Chugureti, or Plekhanovi as some Tbiliselis still call it, is easily one of my favorite neighborhoods of Tbilisi. It’s nice to walk around in, and I feel like around every corner, there’s some weird eclectic architectural gem waiting to be discovered. In last week’s blog, I wrote a little about the different characters of each of the parts of the neighborhood. All that walking can make a person mighty hungry though, so here’s a list of my favorite gems so far. That said, if I’ve missed a place, let me know in the comments, I’m always looking for new spots. Stay tuned next week for what to do in this storied hood.
Also forgive me for all the Facebook links. Most Georgian restaurants seem to think FB is the way to go, rather than having a decent website with a menu. So if you're a tourist who's been wanting to ditch the Zucc, wait until after your trip.
I've included telephone numbers as well. If you're calling from an international line, the Georgian prefix is +995.
entering Chugureti from Dry Bridge
What to eat in Chugureti?
Tel. 032 294 3779
My wife and I ate here the other week and it was a real treat. The exterior of the place is wrapped in vines with an old school carriage parked out front, already giving the place an old-timey feel. Upon entry, the light is low from lampshades hanging over the lights, proper supra tableclothes adorn the tables, and the general décor emanates a romantic environment – though the strange and odd occasional digression by the house parrot might interrupt your pre-pillow talk.
the beautiful interior of Barbarestan
Our lovely time was in for a shock. The prices are certainly aristocratic, but after eating the 22 lari Lazuri khachapuri and their take on the badrijani with nut sauce, we quickly discovered why. That was some of the most delicious khachapuri and eggplant I’ve ever had in my entire life (and I’ve eaten a lot of it). So though I usually don’t think restaurants qualify for crazy prices (for locals, for Europeans prices are on par what you'd expect for a Georgian restaurant in Europe or the States), I think this one is well justified in it: the food is delicious and the atmosphere is tops.
support Saint and get your "Who will watch the watchmen" shirt here!
There’s a secret about the food too. It’s rumored that the owner had discovered her great grandmother’s 19th century cookbook, and decided to open the restaurant based on that. You see, Georgian cuisine really suffered under the Soviets, when the Soviets stressed that they shouldn’t have “bourgeois” food, but rather peasant food, and so much of the cuisine was de-sophisticated and the dishes became more plain and easier to prepare. Barbarastan, I think, is the real flagship of this blossoming Georgian food renaissance.
the front facade
But what about the service? This is usually the part where Georgian restaurants fall apart. Barbarestan definitely maintains its presence though. The waitstaff are dressed like professionals and they act like it too. They even had this weird habit of adorning our plate with the ordered food (that was queued, I might add) in front of us, and as we emptied our plate, quickly refilled it with our order. This can be a bit tedious as Georgian food centers around the table rather than the person, but since we were there early and before the crowd, it wasn’t a big issue. My only qualm is that the waitstaff lacked smiles and small talk, but then again, maybe that’s a good thing, and frankly, these days I'm happy with good service where I can get it, smiles or no.
Despite the deep pockets necessary for this joint, we’ll definitely be back. Expect to spent about 50 lari a person for a good meal and drinks. Be sure to make reservations as well if you're coming during peak hours. Don’t worry, the entire staff speaks English.
Shavi Lomi near Fabrika
Tel. 0322 96 09 56
Noon - midnight
10 years ago, I was able to confidently say that all Georgian beer seriously sucks. Shavi Lomi has made me reasses this statement, and now I say that most Georgian beer seriously sucks. They make a seriously good brew, and they also have a solid chain of restaurants.
The restaurant near Fabrika is their flagship, a hidden basement on a quiet street of Chugureti a few blocks away, the interior beautifully decorated with bright colors and Georgian tapestries, and a courtyard patio providing and intimate and comfortable outdoor setting in the summer. Shavi Lomi, or Black Lion, definitely predates Barbarestan and even Fabrika, as if announcing to the city that Chugureti would be the next hip destination, and then making it so.
Black Lion also offers another level of more interesting Georgian fare, with fusion items resembling quesadillas and a great appetizer platter for a group out just wanting something like tapas to go with your beer and wine. The food, in my opinion, though, seems to have gone the route of most Georgian establishments, in that they start strong and they tend to not be so good after a couple of years (thankfully the beer hasn’t followed that pattern!).
Don’t expect good service here, but standard Georgian style – angry servers slamming your plates down (or if you're lucky, a disinterested server).
Tel. 551 15 09 43
This Ratchuli place is a real gem. A friendly waitstaff – though they don’t seem to speak English, so don’t expect much in regards to explanation, but the menu is in English, so there’s that – and seriously delicious food (best lobiani bean curd bread I’ve had outside of the small village of Baghdati).
The atmosphere is a bit bright and not very traditional looking (head to the back if you prefer the dark woodwork to plain tables). It’s definitely not a romantic place, but if you want a delicious sampling of the best potential of traditional Georgian food for a moderate price, then this is perhaps the place to try.
86/1 Aghmashenebeli Ave.
Tel. 0322 96 09 56
Are you Irish, Lithuanian, or Polish and really like potatoes? Then this is the place to try. This 24 hour restaurant on Marjanishvili is perhaps also the perfect place to soak up the suds with spuds, with a huge menu of various different ways to prepare baked potatoes. Wednesday nights here are a treat because Vano, the best accordionist in Tbilisi (and I write that as an accordionist myself!) is there to give you a treat of jazz and blues accordion.
Marjanishvili Square, Discovery to the right
The place also doubles as a café and more than comfortably sits you, a laptop, and a cup of coffee in the corner. Breakfasts aren't just leftover khachapuri either, as this place was serving one of the first English breakfasts in town. The first one was over in Vake, but that one has since disappeared, leaving the one at Marjanishvili Square a legacy.
Pipes Burger Joint
At Fabrika 8 Egnate Ninoshvili
Tel. 557 23 02 45
Few people come to Tbilisi with the idea of burgers. And if you do, then perhaps you haven’t done your research on Georgian food. However, after two weeks of cheesy bread and dumplings, perhaps your ready for a change? Pipes Burger Joint, located in the courtyard of Fabrika (there's also one near Vera Park across the river), is a good choice on that. They serve solid burgers at American prices, which means anywhere from 15 to 20 lari a burger. These are proper gourmet burgers, not your pink slime McDonald’s trash.
Every other place on Aghmashenebeli
The mainstay of Aghmashenebeli Ave has and always will be Turkish restaurants. However, none really stand out to me, as they’re pretty all generic and the same, the only differences are in slight changes in the décor. They’re typically set up as a kind of buffet, you walk down the line and choose what you want. They weigh it and charge you according to the weight (prices not always posted). Food here tends to be spicier than Georgian, but also quite a few very similar dishes (Turkish and Georgian have for centuries had a strong influence on each other). For a quick bite I like lamachun, which is like Turkish pizza, kind of a long boat shaped thing with pizza toppings, or sometimes it’s wrapped like a wrap. As they are. Make sure to go real ethnic and treat yourself to a glass of ayran, or sour and salty Turkish milk. Interesting stuff.
no shortage of Turkish restaurants around here
Near to Marjanishvili Square
Tel. 596 91 00 04
Though there are actually at least 2 other Indian options in the area, this is the only one I’ve tried. When you pass the doors, you can already smell the rich curry on the street. Descending down some steep stairs, you find yourself in a real hole-in-the-wall restaurant. It’s a small family restaurant with really great hot and spicy food. If you’re like me with a very spicy palate and think Georgian food can be bland at times (I know, my Georgian friends, Megrelian food is really “spicy”), then this place is a pretty solid solution for you. Don’t go for the décor though, it’s basically a hospital room with mirrors. Dishes are pretty big and filling too, so it’s only necessary to get one and a rice for two people.
Mapshalia 137 Aghmashenebeli Ave.
Tel. 555 63 44 11
9:00 am - 10:00 pm
Mapshalia is an absurd deal. Dishes start at about 3 lari and up, which means it’s quite easy to get stuffed for under 10 lari. It focuses on Megrelian food, so you’re not going to find any khinkali dumplings here. Rather go for the Megrelian favorites, like elarji, which is a kind of thick grits with cheese, or kharcho, which is chicken cooked in walnut sauce. Both are super good, and they’re also great to mix with, try putting the kharcho sauce on the elarji. If you prefer, there’s also a grits without cheese, called ghomi, but in general I find that too dry for my tastes. If you’re feeling really adventurous, go for the Megrelian kupati, a kind of super spicy sausage made of pig organs. They don't serve tap beer here, so be like a real Georgian and stick with wine and tchatcha.
the epic frieze of Mapshalia
The restaurant is in a basement, and has a massive, wall-to-wall Socialist(?) frieze of Communist children dancing around under the auspices of the Sun God. It seems completely out of place for the hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon that Mapshalia is. It’s not a large room, and there are a couple of private tables near the windows, but otherwise, get ready to squeeze in and possibly get interrupted by the local old men of the area. It is, however, becoming quite the tourist destination, being that it's on the main renovated street, cheap, and showing up on tour guides everywhere, so probably by the time you'll get there there will be no more locals there, and you'll just have to be happy squeezing in between some Russians and Chinese guys.
Tel. 555 63 44 11
What I like to call the “Georgian McDonald’s” (or maybe a Denny's or Cracker Barrel), drop this name in any group of expats and you just might start a war, people either hate it or have a strongly expressed "meh" about it (it does stand to be a local favorite though). This is a historically cheap restaurant, with an amazing amount of variety, so much so that I’m really curious on how they maintain the variety (I’m guessing a lot of frozen foods).
Go expecting awkwardly slow service and waiters that disappear when it comes to paying the bill (which is to say, pretty standard Georgian waitstaff treatment). That said, though the food is nothing special in Georgia, it’s still good, solid Georgian food. Some variations that you can’t find anywhere else: Aziuli khinkali, a portion of five deep fried khinkali served with Asian sauce, Adjaruli khachapuri with various other toppings besides egg (like spinach and cheese, my favorite), and dishes that cater to one person for under 20 or even 10 lari. It’s my default go-to restaurant when I can’t make up my mind. Don’t tell hipster expats that you’re going there though, they’ll scoff at you and wonder why you’re not going somewhere that costs 50 lari a plate for the same food.
Pirosmani paintings like this one are pretty typical in Samikitno
It's a chain and easily recognizable as most of the walls are decorated with copies of Pirosmani works. The name "Samikitno" derives from Georgian tradition as well. The mikitani would go around and buy wine from villagers and bring it into town to the samikitno, where they would sell the wine on tap.
Tel. 0322 43 47 74
Noon - midnight
This chain is a Georgian legend. They’ve got pretty decent lobiani, or bean bread, but even moreso have really tasty Georgian lemonadi. Don’t be confused by the name, a “lemonadi” in Georgia and Easter Europe only means a fruit soda, and might not even have lemons at all, despite the moniker. It uses one hundred percent Georgian produce and water, which gives it its really amazing and special taste.
The restaurant chain has been running in one form or another since the late 19th century, originally founded by pharmacist employee Mitrofane Lagidze. The first Lagidze lemonadi shop opened its doors in 1900 in Kutaisi, and the first one in Tbilisi opened on Rustaveli not long after. During the Soviet Union, Mitrofane was forced to give the factory ownership to the Bolshevik government, but he was allowed to continue running the operation as though it were still his, which kept his legacy firmly in place, and the product true to its founding. However, the cafes have kept their Bolshevik proletarian character, so don’t go for the atmosphere.
147 Aghmashenebeli Ave.
Tel. 596 66 44 46
This new sandwich chain popped up not too long ago, I guess in response to people getting sick from shawarmas. They serve chicken sandwiches, friend chicken sandwiches, and also shawarma, but with a bit better sanitary practices than your average place. They've got burgers and quesadillas as well.
Tel. 599 88 70 16
8:00 am - 10:00 pm
Entrée is another classic Georgian chain that has stood the test of time and now has a shop nearly on every corner. They bake traditional French-style breads, and serve baguette and croissant sandwiches, along with second wave espresso (Lavazza, Illy, or something rather). Another good standard option away from the E. coli shawarma wrap. Good for tourists who don’t want to take a long time eating, want something basic, and that won’t leave them sick in the hotel room. Also one of the better places for a simple and light breakfast: croissant, cheese, and coffee.
Tel. 0322 55 75 77
8:00 am - 11:00 pm
Haha, I know what you’re thinking. What the hell, Saint, why did you include Dunkin freaking Donuts on this list? And are you serious that they’re in Tbilisi? Yes, I am dead serious. There’s one in nearly every neighborhood, filling in the huge, blinding gap of nowhere to eat fat filled American breakfasts in the city. But though that’s slowly starting to change, that’s not the reason I included it here. I included because they weirdly have some great lobiani. Out of all the high dollar and low dollar places we’ve visited, the only place to serve better lobiani in my wife’s eyes was Ghebi (up above on this list), though I think she’s just telling me that to make me feel better.
Marjanishvili Square, DD would be to the left of the photo
Tel. 0322 90 09 29
Noon - midnight
Though Georgians really love their shawarma, it’s a Turkish sandwich, so they can’t really claim it as their cuisine (or it's an Arabic sandwich, but that's not my war). That’s where Tone (tone-ay) saw their opportunity. Why not make a truly Georgian sandwich? And that’s what they’ve done. Named after the massive clay oven Georgians use to bake their “shoti” bread in, they use the traditional Georgian bread and ingredients to make their delicious sandwiches. Located in the Fabrika courtyard, the place gets really busy on the weekend evenings. Though it’s tempting to eat it while gulping down beers from Dive or Moulin Electrique, expect to be waiting a looong time for your order.
Fabrika 8 Egnate Ninoshvili St.
Tel. 0322 42 04 42
11:30 am - midnight
A proper Asian fast-food option that focuses on offering a meal in a box, from sushi Bento boxes to chicken and noodles with various Asian-style sauces. Opened by one of my students with a comfortable environment in the back corner of the courtyard of Fabrika, he once made the observation to me that Georgians were pretty weary of the raw fish on sushi. Having seen the Mtkvari River and the Black Sea coast, I hold the same weariness. That's why they've a large selection of sushi that's also not raw. They also deliver to most places in Tbilisi.
Tel. 577 31 31 70
No modern hipster hangout is complete without a ramen noodle option. Shio Ramen is another Asian option that sits more prominently in the Fabrika courtyard, with all sorts of ramen noodle dishes. I had the pad thai ramen, with thick noodles that didn’t really resemble ramen noodles. It was a pretty solid food for a night of drinking.
Dessert and coffee
Tel. 0322 38 08 02
8:00 am - 2:00 am
If there is one place that tops all dessert shops in Georgia, and can hold its own in coffee, it’s Luca Palore. Probably the first Georgian company to release the modern concept of ice cream, “gelato”, in Georgia, they’re still the flagship of nayini (Georgian for ice cream). Their Aghmashenebeli location provides a large seating space both inside and outside and soft serve yogurt by the weight.
Turn left at that red sign
10:00 am - 11:00 pm
I found this place because it was the only place in New Tiflis where the waiter wasn't outside pestering and begging people to come in. Therefore, I went here and I wasn't disappointed. It's a cozy little place with nice staff and patio, cheap coffee, and tasty cakes.