Bargain gastronomic experiences pepper the walled city of Dubrovnik. Chef and food guide Richard Gruica gives the lowdown on the best cheap eats to savour in the Pearl of the Adriatic.
Dubrovnik draws crowds every year as a Game of Thrones mecca, while history buffs are enthralled by its historic walls and cobblestone streets. Yet its overlooked gastronomic scene lives up to the hype as well — and it’s not only budget-busting fine dining either. The curious and adventurous willing to leave the Old Town are particularly rewarded in terms of price and quality.
Richard Gruica runs Sights & Bites, a daily food and wine walking tour of Dubrovnik’s Old Town | Courtesy of Richard Gruica
Croatian-American chef Richard Gruica plied his trade in various kitchens and now leads intrepid diners on Sights & Bites, a daily food and wine walking tour of Dubrovnik’s Old Town, as well as running Captivating Croatia, which offers food tours around the country.
Although Gruica admits that “‘cheap’ and Dubrovnik really don’t go together,” he offers a number of affordable options: from an unassuming eatery serving fresh seafood to a hidden pastry shop selling unique sweet treats.
This little nook of a restaurant shares its name with the local word for a ship’s captain, and aims to serve seafood worthy of such a high-ranking officer. Tucked away within the walls of the Old Town, just off Dubrovnik’s main thoroughfare – the Stradun – Barba brings together traditional Dalmatian cuisine, local know-how and modern techniques. The stylish pine-clad space serves up squid, octopus, shrimp and oysters, and counts Gruica among its fans. “This takeaway spot has some great seafood sandwiches,” Gruica says. “Octopus is their claim to fame.”
Stepping outside the Old Town’s historic walls expands the city’s culinary offerings exponentially. Not least among these offerings is the rustic, peaceful dining experience of Bistro Izvor, which offers Adriatic-Asian fusion fare, from burgers and swordfish to tempura prawns. What’s more, it also boasts a sought-after view of the Ombla River. “This is a lovely spot on the banks of Dubrovnik’s fresh water source,” Gruica says. “Here you can enjoy a meal in a wonderful setting, which is especially nice as an escape from the summer heat.” As a bonus, Bistro Izvor’s location outside the bustling Old Town means fewer crowds.
If you enjoy Dubrovnik’s rich offering of wine and spirits with enough fervour, you might find yourself with a hankering for greasy street food at strange hours. Cezar’s little shack – painted screaming red with a flabbergasted cartoon woman on the side – has long been a late-night haven for local residents, particularly among students at the nearby school of economics. Gruica claims the joint’s dishes will satisfy your after-hours cravings, particularly suggesting Cezar’s kebabs and burgers.
Frequent visitors to Dalmatia’s coast discover a culinary scene awash with konobas (taverns), which offer a fairly uniform menu of grilled fish, mixed meats and vegetables. According to Gruica, spots like Green Garden offer a salve for those who crave originality. You can grab a bite at this eatery if you come at the right time — during the summer tourism bump — and can find it in the north of the city, away from the crowds of the Old Town. The outdoor space, shaded by trees, offers an oasis during the summer to lounge and enjoy Croatian craft beers and a vegetarian gyro. “It’s a welcome alternative to the same stuff that can be found all over,” Gruica enthuses.
Sladoledarna Dubrovnik, right on the main strip, has taken pains to accommodate the local community. Gruica reflects that, while Dubrovnik has quite a few ice cream shops, Sladoledarna has the homespun charm of a neighbourhood institution. “I would be remiss to not mention the lovely ice cream options around the city, with Sladoledarna Dubrovnik being my sentimental favourite.” The family-run operation made a splash by offering regulars and local kids discounts, while Hollywood glitterati — like Owen Wilson and Monica Bellucci — wait in line alongside everyone else and pay full price.
Dubrovnik residents have an affinity for marenda, the light meal sandwiched between breakfast and lunch that’s a signature of the Mediterranean lifestyle. The trick lies in eating just enough to feel somewhat sated, but still have enough room for a full, multi-course lunch. “[Culto] offers a great marenda,” Gruica says. “Or reasonably priced specials catering to the local crowd,” noting its particular popularity among people working in the area and seeking respite during the workday. The clean, modern decor suits a business-like atmosphere without being too stuffy – the kind of place you’ll see a business meeting unfolding over cold cuts and wine or coffee.
The peskarija (fish market) historically served as the heart of Dalmatian coastal life — as much as any church or town square: deals made, romances kindled, rumours spread, amends made and new arguments born – and fish were sold along the way. Lokanda Peskarija keeps that spirit alive — it sits atop Dubrovnik’s old fish market, just outside the city walls. The open-air restaurant looks over the harbour, where local fishermen set sail in small wooden boats to catch lunch. Of course, Gruica recommends eating fish here. “This harbourside restaurant has a couple of stand-out dishes: local baby squid and fried whole baby fish,” he says.
Situated just off a parking lot well away from the Old Town, Mala Truba (Little Trumpet) is a must-visit for anyone looking for unique pastries or a mouthwatering sandwich. Buried well into the guts of a building, it’s easy to miss – but Gruica suggests it’s well worth stumbling upon. “It’s a local bakery and pastry shop making some of the tastiest items in all of Dubrovnik,” he says. “Check out the focaccia of the day and the tasty pastries.”
Gruica laments that Croatia’s coastline offers a rash of pizza places, all serving variations on a theme. In Dubrovnik, he says, “there are a slew of pizzerias offering a welcome break for the wallet.” Gruica chooses Tabasco as his favourite stop for a quick, tasty pizza a short walk from the old city walls of Dubrovnik.