It is always wise to acknowledge the elephant in the room, especially when the elephant is this delicious. Elephant isn’t actually on the menu here, but the area around Niš is known for having the best food in Serbia. These are some of the best restaurants in the city itself.
Bar, Cafe, Restaurant, Nightclub, Contemporary, $$$
Pleasure by name, pleasure by nature. That might sound a little seedy, but the sentiment absolutely rings true at Pleasure Cafe. Something of an all in one spot, Pleasure is as good a place to grab a quality lunch as it is to enjoy a book with a cup of coffee, and the evening is full of cocktails to boot. It covers all bases with aplomb.
From a modern continental spot to one with both feet firmly planted in all things Serbia. Mrak is a Balkan grill and a half, offering all the classics in an environment that likely hasn’t changed in a very, very long time. This is a big compliment of course. This isn’t the world’s most comfortable restaurant, but it doesn’t need to be. The meat is magnificent.
There is an unwritten rule in the Balkans, that a restaurant with red and white checker tablecloths is a sure sign of quality. This rule isn’t always watertight, but it absolutely is in the case of Kafana Galija. One of the oldest restaurants in the city, Galija serves up a bevvy of Balkan grilled meats with all the subtlety of a hammer, but all the taste you can dream of. Tradition, and then some.
The youth of Niš have their eyes focused on the west far more than previous generations did, and as such the excitement over ćevapi and sarma has been replaced by goo-goo eyes over pizza and pasta. There are a number of pizzerias in town, and Go Go just about gets the nod over the others. Is it the best pizza in the world? Of course not, but it is a fine place to dip in for a slice or five when in Niš.
Tradition is the name of the game in Niš, and this cavernous eating hole ticks every box. The entrance promises no small amount of mystery, but the mystery is soon blown away in a blaze of grilled meat, hot bread and sizeable salads. All the grilled classics are here, along with ribs and other ‘delicacies’. It is also preposterously inexpensive.
One of the best things about food in Niš is the massive portion sizes that restaurants dish out, and nowhere is that more apparent than at Kafana Meze. A relatively large place (by city standards at least), the efficient staff bring a conveyor belt (not literally) of dishes to the tables, with grilled meats dominating the fare. It even has English language menus, which is rare in this part of the world.
The name means ‘Old Serbia’, and it is easy to close the eyes and be transported back to the halcyon days of national excitement in this part of the world. The party never stops at Stara Srbija, although it is best to come in the evening to ensure that is fact and not fiction. Great food, low prices, huge portions and plenty of smoke wafting around—‘Old Serbia’, ‘New Serbia’, this is definitely Serbia.
Located in a traditional Ottoman house, Stambolijski takes the recipes of the past and presents them in a way that represents the midpoint between traditional and contemporary. The presentation is actually somewhat superfluous, as food this good could simply come on a plate and it would still impress. The prices are a little higher here than most in the region, but you pay for what you get.
At times you can be forgiven for thinking that the only restaurants in Niš are ones offering grilled meats and nothing else, and those tired of such things (impossible!) will find salvation in Elite. This is a luxurious place for all the family, with an interior that harks more to the House of Habsburg than the Ottomans. It is predictably pricey (by regional standards), but don’t let that put you off.
The first thing you’ll notice is the interior. That sort of goes without saying, that is likely to be the first thing you notice in every restaurant you enter, but we hope you get the point. The detail here is incredible, and guests could easily spend the evening examining the walls of Dagi Plus. That would be foolish, as there is plenty of toothsome food waiting to be devoured. The old style simply accentuates that.