The gastronomic scene in Istria ranges from earthy tavernas set high in the misty Učka Mountains, to bona fide agri-tourist bistros and chic fine-dining establishments, constituting some of the best restaurants in the region. The cuisine ranges from Italian pastas, wood fired pizzas, earthy Croatian cattle meats, oodles of award winning Brtonigla wines and more truffles than you can shake a stick at. Here are 10 of the best dining establishments in this Croatian county.
In the heart of Croatia’s most famous truffle country, Zenon Konoba & Enoteka’s range of flavoursome pastas, seafood, meat and cold mezze does well to fuse the Istrian, Italian and greater Mediterranean cooking traditions. The overarching style is an enticing mix of fine-dining and rustic taverna-type eating, with an interior that’s decorated with oodles of fine wines, bucolic Istrian paraphernalia, exposed brick walls and rough wooden tables to match. What’s more, the location is excellent—perched high on the Istrian coastal mountains in the sleepy farming village of Brtonigla, with its charming churches, old roman ruins and pretty red tiled roofs.
Nestled below the looming limestone peaks of the Učka Range, just a stone’s throw from the shimmering white beaches and crystalline Adriatic Sea around Medveja, Konoba Kali offers up earthy, traditional and rustic Liburnian cuisine. House specialties include hand folded ravioli prepared with a plethora of seafood and traditional Istrian beef steak grilled over a real flame. Inside, the exposed wood ceilings, rocky walls and various ornaments create an authentic ‘Old World’ feel, while the on-site terrace offers up sweeping views of the Adriatic and the verdant coastline of northern Istria.
Halfway between rustic Istrian taverna and gourmet fine-dining establishment, this homely restaurant in the extreme northern reaches of the peninsula has long been hailed for its adherence to seasonal changes and dedication to local produce. That means a wealth of authentic Croatian flavors throughout the year, with specials that range from home-cured hams and Adriatic cuttlefish, to Istrian olive oils and—Buščina’s trademark—boškarin ox meat, which only a few kitchens in Istria are licenced to prepare professionally.
Adding a dash of Scandinavian-style modernism to Volosko’s rustic old fishing harbor with its chic, floor-to-ceiling glass sitting area, Le Mandrać is a real hotspot for fine-diners in search of fashionable and creative Mediterranean cuisine in Istria. The menu is the work of Deniz Zembo, who has brought real flair to the traditional southern European kitchen by combining fresh and local food with contemporary presentation and a careful balancing of flavors. What’s more, what Le Mandrać may lack in the way of al frescodining during the summer, it more than makes up for in sleek and snazzy interior design and service throughout the year.
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Unquestionably one of the most cutting-edge establishments in all of Istria, Monte is perched amidst the old town of Rovinj, in the shadow of the magnificent Basilica of Saint Euphemia. Here, the kitchen’s pièce de résistance comes in the form of a five-course degustation selection, all made with ingredients sourced straight from the town’s local farmer’s market. The flavors are a creative reworking of traditional Istrian seafood and meat classics, with Mediterranean mussels in sea foam rubbing shoulders with cauliflower ragout. There are also a whole range of reds and whites on offer, selected largely from the greater Alps-Adriatic-Danube region.
Staying firmly true to the culinary philosophy of fresh fish direct from ‘sea to table’, it’s hardly a surprise that the folk at Damir & Ornella are often hailed as the best fish chefs in all of Istria. The range of dishes on offer are designed to encompass the natural and organic flavors of the catches above everything else, combining a series of curious raw appetizers with truffle infused mains, seafood pastas and simply cooked fish fillets. What’s more, Damir & Ornella boasts a truly intimate service from the get go, with just six tables and a charming location between the tight-knit back alleys of seaside Novigrad.
Surrounded by the sweeping farm fields and dramatic mountain ridges of the beautiful Ćićarija region on Istria’s extreme north-eastern edge, this rustic taverna bills itself as providing agri-tourist gastronomy, dedicated to taking the concept of farm-to-table to new and dizzying heights. Everything that’s plated here is home-grown within the fields and hills around Toncic itself, or sourced from local producers working in northern Istria. With such a remote setting the restaurant can be a little tricky to find, but once you’re there, expect homely service, knowledgeable food recommendations and an authentically Croatian culinary experience from beginning to end.
Set just below the medieval old town of picturesque Motovun, this lovely little restaurant is hailed for its ability to mix Italian classics with trademark flavors from the greater Istria region (truffles in particular). Consequently, guests can choose between dishes like beef carpaccio with shavings of truffle, creamy tagliatelle infused with truffles, and potato soup flavored with white truffle. What’s more, while the location may not boast the same sweeping views of central Istria that some of the other restaurants in Motovun enjoy, Konoba Mondo does have a charming al frescoterrace that’s perfect for people-watching as the crowds pass beneath the town’s impressive medieval gateway.
While perhaps better known as one of the most popular boutique hotels in Istria, San Rocco also boasts a fantastic fine-dining bistro that’s dedicated to mastering regional staples from both Italy and northern Croatia. That means a whole host of homemade pastas, Roman pizzas, more than a dousing of local olive oil, flame grilled Istrian beef, and an abundance of truffles. What’s more, San Rocco’s gourmet cuisine pairs up neatly with the verdant gardens of the hotel, where guests can sit and eat on the al frescoterraces while watching the rays of the Croatian sun caress the surface of the pool.
Truffles, truffles and more truffles adorn the menu at this gourmet establishment in the sleepy town of Livade, where guests can try a seasonal offering of Mediterranean foods inspired entirely by this most definitive of Istrian ingredients. In fact, Zigante is owned by the man who currently holds the Guinness World Record for the largest white truffle find in history, which was discovered in the Istrian hills around Buje back in 1999. There are pastas, seafood dishes, local meats and even classic American steaks to enjoy, along with a selection of non-truffle dishes and vegetarian meals. Put simply, if it’s truffles you’re after, then Zigante’s the place to be.