Bulgaria’s capital city is undergoing immense transformation and has seen a rise in independent food and drink establishments pop up in the last decade. From craft beer to vegan food, this cultural shift is revitalising the Sofia food scene.
Discovering food in Sofia
A summer in lockdown made dining out or grabbing a quick coffee a once-weekly treat in Sofia. Still, to keep our sanity, we found our favourite independent spots in the city to indulge in our foodie side.
It also gave us a safe, physically distanced space to meet locals, and learn more about Sofia’s creative and innovative independent eateries and traditional Bulgarian food.
Luckily, we had almost four months to slowly meander around Sofia and discover some utterly delicious offerings using seasonal and local ingredients. Hopefully, this guide will showcase inspiring independents and what to eat in Sofia!
You can read a similar food guide to our former expat home of Bratislava in Slovakia.
Top-notch coffee shops and cafes in Sofia
Coffee is something we consider to be a necessity. After all, we are teachers! This year we spent months without going for a coffee. We didn’t realise just how much we missed the simple act of sitting in a café and watching the world go by with delicious coffee straight from the bean. Thankfully, some care about great coffee and café culture in Sofia!
A small but worthy contender for the best coffee in Sofia! We found this on a walk one sunny afternoon; we had an iced coffee and gelato on the leafy street outside. They roast high-grade Arabica beans using their unique roasting profile. This is a beautiful coffee that you will find in other cafes around the city, but straight from the source is an excellent introduction to Bug Coffee.
In the city centre is this sophisticated coffee spot, which is perfect for refuelling, especially if you’re out sightseeing. These guys know how to prepare the perfect pour. The entire process, from selection to the roasting of the beans, is done by them. Chucky’s run workshops, but even on a casual visit, you’ll taste their love for coffee in every sip!
Brunch alert! By far, the best breakfast in Sofia. With its chilled, relaxed atmosphere and friendly faces behind the counter, you could easily while away the day here. You’ll find everyone from remote workers with heads in laptops to friends meeting for a casual beer. In a homage to the flavours of Bulgaria, try their rose cappuccino or eat a traditional breakfast of Mekitsa and feta cheese with jam.
Café Parallel 43
Slightly hidden away on the top floor of a small shopping centre near South Park, is Café Parallel 43. It’s a vegan café with delightful raw cakes, and vegan and vegetarian lunch options with menus that reflect the local ingredients available to them. Veggies and vegans are well catered for in Bulgaria, as local produce is some of the freshest and flavoursome we’ve experienced in Europe. This is a surprisingly chic café and very much off the tourist trail, a charming find!
More of our favourite cafes:
- Dabov Speciality Coffee
- Edgy Veggy (Vegan-friendly)
- Soul Kitchen (Vegan-friendly)
- Brick Café
- Mekitsa and Coffee
- The Coffee Room
Heavenly burgers and beer bars in Sofia
They go together, don’t they? Local specialities are what we thrive on, but there’s a special place in our hearts for burgers. These are reserved for our cheat days and boy do we go to town! Craft beer is another rising talent in Sofia, with some remarkably world-class brews to impress beer aficionados like ourselves.
In the world of burgers, there is some heavy debate over who has the best in Sofia. Still, our top choices both deliver something different with equally moreish results. Boom! Burgers is a startling example of creativity at its best, exciting flavour combinations with titles like Stoner’s Delight and the Balboa Burger. To accompany, you can choose smoked paprika fries and a cold craft beer or treat yourself to a milkshake!
Skapto Burgers and Beer
Sofia’s other best-loved burgers are from the folks over at Skapto. Their restaurants are often accompanied by murals, which gives them a distinctive edge. An extensive beer collection from Bulgarian brewers is also key to their set up. As for the burgers, well they certainly deliver on portion size and are utterly scrumptious. We would say their burgers are in a more traditional American style, loaded with ingredients like bourbon, pulled pork, crispy bacon, and lots of cheese. Veggies and Star Wars fans will particularly delight in the Obi-Wan Quinoabi burger.
Nosferatu Craft Beer Bar
An unassuming shopfront, step inside you’ll find a bar with a rotation of guest beers from all over Bulgaria and nearby countries. Nosferatu is a nod to the famous vampire film of the same name. It’s a bottle shop that plays rock and metal music with a stellar selection of beers from across Europe. But the real treat is the tasting section at the back, where knowledgeable staff talk you through what’s currently in the fridge or on tap. Hands down this is the best craft beer bar in Sofia.
More beer and burgers in Sofia:
- Oborishte Craft Beer Bar
- Street Chefs (Burgers and beer from an AirStream)
- Hamburguesa Nostra
Contemporary eateries and bars in Sofia
Bulgaria is amid a transformative time, and that is reflected best by the small independents on the culinary scene. Sofia has some excellent dining and drink options for proper foodies! We would also like to add that these places are all veggie and vegan friendly and all make great use of local flavours.
Made in Blue
Venture away from the main shopping street and find the trendy Shishman Street with its plethora of eateries, including Made In Blue. This abandoned house has been lovingly renovated and turned into an artsy but chic courtyard and restaurant. As the name suggests, the restaurant is resplendent in blue and homely to boot. An international mish-mash of cultures influences the menu and its perfect for any time of day. We can recommend a Bloody Mary cocktail with brunch and inexpensive sizeable portions!
Next to Doctor’s Garden, which we talked about in our guide to Sofia’s parks and gardens is Crazy Diamond. Quietly tucked away down an unassuming path is an explosion of colour and a gorgeous courtyard. Whether you’re here for a family get together, having a business meeting, or just casual diners like us, its incredibly warm and welcoming. The coffee is served in quirky mugs, and the food is fresh and delightfully tasty. Again, there is a real mix of influence within the menu, but they utilise local ingredients. Real bijou dining.
The Little Things
Perhaps our favourite meal in Sofia, so not such a little thing! The Little Things also has a cosy courtyard and is serviced by Little Drinks, their adjoining cocktail bar. Let’s run through why this won the top spot. The staff are excellent, so personable and we didn’t wait long for our food or drinks even though it was busy. They use great quality local ingredients and turn those into imaginative dishes drawing inspiration from different cuisines. We honestly couldn’t believe the affordability and the high standard of food that came to our table.
One More Bar
Back on Shishman Street is this chic little bar. It does serve food too, but what these guys are best known for are their cocktails! We had a lovely time in One More Bar, chatting with the staff and sunning ourselves with delicious cocktails in the courtyard. We only came in for coffee, but the menu was too enticing. It’s a place to mingle with the locals, and the prices are again very accessible for all types of travellers.
More lovely eateries and bars in Sofia:
- Sense Hotel Rooftop Bar (best for views and cocktails)
- Balaban Wine
- Sputnik Cocktail Bar
- Boho (great for brunch too)
- 65 Fireflies
Gelato shops and cake shops in Sofia
Who out there doesn’t like gelato?! Or cakes? We’re sure some don’t, but it’s something we sniff out on our travels. Here are some delectable choices for gelato and sweet treats in Sofia.
Gelato and Latte
Number one on your gelato list should be Gelato and Latte. This local favourite has their own organic farm near Plovdiv where Bulgarian Murray Buffalos and Jersey Cows make the milk they use for the gelato. Rozino Organic farm also provides yoghurt, white cheese, yellow cheese, mozzarella, and cream cheese. You can visit the farm or buy gelato in one of the home-baked cones at one of their shops and all-around Sofia in various venues. The flavours are inventive and very, very tasty!
Cake glorious cake! With all-natural flavours and ingredients, these cakes are made with love. Simply the most delicious cakes and bakes in the city. Vegan raw cakes and custom-made gluten-free cakes are also available from their city-centre store, which is located near Shishman Street. Considering it started from humble beginnings as a personal blog with cake recipes, it’s certainly captured the attention of locals and visitors alike.
Extra sweet places in Sofia:
- Savini Gelato
- Cake Lab
- Orsetti Pasticceria
- Sun Moon
International food in Sofia
Contemporary eateries do offer fantastic variety, but there are places to have your fill of international cuisines. Mexican tacos at Tacoteka are a winner, with lovely salsas and delicious corn tortillas made by hand. Fancy an Italian or Greek restaurant? We recommend Vino Vino for your wine and pizza fix and Akrogiali Greek Restaurant for seafood and salads.
If you’re a spice addict like Henry, The Spice House delivers on hot Indian dishes. There are various Japanese eateries, but for us, Hamachi is the best for super-fresh sushi in Sofia. Near the Mall of Sofia are two hidden gems – Cup and Roll on Opalchenska is a fantastic and affordable Korean fast-food place with tasty ramen and kimbap. Next door is Sen Viet, a Vietnamese which is perfect for those with a penchant for Pho!
Where to get authentic Bulgarian food in Sofia
There are staple Bulgarian foods you must try, such as Shopska Salad which is a fresh vegetable salad topped with olives and feta cheese. Soups are also a hugely popular dish, especially tripe soup, cucumber soup and bean soup. Yoghurt, honey, and traditional bread dishes like Banitsa are all massively yummy too.
Before we arrived in Sofia, we read that Shvilstika was the place to go for traditional dishes and it did not disappoint. It’s a good mix of tourists and locals alike and a little more expensive because of its city centre location, but overall, well worth it for an authentic flavour of Bulgaria.
Lots of modern European restaurants will also sell variations on Bulgarian classics, and you can find these in areas like Oborishte and Shishman Street. Supa Star is a fantastic place to try flavoursome soups and make your way to local markets like the Ladies Market and the Central Market Hall for more local food options. Try and stop by the Baker Brothers for artisan bread, pastries and bagels, just pure deliciousness!
We also bought from small neighbourhood cafes near our house sit, which was based in Gorna Banya. The wonderful thing about Sofia is that there’s lots of lovely traditional Bulgarian food within its residential areas.
Is there a street food scene in Sofia?
Sofia has plenty of foody options when it comes to eating out and getting food in a hurry. Traditional klek shops are basement shops which you squat down to buy anything from cigarettes to beer. They are a product of post-communism when people had to make a living in uncertain economic times. Hence, they set up these rent-free shops which you can still find all over the city for your convenience!
For a thoroughly modern take on street food, Sofia has opened Quartal Food Park has an array of international and local vendors with foody events. We also recommend checking the National Palace of Culture, as they often run events outside such as wine festivals. The Ladies Market and Sofia Central Market Hall offer affordable street food too. Look out for seasonal delights such as baked pumpkin, roasted chestnuts, kebabs, steamed corn and seeds.
Are there food tours in Sofia?
Yes, is the easy answer! Balkan Bites is run by a group of local guides who take you around family-owned restaurants to try local Bulgarian cuisine. This Sofia food tour is free (or more accurately, pay as you feel) and they do daily tours around Sofia.
Where are the best restaurants in Sofia centre?
Sofia is a little hard to navigate, not because of its size, but it doesn’t have a prominent centre. Vitosha Boulevard is the central long shopping street which reaches up to the National Palace of Culture with lots of commercial shops and restaurants. Here we recommend independents like Boom! Burgers and Tables. Walk a little further and reach Shishman Street – the epicentre of independent eateries and shops in the city like Made in Blue and Supa Star. It’s great for vegetarian restaurants. A little further still is the Oborishte area which is a bit swankier. Oborishte runs adjacent to Zaimov Park and has an array of modern European bars and restaurants such as Bar Flip Flop and Crazy Diamond.
How much is food in Bulgaria?
The food is inexpensive. Even in a fine dining setting, Bulgarian restaurants charge less than it would cost in other European countries. We could go out for a good quality three-course meal with drinks for under 50 Euros.
Food and drink in Bulgaria
There is so much to try in Bulgaria! The Bulgarian national dish is Shopska salad, and another favourite is Banitsa (a cheese-stuffed pastry). Trying to describe food in Bulgaria is a little challenging. We would say it has heavy influences from Greece with lots of feta cheese and other cheeses/yoghurt and a Turkish element. Sofia restaurants mix in ingredients from all over Europe but do try to taste some Bulgarian wine (Thracian Valley wines were our favourite), Rakia fruit brandy and buffalo milk yoghurt or gelato.
Want to know more about house sitting?
Getting to live like a local in unique countries like Bulgaria wouldn’t be possible without house sitting. It also means we get to look after lovely pet friends all over Europe! Find us on Instagram to follow our house sitting escapades! We write guides for house sitters including how to get started and an essential list of everything you need plus planning tips for your first house sit assignment.
For more information on this amazing city take a look at our Sofia Parks and Gardens Guide and check out Jen’s piece on Sofia in Viaggio Magazine. We also love @sonomatosofia for delicious Bulgarian food recipes, plus food and drink recommendations in Bulgaria!
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