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Throughout our travels we have had many places that have surprised us but none so much as Sofia. Maybe it was because we had absolutely no expectations for the city as it was a spur of the moment decision to visit or perhaps (and more likely) it was simply because we discovered an absolutely amazing and innovative culinary scene. Sofia is a perfect city for all of you who want to discover a burgeoning culinary and cocktail scene and don’t want to break the bank. So if you never thought about it, maybe you should considering a visit to the capital of Bulgaria and eat local in Sofia!
Eat Local in Sofia
The Sushi Bar
Denkoglu St 18
Yes, I realize this is not traditional but…. It was freaking delicious and all the sushi was hand rolled. We didn’t expect to find such well made sushi in Bulgaria but were we happy we did. After a few months of eating relatively similar foods (the cuisine in the Balkans is very similar across all the countries) it was refreshing to come upon a local sushi joint which was economical, delicious and made Alex smile in delight, I kid you not. Also if you are not a huge sushi fan, like me, they have a wonderful selection of other Japanese dishes including an excellent udon soup! Kampai and keep the sake coming!
The Happy Pig
Boulevard “Tsarigradsko Shose” 17
Oh The Happy Pig, I can’t describe how happy you made me. This was the very first restaurant that we discovered and it is a gem. Things started off interesting as we arrived at 5pm for a late lunch… And we were the only people there. Not that surprisingly really but we were very happy to see a well stocked bar and a great menu which they were still serving! We settled in for a chat with the bartender, some innovative cocktails featuring the ubiquitous Bulgarian rakia, as we perused the menu. The selection and innovation of the dishes was amazing; Alex was especially impressed by his duck testicle salad (yes, you read that right..). Plus we learned from the owner, who was there speaking to one of his suppliers, that all the ingredients for the restaurant come from no farther than 50 miles outside of Sofia. If that isn’t eating local, I don’t know what is!
Our meal at The Happy Pig was delicious, including the cheese plate featuring the local truffle cheese the supplier had just dropped off, and so we made plans to end our time in Sofia with a meal at The Happy Pig too. It was a perfect way to bookend our time in the city. And if you haven’t had Bulgarian fried chicken then you need to!
The Little Things
ul. “Tsar Shishman” 37
The Little Things is a charming restaurant located inside a converted home on the super chic Tsar Shishman street. You will find many restaurants in Sofia located in converted homes and I love the intimacy of it. Plus they are so instagrammable! The Little Things has modern menu filled with fresh produce and unique seasonal dishes. There is something for everyone here and you won’t walk away hungry. The house wine was delightful and it went perfect with the thick chocolate cake we finished our meal off with!
ul. “Tsar Shishman” 12
Lavanda is another house that has been converted into a restaurant. Downstairs is a separate bar (see below!) and upstairs is the restaurant. We were in seated in the cute lavender room with big windows to the street. Lavanda’s menu comprises of international and modern bulgarian dishes which rotate seasonally. We love the focus on seasonal and local ingredients all over Sofia! The wine list is also international but includes a wide variety of Bulgarian wine including the delicious Dragomir Sarva Rose made from the traditional Bulgarian grapes Rubin and Mavrud and some Cabernet Sauvignon. And then after your meal you can head down to the bar, One More Bar, and finish off an amazing meal with a delicious craft cocktail 🙂
Balkan Bites was one of our favorite experiences in Sofia and it is very unique to the city as it is the only free food tour in the world (that we and they know of anyways…). The food tour takes you to several different spots in the city and you are able to try a mixture of traditional and more modern cuisine with a focus on local and sustainable ingredients and dishes. The tour was an absolute blast and we loved getting a local’s perspective on the changing and growing dynamic culinary scene in Sofia!
ul. “Tsar Shishman”, 1000
Supa Star was actually one of the stops on our Balkan Bites tour but we loved our taste of it so much we decided to head back! We were looking for just a nice relaxing night in after all of our travel and eating and drinking… So nice healthy soup it was! They change their soups regularly and also sometimes serve the traditional tarator cold soup, which is comprised of Bulgarian yogurt, cucumber and dill. This dish would be perfect in the summer! Supa Star is quite popular during the lunch hour with local office workers so it can get crowded but if it’s popular with locals than its good with me!
Pizzeria Don Vito
ul. Geo Milev 37А
Located near Sofia University, Pizzeria Don Vito is THE place to go if you want to eat until your stomach explodes. It is also a chance to try some traditional Bulgarian dishes including a GIANT plate of baked mushrooms with cheese and the ubiquitous yogurt and almost the same thing but with potatoes. Add two pizzas PLUS beer and you have the recipe for a food coma. If you want to eat a lot and cheaply then this is your place!
Drink Local in Sofia
One More Bar
12 Tsar Shishman St
One More Bar is delightful. They have an adorable patio outside for sunny days and their interior is decked out in cheerful yellow and blue strips with magenta stools and banquettes. They have a seasonal cocktail menu which unfortunately was not translated into English while we were there, but then again it’s really not that big of a deal. We decided to go with some classics regardless and we both had a spectacular negroni (for me) and a martini for Alex. We only popped in during the afternoon but in the evenings they sometimes will have live jazz music 🙂
ul. “Tsar Samuil” 45
Did you know Bulgaria makes wine? And that it is really delicious? Well, regardless if you love wine you should check out Grape Central. They have a ridiculous selection of Bulgarian wines and are extremely knowledgeable both about local grape varietals and international wines. They also have a small selection of delicious dishes from some of the best homemade tagliatelle with a ragout and black truffles I’ve ever had plus we had the chance to try some homemade sausages as well from local pigs AND the owner’s grandmother’s Ljutenica sauce (a mixture of peppers, carrots, eggplant, onion and tomato) with some fresh rye bread and cheese. I am not sure there is a better accompaniment for red wine than those three dishes. Honestly, this may be one of my favorite wine bars in the world and I am sad we were only able to go once.
bul. Vitosha 32
Memento Cafe is a perfect cafe, night or day. During the day they make some of the best cappuccinos we had in Sofia, and possibly all of the Balkans, and at night you can get some really delicious cocktails here. The decor is outstanding as well. We loved it so much, we tried to have coffee here every morning (tried being the key word, as I have a problem with mornings…). It was the perfect location to people watch and soak in the late October sun.
Le Salon Aux Fleurs
ul. “Oborishte” 37
This was our other coffee shop stop in Sofia. This cute little cafe was located quite close to our AirBnB and is located in the posh Oborishte neighborhood. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants which run along Oborishte, the main road, including this sweet little cafe. If you are craving coffee and something sweet (especially in cake form) this is the cafe for you!
bul. “Yanko Sakazov” 17
Who knew communism decor could be so cool?? Apparently the guys behind Bar Sputnik, a crazy cool bar decorated with communist area space emblems and neon lights. This seriously cool bar is located across the street from Park Zaimov and will blow you away and not just because of the decor. The bartenders have some serious skills here and I think the best and innovative cocktails we had in Sofia were served here. I mean, my drink was served in a golden PINEAPPLE!! I wanted to become Spongebob and live in it, it was that good.
Each cocktail here had its own crazy cool presentation and why oh why did we wait till the last day to come here?? If communism was like this bar maybe the world would have been a better place….. Or we all just like retro space decor perfectly melded with modern design. I think that might be it. Can I please be transported to Sputnik now??
Stay Local in Sofia
We don’t usually highlight where we stay but our Airbnb in Sofia was awesome. We had an attic studio apartment but what really set it apart was Wili, our host. He was incredibly friendly and welcoming and even invited us down for an impromptu rakia party. We got to hang out with him and his friends and get to know some locals in Sofia. It was really amazing to be able to converse with them and compare their experiences as Sofia and Bulgaria have moved from a one party Socialist State to a growing democracy and an international city. Wili was able to tell us his personal experiences growing up in Sofia and really help us understand this dynamic city. Thank you Wili for an amazing stay!
*And if you haven’t tried out AirBnB before, check out this deal to save $20 on your first booking!*
Sofia is really an amazing city and has a growing, diverse and modern culinary and cocktail scene. We were only there for a week and that wasn’t enough time. In the future Alex and I would love to base ourselves in Sofia for at least three months, that is how much we fell in love with this city. Do yourself a favor and visit and eat local in Sofia. We promise you won’t regret it!
Heading to Sofia, Bulgaria soon? Don’t forget to buy travel insurance! Sure you may not use it but its always good to have. We recommend World Nomads which we have been using for years and have always made us feel secure as we travel around the world!
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