Restaurant IQ: Sofia, Bulgaria

Last updated Jan 2015


Sofia’s restaurants, just as the city are small and down to earth. There are no over-the-top décors, claims to international culinary fame and months-in-advance reservations. 

But just as the city, the restaurant menus in Sofia can hide pleasant surprises for your pallet and your wallet alike. 

Sofia’s young chefs and restaurant entrepreneurs have a lot to offer: from a steady take on the various European cuisines to a fresh look at the beloved Bulgarian classics to the occasional flirtation with Asian herbs and spices.

 

CONTEMPORARY RESTAURANTS IN SOFIA

A growing number of small independently owned local restaurants offer creative contemporary menus, friendly service and cool ambiance and take no shortcuts with the quality of their ingredients. 

Expect to pay about 80 lv/40 euro for a dinner for two with a bottle of wine. 


The up-and-coming Oborishte district is one of Sofia's premier food&drinks destinations.

 

Take a look at our Restaurant Map for Foodies to find the best restaurants in Sofia.
 

TRADITIONAL BULGARIAN RESTAURANTS

No visit to the country is complete without an evening at one of the big, traditional ethnic restaurants where large noisy groups of tourists mingle with large and usually noisier groups of locals.

It is true that some such restaurants tend to be tourist traps; overpriced for the quality of the food and service offered. However, they are still a great way to sample a variety of local food and music. 


Don't miss out on Bulgarian national cuisine


Book ahead, especially for larger groups, and be prepared for live folk music and dancing. Some places have an elaborate folk program, in others it’s the diners who do the dancing. Indeed, there is nothing more normal than getting up in the middle of the main course to dance to your favorite horo and then coming back to the table short of breath to continue with dinner. 

One more thing to consider; your clothes might end up smelling like the food you’ve consumed by the end of the evening, as some of the meat is cooked on open fire.  

In the summer, you might want to opt for outdoor seating. 

Read more about Bulgarian national cuisine.
 


 

VEGETARIAN RESTAURANTS IN SOFIA

Sofia (and Bulgaria) is a great place to fill up on veggies without even going to a vegetarian restaurant. Bulgarians are voracious salad eaters and restaurant menus around the country reflect this! 


Quinoa vegetable pilaf at Cabra Natural Foods & Bar on Oborishte street.


Also there is a healthy supply of vegetarian and a few vegan-only restaurants in town.

Take a look at our vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Sofia map.

 

BAR AND DINNER 

"Bar and Dinner"s (double N, that’s right!) are a sort of a local invention and just as the name suggests they are places for dinner and cocktails, not necessarily in that order. 


Bar and Dinner; like a bar and diner, only fancier

 

CHAIN RESTAURANTS IN SOFIA

If chain restaurants are your thing, check out some of the several local-grown chains that have built up a name for themselves with consistent food and service quality. 

Happy Bar and Grill with over 9 locations in Sofia (and one in Barcelona, Spain!) is the place to get served Bulgarian comfort food in an American-style diner by skimpily dressed waitresses. Can’t beat that!

Several pizza chains, Mamma Mia, Ugo, Victoria, to name but a few, are also famous for their thick menus, rich in salad options and more than anything for their several  24/7 locations around town.

Expect to pay approx. 40 lv/20 euro for a dinner for 2.
 

QUICK AND AFFORDABLE EATS IN SOFIA

If traveling on a tight budget, there are plenty of places to eat well without spending a fortune and without going anywhere near a fast food joint. 

Sandwich shops, delis, bakeries and places specializing in soups are all over town. 


Soupastar on Shishman st serves fresh soups and sandwiches. Don't miss.



ETHNIC RESTAURANTS IN SOFIA

Surprisingly decent Indian restaurants (Always ask for extra spicy for the authentic experience!), one Thai restaurant and a great Korean place comprise the city’s modest non-European ethnic food scene. 


Indian restaurants are a good way to satisfy a sudden craving for "spicy".


Chinese restaurants are best avoided; several have given us a serious stomach ache and bad memories. 

Here is a list of our favorite ethnic restaurants.

 

CHANGES, CHANGES

Bulgarians are a rather conservative bunch when it comes to food, but hold no particular attachment to their cafes and restaurants. 


Joints change locations, concepts, cuisines and interiors every couple of seasons, and are ready for a quick facelift as soon as a new food fashion rolls into town. 

It is hard to keep track of what is what even for the locals and when asked many will be unable to name even one place that is, let’s say, over 10 years old.


SERVICE AND DINNER ETIQUETTE IN BULGARIA

The traditional dinner experience in the country starts with a salad and rakia (grape brandy), the main dish comes with a bottle of wine and it all ends with a desert, but not necessarily.  

Read more about Bulgarian national cuisine.

Dinner in Bulgaria starts at around 8 pm.

Once seated, you are entitled to keep you table for the evening. Dinner is taken seriously in Bulgaria and it traditionally takes at least 2-3 hours, so you won't find waiters bringing the entrees and the bill with a casual “whenever you are ready, there is no rush”.  

On the contrary, obtaining the bill in a Bulgarian restaurant can prove to be a demanding exercise of waving and turning in fruitless attempts to get the attention of the waiting staff. Here, as everywhere servers will see you only when they are ready to see you.

The servers are mostly young and speak fluent English. All restaurants have menus in English, which might not be always fully comprehensible (thank you Google translate!), but help. 


TIPPING IN SOFIA

Tip only if you are happy with the service. Ten percent tip is more than sufficient but it is always a good idea to reward extraordinary service with an extraordinary generosity.

Read more on tipping in Bulgaria.


SMOKING

Restaurants in Bulgaria are smoke-free, in theory at least. In practice, especially after 10 pm some restaurants allow smoking indoors and even distribute small saucers to serve as ashtrays. 

Read more on smoking in Bulgaria.

 

Last updated Jan 2015
 
   
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