To go at a restaurant in Sofia has become a challenge recently – and that is not because there is a lack of good and intriguing places. On the contrary. Each week there are new establisments opened in the Bulgarian capital, which offer tasty and easy eating during the day, experiment with new tastes and products, introduce new culinary traditions or decide to play it safe with offering friendly atmosphere and filling sizes of the dishes. Actually, this is the challenge – to decide where exactly to go out with your significant other or your friends.
The questions you'll need to answer before sitting in some restaurant, are countless. What do you want to have for lunch or dinner? Would you revisit some place you know or would you try something new?
And if you already have a broader idea, then in which part of Sofia your short culinary escape should take place? Oborishte Street and the neigbouring streets have become the hippest culinary location in the city, with bistros, restaurants and pizzerias on every corner, inhabited by a colourfull and artistic crowd. If you don't like following the latest trends, then you can probably preffer Vitosha Boulevard and the surrownding area. Uniting the culinary diversity of the world, the area offers from traditional Bulgarian taverns to a range of ethnic places to stylish establishments. This part of culinary Sofia, however, is also frequented by the foreign tourists visiting the city. If you want something bolder and more challenging, you can try the area around Maria Luisa Boulevard. Sofia's probably most ethnically diverse part is mirrored in the restaurant scene – and here we don't talk only about Middle Eastern cuisine, but also Sofia's only Georgian restaurant and the best French restaurant in Sofia, L'Etranger.
Of course, culinary Sofia transcends what you can find in the centre. In the neighbourhoods you will find a number of excellent restaurants of all sorts, which have established themselves through the years as one of the most popular eating places in the city.
But location is not everything. In the summer, places with gardens have a huge advantage. Design is also starting to be taken in notice. After the wave of Provensal style interiors has abated, the new restaurants are more eager to make bolder designs and this only enriches eating in them. But you shouldn't forget the small, charming bistros and tratorias, where limited space and short menus are compensated by the zeal and dedication of their owners who are also the chefs, by the care with which they source local products and the perfection and simplicity of the served food.
The service, of course, varies. In the artistic or family restaurants and establishments you will be met as a friend, you will feel relaxed, almost as if at home. In the more refined places, however, brace yoursefl for more formal attitude – so you have to consider if you really want that during you lunch with a friend or a dinner with your significant other.
Having in mind how many questions should be taken in concideration, thought over and answered, before you go to a restaurant in Sofia, it is a small miracle that people manage to make a choice and sat at a restaurant, without getting into a fight with their friends and families. Actually, it is the complete oposite – at lunchtime even elite places are filled with clients enjoying the nice atmosphere and the food from the lunch menu. At the evenings, especually in Thursday, Friday and Saturday, it is a hard task to find free tables. Recently I and a friend were politely returned by two restaurants, as all their tables were already booked. When our despair took over, we found a table in a third establishment – and it was the last free table.
However, with a bit of experience you can always find your way in the multitude of restaurants in Sofia. You can trust the recommendation of a friend or an advert seen in Facebook. But the only way to know if a place is for you, is to try – again and again, because the face of culinary Sofia is constantly changing, a caleidoscope of tastes, fashions and culinary traditions which will enchant you.
Club Motto: The pulse of the city
There are few places in Sofia which can be justly labeled a "cult classic," and Club Motto (18 Aksakov St, phone: +359 2 987 2723, www.motto-bg.com) is one of them. Situated at the heart of the capital, Motto is an elegant and bohemian place which captures the ambiguity of Sofia. The menu blends all time Indian and British classics like chicken tikka masala and fish and chips with pasta, mussels and inspired salads. For the summer days and evenings, Motto has one of the greatest gardens in Sofia, and the regular art exhibitions bring an additional hint of exclusiveness to the place. How incredible Motto is you can see by its longevity and the diverse crowd the club attracts – from businessmen and intellectuals, to bohemians and expats.
Magical tastes in Turquoise
Turquoise Restaurant (90 Bakston Blvd; phone: 855 1100; www.turquoise.bg) has been for years the top choice for lovers of Turkish cuisine in Sofia. Situated at the foot of Vitosha mountain, the restaurant has a great view and an air of blissful relaxation, and is famed as the best place for Turkish food in Sofia. In Turquoise you enjoy delicious meals like ezme, Çiğ Köfte and Adana Kebab prepared by original Turkish recipes in wooden stove and on barbecue by nine selected chefs from Turkey.
Checkpoint Charlie: Sofia classic
Situated next to the museum house of writer Ivan Vazov, Checkpoint Charlie restaurant (12 Ivan Vazov St, phones: 02 988 03 70, 0886 577 342, www.checkpointcharlybg.com) is beloved and frequented by the capital's bohemians, intellectuals and all who insist on cuisine which stays consistent in quality year after year. Regardless of if you order classical Bulgarian dishes like kachamak, kyopoolu or meatballs, or opt for the salmon or the duck with caramelised apples, the taste is unchangingly excellent and the portions are satisfyingly large. The restaurant's lunch menu is also a not miss. But Checkpoint Charlie is something more than excellent food – it is a wholesome experience. Just like the famed checkpoint at Berlin which gave the restaurant's name, the main salon is divided on Communist and democratic zone, and the walls are covered with graffiti from famous patrons, Umberto Eco included. The additional salon of Checkpoint Charlie is a complete contrast – it embodies the spirit of pre-war Sofia. In the summer, the restaurant has one of the best gardens in the capital.
Coco Cafe: True French taste
French sweets and pastries are universally loved, but difficult for proper recreation outside their country of origin – but when you sit at a table in the elegant Coco Cafe (58 Bigla St, www.cococafe.eu), you will quickly forget that you are in Sofia. The café offers to the connoisseurs of quality food a genuine experience of French taste and mood – fine exquisite sweets and cakes, croissants and ice cream prepared after French recipes with very little sugar, and from natural and quality ingredients. All of this is accompanied by the wonderful Richard coffee and a variety of excellent cocktails, alcoholic and healthy drinks.