Zagreb is a gourmet’s dream, brimming with eclectic restaurants – from Mediterranean haute cuisine with a view to hole-in-the-wall Asian fusion joints. One of Croatia’s top tastemakers – Domagoj Jakopović, known locally as Ribafish – gives Culture Trip the low-down on the best restaurants in the country’s capital.
A lover of all things travel and enogastronomy, 49-year-old former geography professor Domagoj Jakopović became a professional foodie 20 years ago. He’s worked as a columnist and editor for magazines, including Klik, Playboy and Cosmopolitan, and online publications Punkufer.hr, Blog.hr and Gastro.hr. Today, Croatia’s favourite foodie hosts the TV show 321 Kuhaj (321 Cook) and writes about Croatian food, wine and more on his website. Join Domagoj on a culinary voyage through the Croatian capital, Zagreb.
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What was once the family home of esteemed Croatian novelist August Šenoa (1838-81) is now, according to Domagoj, the best place to go for Zagrebian specialities. At the nearby Dolac Market (10 minutes away on foot), O’Brok’s renowned chef Krunoslav Majcen handpicks fresh ingredients each day at dawn. Domagoj says the restaurant’s “guests always come back for more jela na žlicu (spoon meals: this Croatian expression refers to various soups and stews) just like their grandmas used to make, sausages, krvavice sa zeljem (blood pudding with cabbage), knedle (Croatian dumplings) and especially for Majcen’s štrukli (cheese-filled dough), among the best in the region.”
According to Domagoj, El Toro’s chef Mario Mihelj is “probably the most passionate lover of South American cuisine in Zagreb”. Serving up Latin American fusion fare, the restaurant is a 20-minute walk from Trg Bana Josipa Jelačića, Zagreb’s main square. “Tapas, ceviche, paella and, above all, remarkably roasted meat are trademarks of the elegant El Toro,” says Domagoj. Inside a suavely low-lit interior mixing wooden elements and matte black decor, El Toro’s chic vibe extends to its entertainment, with live acoustic music and weekly DJ sets.
Chef Vid Nikolić and cocktail savant Vedran Gulin opened SOI Fusion Bar, the first Croatian ramen bar that whips up Asian fusion fare using mostly Croatian ingredients. “Light, intelligent dishes, and the craziest cocktails you’ve ever had – SOI will knock you right off your feet,” says Domagoj. You can find the restaurant inside the Swanky Mint Hostel on Ilica Street. He believes that what SOI lacks in size, it more than makes up for in quality. “Although the space is small, from the second you enter, you’re overtaken by an awesome atmosphere and delicious dishes.” Another perk of the location is that you can simply step outside and party at the Swanky Monkey Garden after dining.
According to Domagoj, foodies have come from all over Croatia to dine at Vinodol. Opened in the 1940s on a property owned by Baron Vladimira Nikolić, the restaurant sits on a quiet street five minutes on foot from the main square. Chef Zdravko Tomšić “envisioned a fusion of the highest quality delicacies from all over this small, but extremely diverse country,” he says. “You’ve got everything from spit-roasted lamb and kaštradina (dried mutton) to lovely meat cuts from Slavonia.” Vinodol offers more than 120 fine wines, along with traditional continental and coastal Croatian bottles.
Domagoj touts barbecue joint Magazinska Klet as the go-to spot “for regional specialities such as lungić and vješalica (pork cuts), ražnjići (meat skewers), pljeskavice (spiced meat patties) and much more – all with the scent of real smoke”. One of three Zagreb branches, Magazinska Klet’s Pri Staroj Smokvi (“by the old fig tree”) neighbours a hundred-year-old fig tree and is a five-minute walk from the Zagreb Bus Station. Try the punjeni batak i zabatak (stuffed chicken drumstick and thigh) or gurmanska pljeskavica (gourmet spiced meat patty), which are Domagoj’s top recommendations.
When a Slavonian woman and Italian guy fell in love and decided to open a pizzeria, Papavero was the result. “Ana and Pasquale both have experience working in the kitchen, and they put their knowledge, heart and soul into their pizzas,” says Domagoj. Papavero procures fresh ingredients from Italy and Croatia to make “phenomenal dough – crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside”, but the real extravagance comes in the toppings. “Everything that goes on top is pure perversion,” he says. “If you leave without trying the Contemporanea, you don’t know what the most creative pizza of the decade tastes like.”
As one of the only restaurants in Zagreb serving up exclusively organic food sourced from its own farmstead, Zrno Bio Bistro one of the hottest vegan spots in town. This restaurant, a 15-minute walk from the main square, has a certified organic menu, which includes home-made sourdough bread and home-pickled vegetables. “Don’t leave Zrno without trying the mega protein plate and the chocolate temptation cake,” says Domagoj.
Eating a hearty gablec (lunch) is a Zagreb tradition that you can experience for yourself at Bicko, which marches to the beat of its own drum. “It’s not the fanciest restaurant; it’s not refined. It’s far from the city centre,” says Domagoj. “It has a certain honesty, simplicity and enthusiasm. It’s always serving up something new.” About 20 minutes by car from the main square, Bicko’s menu changes daily, but expect a wide range of rich Croatian dishes, from traditional barbecue to home-made soup.
Veganšpek’s name translates to “vegan bacon”; accordingly, it has something for both meat-eaters and vegans. With an interior decked out in pastel shades, the restaurant is a 10-minute walk from the main square. Veganšpek’s menu changes daily and includes traditional Croatian meals, plus tasty vegan bites. “The nicely designed, delicious and versatile food will have you visiting again and again,” says Domagoj.
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