the pizza and pasta section of the menu, although there is a good deal of traditional Dalmatian seafood on offer too. The off-season marende (set lunches) are a real treat at 55-60kn.
A local favourite that overlooks the marina Konoba Rafaelo is a good, old Dalmatian affair - fish, seafood, grilled meats... all delivered in generous portions and washed down with local wines. Book ahead in high season - the decent food and fair prices mean it's often full.
Based at renowned The Garden Zadar, ArtofRaw is the only vegan and raw-food restaurant in Dalmatia. Darko's team creates the same kind of dishes as found at their sister restaurant in Ribnjak, Zagreb. A bar menu and main one divided into savoury and sweet feature snacks such as kale chips and banana crepes, as well as more substantial ones such as stuffed champignons, spring rolls and spaghetti with courgettes and dill. All is prepared from fresh ingredients and based on sustainable produce.
This traditional tavern located between St Simeon’s Church and Five Wells is named after the old football player who then passed the establishment on to his cousin. It fills around marenda time at elevenish, locals snacking on salted anchovies or octopus salad while mulling over the fate of the popular local basketball team. Skoblar does full lunches and dinners too, and in summer the meat offerings are reduced to leave kitchen space for plenty of fish and shellfish dishes – there are at least three kinds of shellfish in the black risotto. Sweet desserts are the house speciality here, either kalelarga cheesecake or Sv Stošija, a cherry cake made with Maraschino, the local fruit liqueur.