Trying to find hidden food and drink gems in a new place is one of my favorite travel games. I am always trying to identify the off-the-beaten path food and drink finds. From experience, I have discovered that some places get a lot of hype but don’t actually deliver. Then, there are the hidden gems that surprise you. Dubrovnik has quite the food scene with its eleven Michelin Guide rated restaurants. But, for me, the real win comes from unassuming places that surprise you.
Buza Bar Isn’t A Hidden Drink Gem
I knew that Dubrovnik’s red roofs and medieval city walls would be an amazing backdrop against the azure Adriatic Sea at sunset. My research suggested that Buza Bar was the place to have drinks and watch the sunset. We stopped by to take a look at it while exploring Stari Grad. Buza means hole in the wall, and we walked through an actual hole in the wall and down a steep set of stairs to a small, crowded platform. Because it’s built into a cliff, the view from Buza Bar is actually more limited than panoramic. Servers carry drinks from outside the bar, through the wall and down the stairs — the drinks are overpriced and can show up show up warm. You are unlikely to find a local at this watering hole.
Great Place for a Sunset Drink
We accidentally stumbled upon the perfect site while walking Dubrovnik’s city walls. On the southwest wall, with an unobstructed panoramic view of Stari Grad and the sea, sat Caffe on the Wall. We grabbed one of the several available tables, ordered a pint and watched a glorious sunset. In spite of being a major sightseeing attraction, watching sunset from the wall didn’t feel touristy since many visitors have left Dubrovnik before sunset. Tip: Since you have to pay an entrance fee for the wall, time your visit so that you get to Caffe on the Wall before sunset. Beer .5l (16.7 oz) was 50 kuna. The cafe only takes cash/kuna.
Dining in Stari Grad
Following my taste buds has always been my favorite way of exploring a new place. One night we had dinner at Zuzori, in the center of Stari Grad. Recommended by the Michelin Guide and one of the locals, Zuzori is an example of one of the fine dining establishments in Dubrovnik. “Tale of octopus” (that’s what it’s listed as on the menu) with its three different preparations played a tasty tribute to our proximity to the Adriatic. Delicious chorizo and prawn croquettes and beef tartare completed our appetizers. Entrees of sea bass, duck and pasta rounded out the rest of our meal. We enjoyed our first tastes of Plavac Mali, a wine made from a grape genetically very similar to Zinfandel but unique to the Dalmatian coast. In our opinion, Zuzori’s lovely setting, great food and classy service deserved a Michelin Guide nod.
Eat With The Locals
The culinary highlight of our time in Dubrovnik, and really our entire trip to Croatia, was a dinner with the locals. When we travel, we love to do food tours as a way of experiencing local culture as well as food. So when I planned our trip to Dubrovnik, I actively scoped out food tours. Dubrovnik Food Tours offered several different options. However, for me, the most intriguing was the opportunity to eat with the locals. While cross-referencing across multiple sources, I discovered that Dubrovnik Food Tours “Eat with Locals” was dinner with Marija (and her husband Zlatko) who had been written up in National Geographic. Of course we had to go!
Drinks on the Vine-Covered Patio
Our meeting place was about a 30-minutes from Hotel Excelsior where we were staying. Actually, I loved the opportunity to walk through a residential neighborhood. While waiting at the bottom of a steep set of stairs, we were beckoned up by our hosts, Marija and Zlatko. We entered a small, but extremely charming vine-covered patio. Zlatko was busy tending to the fire for our main course. Marija offered us grappa and cherry liquer as a toast to start the evening. A couple from Wisconsin, Hamo from Dubrovnik Food Tours, his friend and, Sandra, a local guide, joined us for an evening of food and drinks.
Two things that I absolutely need to warn you about. First, there will be an enormous amount of truly delectable food to devour. Second, Zlatko is extremely heavy-handed when it comes to pouring wine; my glass was seemingly bottomless. Let me urge you—pace yourself—there is more food and drink to come.
Our meal started with an elaborate array of appetizers. A plate of marinated anchovies reminded me of my favorite Spanish boquerones. There were two different types of homemade cheese. The local ruby red, juicy tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with basil, were probably the best I have ever had. Unfortunately, most of the tomatoes we purchase at the supermarket in the US are tasteless. There was chorizo and smoked ham from Dalmatia. But one of the evening’s food gems was Marija hand-carved slices of Croatian pršut (think prosciutto) that melted in our mouths. Honestly, I could have kept eating the appetizers and thought that I had won the lottery. But, I also understood that there was more food to come.
A Signature Food From Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast
Our main course, peka, is a blend of vegetables and meat drizzled with olive oil and herbs and then baked under a bell-like dome. Peka, the signature dish of Croatia’s Dalmatian coast is truly a labor of love. Zlatko served the juiciest, most flavorful lamb that literally fell off the bone. He had truly nurtured it along until it was done to perfection.
All of our meals in Dubrovnik were excellent. I cannot rave enough, however, about having an authentic Croatian meal at someone’s house. Marija and Zlatko could not have been more wonderful hosts. Our meal was fantastic. But, probably most importantly, we truly felt that we had been to dinner at friend’s home.
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