Odayata is situated on a busy main road heading east out of the city centre. The immediate area is mostly apartment blocks and hence the clientele is very much local. Decor-wise all the Mehana stereotypes are in place with plenty of natural wood and stone, the usual antique-style knicks-knacks and woven red tablecloths. Background music is traditional Bulgarian rather than the kitschy tourist stuff. Service is professional, swift and friendly (even though our waiter shook his head everytime we asked for something) and the menu covers a comprehensive selection of Bulgarian specialities.
This is a big restaurant, about 120 seats indoors and the same again on its terrrace, which lends itself equally to group dining and more intimate repasts. The tables are set well apart and the larger groups add to the overall ambience rather than taking it over.
Favorite Dish: With my Bulgarian friend, Marina, to guide me through the menu I could opt for a few adventurous dishes - not that I wouldn't anyway but at least with my personal translator I knew what I was going to get!
For starters we opted to share Mletna Salata and Meze za Apostoli along with the homemade Porlenka flat bread. The Mletna salad was balls of sieved yoghurt with cucumber, hazelnuts and dill, the concentrated yoghurt developing a savoury, almost cheese-like, flavour.
The Apostole's meze was a hot starter of tripe and mushrooms cooked in a very garlicky butter and finished under the grill with yellow cheese. The tripe dish was definitely one for tripe lovers, the meat cooked to almost exactly the same texture as the mushrooms, allowing just enough bite to get the flavour before being despatched, oyster-style, down the gullet.
For mains we both opted for pork dishes - in my case the Svinska Vratna Porzhola (Collar of Pork Steak). Marina informed me that this is the most popular choice with Bulgarian men and when the slab of succulently-grilled flesh arrived I could understand why. She herself opted for a Guyvech (pot-dish) of pork with tomatoes and other bits which, whilst tasty, she thought was a little over-seasoned, but not badly so.
We were now pretty stuffed but the temptation of the chococlate biscuit cake proved too strong and so that, along with excellent coffee, completed the repast.
Washed down with an excellently fruity (with hints of licorice, horse-sweat etc) Mavrud this certainly was going the whole hog and the 50 leva bill (including tip) more than reasonable.
UPDATE Jan 2010 - Le Baron is now closed but the site has been taken over by the Pub Alba people and so there's still a great selection of salads available.
Le Baron is a relatively new addition to the Varna dining out scene, having opened just before Chistmas in 2008. From what I gather Le Baron is part of a small chain of Bulgarian restaurants styling themselves as "Salad Saloons" with obviously the main offering being salads!
The Varna restaurant, with its brightly modern minimalism, is obviously targetted at the younger trendy crowd which it does seem to succeed in attracting, but even for this old untrendy I had a very pleasant light evening meal here on a quiet Sunday evening.
The menu consists of a choice of about 40 salads, in main course or side dish portions, with both traditional and exotic offerings plus pizza and pasta dishes. Service was a little hit nor miss though with one of the waitresses being bright and bubbly but totally unattentive whilst the other was attentive but very reserved - however between them they were getting the job done.
Favorite Dish: The menu was written in Bulgarian (tho' I believe there are plans to have an English version) and so it was a case of deciphering the salad's names and keeping my fingers crossed regarding what the ingredients would be. I opted for the Salata Arabiya which turned out to be some sort of fish with cashew nuts, chick peas, mozarrela cheese as well as the usual salady stuff. Why it was called Arabiya, I'm not sure (maybe on account of the chick peas?) but it was tasty, with a good dressing and for the large portion at 6.90 leva reasonably, if not particularly cheaply, priced.
Not the sort of place I would make a point in going back to but it seems to work for its target market.
One thing I never did find here in Bulgaria was anything approximating a proper drinking pub, but I did try! Pub Alba is nevertheless an impressive edifice comprising 4 floors and a large beer garden and does offer a huge selection of beers as well as an equally extensive food menu.
I only visited once as part of my pub search and whilst I found it to be much more of an eating establishment rather than a pub I did enjoy a very pleasant light lunch washed down by a couple of bottles of the local Varna beer. The place wasn't particlarly busy on a damp midweek lunchtime and the upper floors and garden weren't in use but the ground floor "beerhouse" was buzzy, the service prompt and friendly and the 6 Leva bill more than reasonable.
Favorite Dish: If I remember correctly the menu was in Bulgarian but I found the salad section and opted for the Polska Salata (whose ingredient list was beyond my limited language capability) which turned out to be a deliciously fresh and generous salad with eggs, beans, tomato, cucumber and a few other salady bits, topped liberally with cured pork. What made it stand out from the crowd though was the excellent yoghurt dressing which really lifted the dish into the realms of delish!
Yep, an excellent lunch and excellent price tag!!
UPDATE Jan 2010 - For an excellent Winter lunch try the Bai Ganbo. It's a sort of savoury baked rice pudding with liver, mushrooms and ham - cheap (3.80 leva) and filling!
Whilst this is actually a "Turkish" restaurant it does have a definite Bulgarian slant to its menu and decor (and of course Bulgarian cuisine does have many Turkish influences).
This became my favourite restaurant for a multitude of reasons - the main one being that even from my first visit I always received a warm welcome from the very pretty little raven-haired waitress who ran the front of house. In fact all the staff here I found particularly friendly and my shy "Dobar Vechers" and "Blagodaryas" were always responded to with smiles.
The extensive menu centres around the expertly cooked kebaps and meats from the charcoal grill perked up with really tasty little garnishes such as grilled chilli peppers and roasted onions. Main courses cost on average about 5 leva and come complete with rice and salad garnish. In addition to the grill menu Orient offers a wide range of other dishes including traditional Bulgarian specialities such as Shopska Salata (and its baked variation "Sirene po Shopski), Stuffed Peppers, Tarator Soup and Gyuvech.
As well as the excellent food the restaurant also has a wide selection of drinks, alcoholic and otherwise and the wine list features some impressively inexpensive local wines.
This place is deservedly busy with a mostly local trade and has a pleasantly buzzy laid-back atmosphere enhanced by the blend of Turkish and Bulgarian decor.
As a quick footnote - the restaurant also does home deliveries and takeaways.
Favorite Dish: I ate here a total of four times during my first two-week visit to Varna and stuck pretty much to the grill menu, trying variously the Adana Kebap, the Lamb Shish Kebap, the Mixed Grill and the Kiofteta and all were equally delish! I also went through the range of salads with my favourite being their Russian Salad (which strangely was translated on the English menu as American Salad). Also on the salad side I tried their very tasty "Assorti" which was almost a meal in itself being a sort of mini meze of roasted aubergine, hummus, tzaziki, roast peppers and a couple of other delicacies.
I think my average bill here was about 12 leva, which usually included a couple of Zagorkas but even when I spashed out and had the mixed grill, the assorti, a bottle of Mavrud and coffee the bill still came to less than 25 leva - Yep definitely first on my list when I revisit, just to say "Dobar Vecher" again!
This is another typically Bulgarian fast-food takeaway place specialising in batch-cooked baked goods. It's cheap, cheerful and whilst not as busy as the "Specialities from Plevden" place in the main square it does pretty much the same sort of stuff.
Favorite Dish: Being breakfast time Marina recommended the banitza and delish it was too. I wasn't too keen on the "Anet" drink though - a sort of cold, overly sweet, "Horlicks". Next time I'll stick to coffee from the machine!
Varna is a very cosmopolitan city for eating out but I was surprised to find that it has at least eight Chinese restaurants within the city limits. Doing a little research I find that Chinese immigration to Bulgaria is a relatively recent phenomenon, only taking off following the improvement in Bulgarian-Chinese trade and diplomatic relations after the collapse of Communism.
Recent estimates put the number of Chinese living in Bulgaria at about 10,000 (and growing), a significant majority of which are employed in the restaurant trade.
Here at Tshou we were introduced to one of the most recent immigrants - our excellent, although painfully shy, waitress.
This is a good restaurant. Service throughout was friendly and attentive. The decor is bright and Oriental without being too gaudy and the place had a pleasant local buzz even on a quietish Sunday evening.
Favorite Dish: We started with a fruity rakia, accompanied by what Marina rates as the best cabbage salad in town - the subtle Chinese seasoning raising it to its deserved ranking. For mains Marina opted for the Crispy Duck whilst I ordered Shanghai King Prawns.
The duck turned out to be a WHOLE duck, carved expertly off its bones. Its skin was aromatically-crisped to perfection, the flesh succulent and the rich mushroom and vegetable sauce an ideal match. My prawns too came as a huge plateful, big and juicy in a light soy sauce with a pleasant hint of spice. It was only once everything had arrived that I noticed that most of our fellow diners were in fact sharing single dishes - there was enough food in front of us to have fed four.
Whilst the 35 Leva bill was a little more expensive than most Varna restaurants it was still good value for money considering the generosity of the portions - it was a good job we'd had an energetic afternoon hiking through the Zlatni Piasatsi Nature Park up to the Aladzha Monastery!
Having been studiously ignored for twenty-odd minutes in the restaurant next door the welcoming and prompt service here was an appetizer in its own right. Our bubbly and attentive waitress was quite happy to take our order piecemeal as Marina had already decided what she was after whilst I wanted to take a bit of time deciphering the menu.
The menu wasn't quite as extensive as that of next door, veering more towards being a snack menu but still with plenty of tasty-sounding options. The terrace, as the late afternoon November sun was setting, wasn't particularly busy but still had a pleasant local buzz AND the tables were clean.
Favorite Dish: Marina had already decided that she fancied having Safrid (Scadfish) and so that was ordered first, along with cheesy chips and (of course) beer. I finally decided on the mussels, which the waitress informed me would come deep-fried in batter. Everything was fresh and tasty, the scad meatily-fleshed. We added a green salad as the healthy bit amongst all the ffried stuff and with a couple of slices of bread the whole repast came to just over 25 Leva - hence the 5 Leva tip!
Yep - give the fancy place next door a miss and head straight for Coral!
This is an attractive-looking restaurant on the seafront at Fisherman's Beach. The menu certainly reads well with all its fishy and shellfishy options including some tasty-sounding seafood platters.
It's a good job the menu read well as we spent twenty minutes with it trying to catch the waiter's attention. After perfunctorily wiping down our table he had resolutely ignored us, despite passing at least four times. It wasn't even as if he was particularly busy as the terrace section he was serving was almost empty.
Eventually we gave up and went next door to Coral where we got excellent service and a tasty early-evening dinner (and the server there got a 5 Leva tip!).
...the menu is full of sand!
This is a typical beach cafe/bar with its outdoor wooden benches sitting on a deck jutting out towards the waterfront. The menu is simple, featuring a range of salads and fast-foody stuff, and service, certainly on a quietish, though sunny, November afternoon, friendly and swift.
Favorite Dish: I'd been taking advantage of an unseasonably glorious November afternoon to have a stroll along the seafront and this place seemed an ideal pit-stop for a refreshing beer. The beer hit the spot and despite having already eaten lunch the aroma of the frying whitebait was too tempting to pass up. So "Edna Tsa-tsa Molya" it was. This arrived as a huge plateful, more than enough for two - fortunately there were a couple of stray cats hanging around to assist!
If you're looking for a cheap, healthy and wholesome bite to eat in the city centre then visit one of these places. Trops Kushta is a bit like a factory canteen with all the dishes presented in either heated or refrigerated displays. There's quite a dazzling array of Bulgarian fare on offer, all of which is appetizingly laid out, with soups, salads, main courses and desserts plus all the other bits and bobs you could think of.
Prices depend on what you order - a simple soup lunch will cost about 3-4 Leva.
Dishes are freshly prepared in batches and topped up throughout the day as required. For the really budget conscious they start discounting by 30% sometime in the evening as they start to wind down for the day.
Favorite Dish: A simple sausage and pea soup with a bread roll was exactly what I was after, with plenty of meat in a natural broth. Delish it was too. I also tried a little nibble of Marina's pumpkin pie which was tooth-rottingly sweet but also tasty.