Sitting on the tip of Tunisia on the Mediterranean, Tunis is a city alive with history and culture. The alleyways of the Medina are home to restaurants housed in former palaces, while French-style modern cuisine and seafood can be enjoyed on the city’s coastline. We have selected 10 traditional and not so traditional restaurants in Tunis that capture the flavour of this North African city.
A short walk away from Government Square along Kasbah street, Dar Slah is ideally located in the heart of the historical Medina. Dar Salah’s premises are in one of the Medina’s biggest former dwellings dating back some four centuries. Its owner showcases a sense of pride in the richness of Tunisian culture, ready to serve a sumptuous lunch brimming over with tradition. All dishes are prepared with fresh, seasonal produce and include the chef’s ‘black couscous’, a new take on the traditional dish cooked in squid ink. A date-filled maroudh and a mint tea are a perfect way to stretch this traditional experience to a sweet-filled end.
Dar Slah, 145, Rue de la Kasbah, La Medina, Tunis +216 71 26 10 26
In days gone by Fondouk El Attarine was a caravanserai where travelling salesmen used to station their caravans and beasts in order to rest after a long day’s journeying. Today, this magnificent bright edifice houses a luxury souk selling artisan jewelry, carpets and other handicrafts together with an elegant restaurant set in the fondouk’s luminous square patio. Today’s travellers can restore their energy with a healthy selection of typical Tunisian dishes including fresh mixed salads, fish tajines and pomegranate desserts. Far from its original purpose as an inn for slumber, Fondouk comes alive in the evening with local ceremonies and traditional music.
Fondouk El Attarine, 9 bis souk el attarine, Tunis +216 71 322 244
Situated on the banks of Lake Tunis, La Bô M carries a breath of fresh Tunisian air. Run by young Lyon-trained female chef Malek Laabidi, La Bô M proposes innovative cuisine based on high quality seasonal produce. Malek Laabidi likes to handpick her ingredients from the various local markets, focusing especially on vegetables, fruit or fish that will surprise her clients with a twist to otherwise traditional cuisine. The interior of La Bô M is simple, spilling out onto a sunlit terrace enclosed with marble archways, all reflecting the simple but enlightened cuisine of the talented Ms. Laabidi.
La Bô M, Avenue principale, Tunis +216 27 951 777
Salvaged from a ravaging fire, El Ali is the result of a transformation from a burned down residential building to a venue where culture and gastronomy live in harmony. El Ali’s restaurant, serving typical Tunisian dishes, is housed in a covered courtyard with light pouring through the windows bordering the high roof. A literary café on the upper level of the building is a relaxing place for enjoying a book and soaking up the culture of Tunisia. This level leads up to a roof terrace with superb harmonious views looking over historical Medina with its mosques on one side and the Saint Vincent de Paul cathedral on the other.
El Ali, 45 bis, rue Jemaâ Zitouna, Tunis +216 71 32 19 27
Dar El Jeld is a veritable museum of beautiful tiled walls, ornate wrought iron railings and a fine collection of Ottoman carpets rolled out across the floors. All echoing the regal ambience of the original 18th century mansion, which was transformed into a restaurant in 1987. Elegant tables await some of the best traditional food in Tunis, including the customary bricks and a host of other copious hors d’oeuvres, succulent grilled kebabs, whole grilled fish, and fish or lamb couscous. All food is accompanied by the sound of time-honoured music enhancing the authentic ambiance of old Tunis. Situated near the Kasbah and among the souks, Dar El Jeld also sells leather babouches, organic Tunisian oil and many other folkloric types of merchandise.
Dar El Jeld, 5 Dar El Jeld street, Tunis +216 71 560 916
Located in the cliff top coastal village of Sidi Bou Saïd, about twenty kilometers from Tunis, Dar Zarrouk blends in with the typical dazzling white villas and their blue shutters. Its terrace is an ideal spot for enjoying magnificent views of the crystal blue Mediterranean. The sophisticated interior also looks out on the Gulf of Tunis, and with its marble floors and ornately tiled walls is a place to relish a moment of calm. Likewise, the high rating ‘three fork’ food at Dar Zarrouk is a relishing experience offering a deluxe menu of freshly caught fish and imaginative variations on traditional dishes.
Dar Zarrouk, Rue Hédi Zarrouk, Sidi-Bou-Saïd +216 71 740 591
It is not easy to find Essaraya, a sumptuous restored palace hidden in the Medina’s labyrinth of souks. So it is opportune to come across a man clad in traditional attire and bearing a lantern waiting to guide clients to the restaurant’s entrance that opens into an enchanting fairytale décor. Essaraya is where dignitaries of old used to be closely waited on. Today the waiting staff follows in the footsteps of their forefathers never missing a detail as they serve guests in the various dining areas that range from open rooms to private alcoves. The menu covers the classics, including marka h’loua, sweet and sour lamb gently cooked with prunes, chestnuts, raisins and almonds, or kabkabou, a tasty fish stew. An interesting selection of desserts should not be missed before being guided back to present day Tunis.
Essaraya, 6 Rue Ben Mahmoud Boulevard Bab Menara, Tunis +216 71 560 310
Neighbouring the beautiful Art Nouveau architecture of the national theatre, Le Grand Café du Théâtre spreads across the wide pavement of the famous Avenue Habib Bourguiba, justifiably likened to the Parisian Champs-Elysées. Locals gather under the parasols of the vast terrace to drink coffee while observing the hustle and bustle of the busy avenue, or to sample the generous choice of European style snacks including freshly made pasta, pancakes, pizzas and sandwiches. The menu also proposes a selection of brasserie style food, another reminder of the influence of French culture that is omnipresent on this European side of Tunis.
Le Grand Café du Théâtre, Avenue Habib Bourguiba, Tunis +216 71 334 186
For an authentic taste of Italy in Tunis, it is worth leaving the city centre for the residential suburb of Ennasr. Here all that is Italian can be found on a plate. From the chef’s succulent pizza cooked on the premises and garnished with Italian mozzarella to a variety of pasta dishes and risottos. The amazing fresh fruit desserts make the trip all the more worthwhile along with the friendly welcome from the staff. La Tavolata’s lighthearted ambiance is reflected in the humoristic paintings adorning the walls including a new take on Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
La Tavolata, Avenue Hedi Nouira, Ennasr II, Tunis +216 71 829 202
Far from being a chain, Au Bon Vieux Temps boasts two of the best restaurants in Tunis situated in the coastal resorts of La Marsa and Sidi Bou Saïd. The branch in La Marsa can be reached by rail and is conveniently situated opposite the station. Italian cuisine is a focus of the menu, complemented by fresh fish and excellent steak. The Sidi Bou Saïd branch lies on a cobbled street in the heights of Tunis. Its claim to fame is the passage of the renowned French author André Gide who resided here during the Second World War. The menu proposes a mouthwatering blend of authentic Tunisian and modern French cuisine reflecting a long history of two cultures.
Au Bon Vieux Temps (La Marsa), 1 rue Abou Kacem Chebbi, Tunis +216 71 774 322