Places to Eat in Tbilisi Nobody’s Told You About
By Tamar Lortkipanidze
I’ve wanted to go to Georgia for a very long time. Here’s hoping we all get to use this guide by Tamar Lortkipanidze one day. — Katherine
Places to Eat in Tbilisi Nobody’s Told You About
by Tamar Lortkipanidze
Anthony Bourdain covered my hometown Tbilisi in season seven of “Parts Unknown.” Back in 2016, it was the highest-profile coverage Georgia’s capital had gotten among international epicures, and I waited for the episode with bated breath. Finally, someone would be unearthing the hidden gems of Georgian cuisine for everyone to see.
Instead, most of the episode was devoted to covering places already overhyped. I still remember feeling profound disappointment after watching it. Is this truly the best they could do, I wondered.
I’ve been watching this become a trend for years now. The same two dozen — admittedly great — restaurants in various combinations, popping up on every list, be it from travel bloggers or major publications, making the local Tbilisi food scene feel smaller and not nearly as exciting as it really is.
Think of this list as somewhat of a rebellion. An attempt to highlight establishments that are well-loved by the locals but rarely get a chance to internationally shine.
Midi Modi: A small super-casual pub located within walking distance of Freedom Square, Tbilisi’s city center. You'd expect it to be a tourist trap, but it serves some of the best traditional Georgian food around. The menu is short and to the point, and its star (and what I initially visited Midi Modi for) is khinkali. The chef makes the dumplings in a way traditional to the mountain regions these dumplings are originally from: they're small, with rough, chewy dough and a juicy filling made with beef only, instead of a pork-and-beef mix. As is expected from any self-respecting place serving good khinkali, there's also a nice selection of beer and wine, both in bottles and on tap. Khinkali is traditionally paired with beer, so while I'm always down for a good glass of red dry Saperavi wine, Midi Modi's lager is my usual choice of drink here.
Makashvilebtan: The owners describe this as a “family restaurant,” by which they mean it is located in a renovated family home furnished with historical pieces. It’s quite elegant; you might feel like a Georgian noble from centuries past. The menu reflects the vibe. It's comprised of popular traditional dishes, but most have been given an extra touch to create a memorable — if a bit unorthodox — flavor experience. Try tskhara-tskhara, a hearty beef stew garnished with mertsvi (a cheesy potato mash from the mountain region Svaneti, somewhat similar to French aligot), roasted pork with coriander pesto and baked garlic, or oyster mushrooms with lobio (kidney bean) puree. You're unlikely to find similar takes on these dishes anywhere else.
Barbatus: The menu here is designed around a variety of ingredients, not dishes. It’s simple, with the fish and seafood mostly grilled or fried, but the range makes it interesting. Try garfish, horse mackerel, palamida, or crunchy red mullet. Entries like fish khinkali in tom yam sauce and catfish fillets in a coriander-vinegar sauce add a bit of intrigue. Barbatus’ wine selection is nothing to sneeze at, either. Try uniquely-colored Kesane from George Grey Winery. It comes in two versions: blue sweet and green semi-sweet.
Puri Guliani: Puri guliani translates to “bread with filling.” The menu, accordingly, revolves around pastries above all else. Like most locals, I come here to enjoy Adjarian khachapuri — the famous gooey cheese-filled dough boat garnished with egg and butter — arguably the best in the country, at least outside Batumi. The stylish cafe-bakery offers one of the best brunch menus in the city, an assortment of eggs Benedict, scrambles, and sunny-side ups with freshly baked bread, along with croissants, crepes, and ponchiks (deep-fried dough with sweet filling). I also greatly enjoy their seasonal dessert menu. Look out for pomegranate-shaped pomegranate cake in summer, pumpkin nadughi (Georgian soft cheese) cheesecake in autumn, and gozinaki (walnut-honey brittle) chocolate cake in winter. They also roast their own coffee and serve a mean latte, though be careful with espresso and Americano: the blonde roast is quite sour and can be hard to enjoy for non-connoisseurs.
Restaurant Archive: Michelin Inspectors don't operate in Georgia, but if they did, Archive would be their top choice. The brainchild of chef Levan Kobiashvili, it sets itself apart with a selection of signature dishes that uniquely tweak traditional flavors. Like beets served with tkemali (sour plum) in the form of sorbet instead of classic sauce, roasted duck with bakmaz (thick mulberry sauce), or trout on sinori (sheets of thin dough in a thick creamy sauce). Archive is located in the vaulted basement of Karvasla, an XVII century caravanserai (inn) that houses an event hall, an exhibition space, and the Tbilisi Wine Museum. Unsurprisingly, Archive's wine card is curated by some of the best sommeliers in the city who know just what to pair with each dish.
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