The independent Republic of Tajikistan may be young, but the Tajik civilization is 3,000 years old. Tajikistan is unique in that the country’s culture takes influences from the Sassanid Empire, ancient Chinese civilizations, Arab civilizations and the USSR. Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital city, offers a wealth of beautiful architecture from its historic past, which complements any visit to one of the following 10 cultural restaurants.
Al Sham features some of the very best Arabic and Middle Eastern cuisine in the capital. The interior features wood-crafted walls with traditional Arabic characters etched into them, while the exterior offers outdoor terrace seating. Arabic music plays in the background while diners enjoy a variety of meze, grilled meats and kebabs. Belly dancers often provide entertainment in the evenings. Diners here can expect to experience true Arab hospitality, from the service to the cuisine.
Fresh breads and outdoor seating at Sim-Sim | Photo by Becca Gomby
Known as a Dushanbe classic, Chaykhona Rokhat was constructed in 1958, when Tajikistan was still a republic of the Soviet Union. The restaurant is a combination of Soviet-era and grand-Persian style influences, and is a favorite spot for drinking tea, a locally brewed Sim-sim beer, or indulging in some local cuisine. The tea-house features a two-story edifice, and exquisitely painted ceilings and walls.
Sim-Sim is the locally brewed Tajik beer and the brewery’s restaurant is located just outside the main drag of the city center. Traditional dishes are served here including plov or osh – pilaf rice – with shredded carrots or turnips and pieces of meat, usually lamb or beef. Diners can enjoy Sim-Sim and smoke hookah on the patio overlooking Varzob River while listening to local tunes.
A large restaurant, popular among local couples hosting wedding parties, Merve features Tajik and Turkish dishes. Osh is served here, with cubed meat and finely chopped carrots or turnips, as well as an assortment of small spreads, dried fruits, nuts, and traditional flatbreads.
Popular among both expats and locals, Tiflis offers some of the best Georgian food in the area and what some say is the best Georgian food outside of Georgia. Tiflis features traditionally prepared khachipuri (cheese bread), as well as an assortment of various vegetarian dishes. Eggplant also features prominently on the menu and the seasoning to these dishes is beautifully done.
Kuhsor is located inside the beautiful Serena Hotel in the heart of downtown Dushanbe. A dinner venue only, Kuhsor’s rooftop location makes it one of the most scenic places to dine in the city. The restaurant showcases beautiful views of mountain ranges beyond Dushanbe’s center and affords diners the opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of their Central Asian location. Diners come here for the romantic evening view and sophisticated vibe.
Bar Vostochny boasts a prime location on the city’s main street, Rudaki Avenue. The restaurant is known for its tasty shashlyk, skewered chunks of mutton grilled over charcoal, served with raw onion slices, and its lipioshka, round unleavened bread. The proximity of the restaurant to Rudaki Park is also a nice feature. After dining on local cuisine, diners can meander across the street to the park and take in the views in the city’s local gardens.
Steak House is a popular restaurant in downtown Dushanbe, and serves classic steaks, as well as local meat dishes. The menu also features sushi, which is one of their most popular options. The restaurant hosts live bands six nights a week, and is a great location to catch local artists. Steak House is great for visitors looking for a more vibrant and young scene in the city.
Ukrainian Traktir is popular spot in the city for Ukrainian fare. The menu is in both Russian and English and features plenty of dishes. The restaurant itself is quaint and resembles an old tavern; the interior is decorated with paintings, antique guns, deer antlers, engraved tablets, cooking utensils and decorative bowls, which add to the homey feel of the restaurant. Expect straightforward Ukrainian fare that is cooked to perfection. The Ukrainian borscht comes highly recommended.
Kish-Mish restaurant is another local establishment that features Tajik cuisine, traditional decor, and an overall enjoyable dining experience. The restaurant is adorned with brightly colored tapestries, and the ceilings and walls are embellished with wooden cutouts. The restaurant is unassuming from the outside, but comfortable and truly inviting upon entering. The menu features traditional Tajik teas, osh dishes, as well as hookah selections. This is a great neighborhood restaurant for a traditional meal or quiet business lunch.