Eat and drink in Zagreb!
After two months in the Land of Seafood (I’m allergic) on the Adriatic coast, I was delighted to explore inland Croatia’s heartier fare, especially in late autumn. My first evening in Zagreb, seated at one of the hightops at Gostionica Ficlek, I realized that I was in for a treat. Instead of nervously scanning menus to try and figure out if: a) I could safely eat at a restaurant, and b) would I like what I could eat there, I felt set free. This menu was my, well . . . oyster. Eating and drinking in Zagreb delighted me.
I loved Zagreb’s culinary delights, and you will, too. You’ll be grateful for the hills to walk (or perhaps be inspired to take the funicular), because Zagreb isn’t playing around with the richness of the food, or the portions. Here’s my guide for what to eat and drink in Zagreb. Planning your own culinary adventure in Zagreb? Grab my planning guide and be sure to get my guide to Zagreb, coming out very soon!
Eat and Drink in Zagreb, Croatia
Zagreb is a delight for solo diners and will not break the bank
I traveled solo in Zagreb, and, with one exception, I ate/drank solo in these locations. Zagreb is a great city for solo travelers, and its cuisine is not to be missed. I was on a three-month journey through the Balkans, and so you’ll note that some of the more storied restaurants are not on this list. While I wasn’t exactly a budget traveler, I was on a long jaunt, and I cooked a lot of meals at my apartment (with ingredients from the Dolac market!).
Eat in Zagreb
Without further ado, here are my recommendations for eating in Zagreb. I’d love to hear what you enjoyed the most in the comments below!
The best thing I ate in Zagreb—My entire meal at Pod Zidom
My first night in Zagreb, exhausted after my overnight stopover in Zadar en route from Split, I headed out in search of food and a little sightseeing. It was All Saint’s Day, and so a number of places were closed. Pod Zidom, right near the Dolac green market and Zagreb’s cathedral wasn’t one of them. While I didn’t eat there that evening, I filed away the Michelin-Guide-listed bistro as a place I really wanted to try.
After making a note of it, I returned
A couple of weeks later, I stopped in for lunch and had one of the best meals I’ve had in a very long time. Specializing in fresh ingredients from Zagreb’s Dolac market and organic wines, Pod Zidom, named after the street it’s on, is no ordinary bistro.
A seasonal meal
Breads with a lardo, topped with smoked salt and a whipped pumpkin butter began the meal. I could have eaten both with a spoon, but I restrained myself.
It being autumn, I started with a pumpkin appetizer. A salad of shaved fresh pumpkin, herbs, and pumpkin seeds topped a slice of roast pumpkin with fresh cheese. Pumpkin puree, cream, and pumpkin oil (a great souvenir from this part of Croatia) finished the dish. I still dream about it. So simple and so incredibly well executed.
A main course to write home about
On the recommendation of my server, I ordered the braised beef cheeks and dumplings. Tart pomegranate arils complemented the rich meat, served with cream dumplings topped with criped chicken skin, served atop a soubise. Dear Reader, it was soooo good. With my meal, I had an organic red wine from neighboring Slovenia.
A deconstructed apple tart with salted caramel ice cream, followed by espresso, completed the meal.
I wish I could go back to Pod Zidom every week.
Štrukli at La Štruk
My Zagreb host gave me a huge list of restaurants, bars, and cafés to try, and she did not steer me wrong. I might have avoided La Štruk, located where it was in the heart of Zagreb’s touristy streets below the cathedral, which would have been a tragedy. This restaurant, which serves one thing and one thing only štrukli—a traditional Croatian dish—is a treasure.
Think of štrukli as Croatian lasagna
Štrukli resembles lasagna, in that it has pastry sheets and cheese, but that’s where the similarities end. While lasagna tends to have a rich sauce and meat, štrukli is a bit more like a dumpling and the cheese carries the dish. Traditionally, the dish is steamed, but more modern takes on it serve it gratined (I recommend it that way).
La Štruk only does variations štruki
La Štruk has a few different takes on the dish, including an excellent one with truffles. You can get it either savory or sweet—a popular dessert version features blueberries. Personally, I went there for lunch and dinner, and I was always so full that the thought of a dessert štrukli caused distress. However, judging from the faces of diners who opted to eat dessert first, you can’t go wrong with the sweet option.
Each štrukli is made to order
Each štrukli is made to order and takes about 20–25 minutes to cook, so allow time for your meal there. If you can, sit out in the hidden courtyard as opposed to the terrace on the main street. The restaurant is charming on inclement days (perfect for štrukli) if you can get a table in the back room. Order a glass of red wine and tuck in. La Štruk is hugely popular and doesn’t take reservations, so plan accordingly. It’s worth the wait. You’ll sleep like a baby afterwards.
Sarma (and everything else) at Gostionica Ficlek
I ate at Gostionica Ficlek a few times—including my first evening in Zagreb. It’s right next to Pod Zidom. My host had recommended it, and it was open on the holiday. That first night, I had Zagrebački Odrezak (it’s also called “steak,” but think more like ham, stuffed with cheese, breaded and fried), which was absolutely delicious, but it’s the sarma that I keep thinking back on.
I went back, and brought friends
After my day trip to Slovenia, a few of us from the tour decided to get dinner. One of them had mentioned wanting to try Gostionica Ficlek, and I was all too happy to go back. We perched on the bar stools at high-top tables (it’s an informal place), and ordered up dishes to pass around. I had the same server, and he recommended the sarma as a traditional dish of cabbage rolls and told me that I would love it.
When in doubt, take the advice of your server
He was indeed correct. Pickled cabbage surrounds a meat filling, often made with pork and beef, and spiced with lots of paprika, slowly steamed, and served with a sauce. I’d had stuffed cabbage before, and, if I’m telling the truth, I didn’t love it, so I was a bit skeptical. However, the sauerkraut leaves and the spiced meat make each bite surprising, and the acid brightens what could otherwise land as a ton of bricks.
Produce from Zagreb’s Dolac Public Market
One of the reasons why I love to get apartments when I travel is so that I can cook, and you know how much I love a good public market. Zagreb’s huge outdoor Dolac market is one of the best, and you can’t miss it. Farmers and producers from all over the region gather here every day except for Sunday (the best time to go is Saturday morning), making it a perfect first stop when food shopping in Zagreb. It’s cash only, and the prices are incredible. You may need to encourage the farmers to give you a little less in the bag if it’s just yourself, which can be a bit of a hassle, but generally, it’s fine.
Bring cash and your translation app
You’ll need cash and will likely need Google Translate to place your order (you might get lucky and get by on English). If you’re looking for a little something to brighten your place, stop at the flower market down the steps toward the main square and pick something up for yourself.
Sunday lunch at Konoba Didov san
I stayed just around the corner from this charming little restaurant in Upper Town, and one sunny Sunday, I sat down on their heated terrace for lunch. Konoba Didov san (it translates as Grandfather’s Dream, and you’ll see cute little adverts for it in Upper Town) serves traditional Croatian food and does it very well indeed. I started with a beef and noodle soup, which warmed me up on a chilly day.
Hearty, home-cooked fare
For my main, I had a the Punjene Vješalice (pork loin stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon, with grilled vegetables and baked potatoes) and a nice white wine. While I was exceedingly full, I couldn’t resist at least a bite of the Palačinke (pancake) with Nutella and an espresso.
It’s not the tourist trap you think it is
Given its charming location Konoba Didov san is popular with tourists (the inside is darling, and I’d urge you to check it out—I was still exercising caution and mostly dining on terraces), but it isn’t a total tourist trap. Locals eat there, and I heard mostly Croatian voices that November afternoon. I sat next to a Ukrainian couple who had recently relocated to Zagreb and their toddler—the little girl had just gotten a new toy and was showing it off.
All in all, a lovely place for a Sunday lunch, and I was most grateful to be close to my apartment, and, more specifically, my bed for a nap, afterward.
A modern lunch at Rouge Marin Bistro
Rouge Marin does tasty modern food in cool settings. They have a couple of different iterations, and I had lunch at Rouge Marin Bistro. Located in an old light-bulb factory, Rouge Marin Bistro has an industrial art theme. Before taking my order, the server gave me a welcome drink and explained the menu. I had a steak and chimichurri dish, with thin strips of grilled meat and a green salad. Fries are always a lovely idea, and the wine is good. I had a coffee to finish. Rouge Marin is perfect for when you’ve had the traditional fare and want something a little more contemporary.
Snacks and wine at Heritage: Croatian Street Food & Shop
This tiny little specialty food shop and tasting counter most definitely targets tourists, but Heritage does this in the best way. Think less tourist trap and more delicious class. You will taste your way through Croatia with cured meats, cheeses, and other treats, along with local wines. Everything is delicious, and you’ll learn all about what you’re eating, the region of Croatia your morsel is from, and why it’s a representative food of Croatia. Here (and elsewhere in Croatia), you’ll learn about much better uses for carob than as a terrible 1970s chocolate substitute. Get the little sweet treats, if they have them.
I had a lovely repast here, sitting next to people from Mexico. Given its tiny location, this is a perfect spot for solo travelers. Pick up some tasty souvenirs here, too. The prices are very good for what you’re getting.
Classic fare at Stari Fijaker
Step back in time and eat very well at this traditional mainstay of Zagreb cuisine. Star Fijaker is just off Illica (Zagreb’s main street), at the base of the hill leading to Upper Town.
The food is as old-school as it comes, and it is delicious. I had Pašticada, or Dalmatian beef roast and dumplings with gravy with a Croatian red wine recommended by the waiter, followed by a homemade apple pastry with vanilla ice cream.
It’s a great place to people watch, too
Come here for lunch, and you may see older people enjoying a meal, business people having a leisurely lunch, and a few tourists. Everyone loves this place. You’ll have missed something special if you miss Stari Fijaker.
The daily special at Vallis Aurea
I have to admit, Vallis Aurea’s location steps away from the funicular had me a bit suspicious, but this was another recommendation from my Airbnb host, and she hadn’t steered me wrong. Vallis Aurea has served homemade, comforting food, for nearly 30 years in a charming little grotto with modern touches. You won’t feel like you’ve fallen into a tourist trap eating here.
They have a menu, but my recommendation is to order one of the daily specials (I had a roast with peas and mashed potatoes) and get the dessert (a flaky apple pastry). Get a glass of wine and finish with a coffee.
If you’re headed up the hill, take my advice and take the funicular.
Lunch and a beer with a view at Restaurant Vidikovac Sljeme
I’m cheating a bit—this is a lot more about the view than the food—but the food was lovely. Restaurant Vidikovac, at the summit of Sljeme is a perfect spot to enjoy lunch after riding the Zagreb Cable Car. The fare is simple, but done well. The grilled pork skewers I had were very good. Have lunch, get a beer, and enjoy the view. If it’s warm out, you might even sit out on the back terrace, where the best views are (do note that people will be smoking).
Ice cream at Vincek
This classic ice cream and pastry shop on Illica (Zagreb’s main street) will put a smile on your face. Vincek is a bit of a pastry empire in Zagreb, but this is the original spot, opened in 1977. The cakes are very good (pro tip: you can get cake delivered through Wolt), but we’re here for the ice cream, made fresh daily. Get a cone of whatever looks good to you and head back to one of the little standing-room counters and enjoy! It’s fun and tasty.
Note that they have dairy-free treats for those avoiding dairy, and, if you’re gluten-free, head to Vis à Vis right around the corner toward the funicular for gluten-free cakes!
Fritule (fritters) at Advent Zagreb
Especially popular during Advent Zagreb, fritule, or fritters are lovely little donuts served with Chocolate or other tasty sauces. If you see these at a street stall during your time in Zagreb, just get them. They’re delicious.
Drink in Zagreb
Živjeli! You’re going to drink well in Zagreb! From coffee to wines, Zagreb has a fantastic drinking culture.
A quick note: Zagreb is known for its craft beer, and, if you love beer, you’re going to be happy here. While I love a cold beer at sunset or atop a mountain, my days of being a beer snob are long behind me. I’m pretty much a pilsner these days.
And, with that, here are my favorite drinks in Zagreb!
Coffee at Quawha
Zagreb does coffee so well that I wrote an entire post about Zagreb cafés and café culture. Quawha was my favorite café in Zagreb. This local roaster produces excellent coffee, and this café is most inviting. The covered terrace is perfect in autumn, as you can still sit outside but not freeze, and the upstairs is a cool place to grab a comfy seat and enjoy a coffee and read. It’s a great place to get work done and to just watch the world go by.
It’s a popular spot, but the fact that you have to duck through an alley to get to it seems to ward off the hordes. Smoky cafés are the norm in Croatia, but upstairs at Quawha is nonsmoking. They accept cards, but have cash to tip.
Drinks at Swanky Monkey Garden Bar
I’ll confess to having aged out of hostel culture for the most part, and I tend not to go for wild nights out on the town, so I will admit a bit of skepticism when my Airbnb host recommended having a drink at this hostel cocktail bar. When I raised my eyebrow at the mention of “hostel,” she laughed and told me that it really was cool and that I’d love it.
My host steered me right
She was right. To get to this hidden little garden terrace, you’re going to walk through an alleyway. Don’t worry—you’re probably following other people, and there’s a signs about the Swanky Monkey. You’re going to walk up some stairs—sadly, I don’t think this is accessible—and out into a terraced garden bar.
You’re there more for the fun than the drinks
This is more about the atmosphere than the drinks—my dark and stormy was perfectly good, but not exceptional—but the atmosphere is lively and fun. If you’re hungry, there’s an Asian-ish restaurant on the lower level. I didn’t eat there, but I heard decent things. Do note that service can take forever at Swanky Monkey—think of it as part of the experience.
A beer at the Old Pharmacy Pub
Located, as the name suggests, in an old pharmacy, the Old Pharmacy Pub created an English Pub with pharmacological décor. The tables have Croatian kuna coins under resin. It’s smoky, the service is a bit rude, and it’s a perfect spot to have a beer after walking around the city, or to head to in the evening if you’re traveling with friends. If you’re missing whiskey, you’re in luck here, but I just stuck with beer.
Kuhano Vino (Croatian mulled wine) at Advent Zagreb
Depending on the time of year you’re in Zagreb, you may miss this delicious Croatian take on mulled wine. I loved Kuhano Vino so much, I made it at home. It’s a perfectly light warming sipper that you can enjoy without needing a nap afterwards—perfect for enjoying the festivities at Advent Zagreb.
A regret: EatWith didn’t work out in Zagreb
One problem with late shoulder-season travel—not everything is up and running. While a lovely EatWith meal was available to book, not enough people had signed up for it to be worth it for the host. If you haven’t tried EatWith before, I highly recommend it if it’s in your destination city (affiliate link).