The landlocked nation of Uzbekistan is a land of many ethnicities and exotic multicultural influences, with several of its major cities once lying on the Great Silk Road. This makes for a national character rich in music and cuisine. Here we discover 10 of the best restaurants to experience the diversity of Uzbek gastronomy.
Silk Road Spices is a family-run spice shop in the historical city of Bukhara, one of the oldest cities in Central Asia and an important Silk Road destination. In fact, the Ubaydov family has been in the spice trade for more than 600 years. Conveniently located near the Minaret of Mir-i Arab Madrasa, this spice shop is also home to the delightful Silk Road Tea House. The teahouse is beautifully decorated with antiques that reveal the unique heritage of the area. There is a wide selection of unique ginger and saffron tea blends, as well as cardamom coffee, which can be enjoyed with a range of delicious snacks and dishes that make use of the abundance of spices available. The heady, spice-infused atmosphere and magnificent architecture all add to the spellbinding experience of this teahouse, making it a must-visit during a day of exploring the labyrinthine streets of the old city.
Golubie Kupola, ‘Blue Domes’ in English, is a restaurant in the heart of Tashkent that epitomises luxury. Situated in the environs of a leafy park, this restaurant is gorgeously festooned in chic middle-Eastern and European contemporary design, with marble, mosaics and chandeliers aplenty. The stylish décor is matched by the decidedly modern fusion of Asian, Uzbek and European cuisine on offer. The shaded terrace, complete with tents and a fountain, is the perfect spot for lunch during the summer months. There is also a playground for children, with a child-minder, which makes this restaurant an attractive proposition for families.
Sunduk is Russian for ‘treasure chest’, which perfectly describes this cosy little bistro, a hidden gem tucked away in the lovely embassy neighbourhood of Tashkent. The eclectic look of the interior, a mixture of rustic antiques, art nouveau and modern design, makes it an appealing and unique place to take some respite. The light food on offer also makes a welcome break from the meat-heavy dishes of the Uzbek cuisine, with a tasty selection of vegetarian options such as tomato and cucumber salads and draniki (Belarusian potato pancakes), as well as a variety of pasta, chicken dishes and desserts. What makes Sunduk stand out is the love and attention with which everything is done, from the handwritten menus made with handmade paper, to the care with which the comforting, homemade food is prepared and served.
There are two branches of City Grill in the heart of Tashkent, both of which are decorated in a classy and sophisticated style, with a clean monochrome colour scheme and polished wood floors. As the name suggests, the restaurant specialises in grilled dishes, boasting the best steaks, and some of the best European food, in the city. The wine list also features a superb selection of imported and local drinks. The newer branch on Shahrisabz Street is less cosy than the original, but it does offer two rooms for smoking and non-smoking, as well as a children’s entertainment room and a summer terrace.
This is a bright, quirky and elegantly designed establishment that is also known for offering exquisite culinary treats. From the outside, Marakanda evokes the spirit of Samarkand architecture, whilst the vast interior is somewhat eclectic and creatively designed. Though the restaurant is away from the centre of the city, it is well worth visiting. With live music, a wide range of gourmet cuisine on the menu, including a good selection of local and European dishes, diners are guaranteed a culinary experience they won’t quickly forget.
Anyone searching for a taste of medieval Eastern Europe need look no further. Ariston Park Restaurant is decorated in a charming, olde-worlde style, with exposed woodwork, wheels hanging from walls and ceilings, and draped curtains on the windows. There are two large banquet halls and a VIP room, as well as a playground in the summer, and an outdoor terrace that offers a magical space for al fresco dining in the evening. The restaurant also prides itself on the rich variety of gourmet dishes it creates, ranging from European to Caucasian cuisine, including vegetarian options. Even in such a large restaurant, a cosy experience is guaranteed, especially if you have your meal by the fireplace.
Caravan is Tashkent’s premier theme restaurant, popular with expats and tourists for its accessible and tasty encapsulation of Uzbek cuisine and culture. Local specialties are all present and correct on the extensive menu, including the national dish plov, a mixture of rice, meat, carrots and onions, shashlik kebab and samsa. Not only is Caravan renowned for its food, it also features an art gallery, a handicraft shop full of traditional knick-knacks, and fascinating local artefacts on the walls. To round off the Uzbek experience, the restaurant also hosts live jazz performances, local folk music and cultural events. Booking ahead is recommended if you want to sit in the courtyard, especially at weekends.
Monaco is a decadent and uber-cool establishment that takes its inspiration from the tiny principality of the same name. Serving a fusion of Mediterranean, Japanese and Indian food, Monaco oozes glamour and style, and attracts a trendy class of clientele. The restaurant is strikingly luxe with a peaceful ambience, whilst the Euro-chic lounge area features a dance floor, karaoke and hookah facilities. Even if this level of fabulousness is not quite your style, the restaurant serves some of the tastiest and most aesthetically appealing sushi and European gastronomy in the city.
Another restaurant from the Caravan umbrella group, 12 Chairs is a charismatic and loving homage to Ostap Bender, the hero of The Twelve Chairs, the well-known novel by Soviet authors Ilya Ilf and Yevgeni Pterov. The simple and stylish décor certainly evokes the bourgeoisie charm and spirit of the 1920s era, as does the live band that plays in the evenings. The menu consists of a mixture of Russian, Ukrainian and Jewish cuisine, including forshmak an Israeli appetiser made of salted herring, butter, spices and vegetables, borsch, and exceptional fish and meat dishes. An evening at 12 Chairs will certainly not disappoint, especially for lovers of Russian literature.
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Staraya Arba is located in the European quarter of Samarkand, Uzbekistan’s second largest city and the historical halfway point of the Silk Road. Once known as Old Arba, the restaurant is attached to the Hotel Arba and is close to significant historical sites such as the Shah-i-Zinda and University Boulevard. With two dining halls and several private rooms, Staraya Arba offers a relaxing and bright environment for a meal. The décor is accented with picturesque traditional touches, whilst the VIP rooms feature trestle beds and aquariums, to add to the sumptuous sense of eastern romance and tranquility. Here, you can enjoy national and European gourmet cuisine, with 30 salads and 30 hot dishes on the menu, including restaurant’s signature dish bedona (stuffed quails).