For a city of its size - right around a million inhabitants - Zagreb is surprisingly lively. It claims more museums per square foot than any other European capital, there are multiple cafes on every street, and countless cultural festivals, from film and music to gastronomy, take place throughout Croatia year round.
Croats love to socialize, and there's no better way to catch up with friends than over a drink. Croats like to gather at "caffe bars," which, as the name suggests, serve espresso and other non-alcoholic drinks in addition to alcoholic beverages. There are three beverages that particularly define drinking in Croatia: coffee, wine, and rakija.
Cafe culture in Zagreb can be quite a surprise to newcomers, as it appears that everyone in the city is out having coffee all of the time - even in the middle of the workday! It's not really about the coffee itself, though - it's about socializing, people watching, sitting for hours in the sun, and, sometimes, it's even about business. Though any time of day is suitable for a coffee date, prime coffee-drinking time is on Saturdays between roughly 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Hundreds flock to the city center for this weekly ritual, called špica by the locals, to meet up with friends, see, and be seen.
Coffee beverages in Croatia actually consist of espresso, rather than filter coffee, with varying amounts of milk. Order kava and you'll get a shot of espresso. A kava s mlijekom gives you a bit of milk, while a bijela kava is closer to an American-style latte.
There are cafes everywhere, particularly in the center. Quality varies, but you'll almost always get a decent brew. Everyone has his or her own favorite café, and you'll establish yours, too, with time. Here's a list of a few recommended cafes that have good coffee and a nice vibe. All of these are non-smoking, as well, which can be unusual for caffe-bars.
Near Britanski trg, this small café is said to serve the best coffee in the city. Owner Nik Orosi is a barista champ.
Teneo Coffee Shop
Trešnjevacki trg 2
Located in Trešnjevka, near the open-air market, Teneo is the perfect spot for a post-shopping beverage. Delicious and well-crafted coffees, as well as a range of flavored syrups for something a little different. You can also try Turkish coffee here!
A beautifully decorated café tucked away at the end of Dežmanova ulica toward Tuškanac. Crowded on weekends, and a bit cooler than Cvjetni trg during the summer, thanks to the breezes coming down from Medvednica.
Near the Stone Gate in Upper Town, but still something of a local's secret, this charming café and gallery has a lovely balcony and very tasty beverages - try the hot chocolate with šlag (whipped cream) for a splurge.
Cirilometodska ulica 2
The café at the Museum of Broken Relationships is cozy and rarely crowded. They make a great Aperol Spritz. Enjoy one on the terrace if the weather is nice.
Rakija, Croatia's version of grappa, brings people together the same way coffee does, but usually during the nighttime hours. Croats have found a way to turn almost any herb, fruit, or nut into rakija, but perhaps the most popular variety is medica, a sweet rakija made from honey. Orahovac (walnut), pelinkovac (herb), and šljivovica (plum) are also notable varieties.
Though Croatia may not yet be well known as a destination for wine connoisseurs, its wines are quickly gaining international recognition, having consistently cleaned up at the Decanter World Wine Awards over the past few years. In 2012 alone, sixty-five Croatian wines won awards at the prestigious competition. The wine-producing regions of Dalmatia, Istria, and Slavonia all bring something different to the table, so to speak, so it's worth exploring the wines of all three. To sample several varieties, try Basement or Dobra vina.
Apart from coffee, cafes generally offer a range of teas and juice. Tap water in Zagreb is potable, and bottled still and sparkling water are also available.
In addition to wine and rakija, beer is also a very popular beverage. Local brands include Ožujsko, Karlovacko, and Tomislav, and most bars stock popular international brands, as well.
There is no minimum age for consuming alcohol in Croatia, however, the legal age for purchasing alcohol is 18. A driver over 24 years of age may drive with a blood alcohol level of up to 0.05 percent. It is illegal for professional drivers and drivers under 24 years of age to drive with a blood alcohol level of more than 0.00 percent.
Croatian cuisine comprises the best of its neighboring regions: you'll find spicy Hungarian style dishes, heavy Austrian sauces, tasty grilled meat hailing from Bosnia and Serbia, and creamy risottos and simple pasta dishes reminiscent of Italian cooking.
Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, often including several courses and a glass (or two) of wine. Breakfast is small - usually a pastry and a coffee or perhaps some yogurt - and dinner is usually light, often consisting of a sampling of cheese, dried meats, olives, and a seasonal salad.
Dining out in Zagreb unfortunately leaves much to be desired. While there are several affordable and tasty lunch restaurants, those open for dinner tend to fall on two ends of the spectrum: cheap and quick or expensive and upscale. There is also not much in the way of variety. Though there are some exceptions, most restaurants in Croatia offer very similar staple dishes: risotto, pasta, grilled meats and vegetables, and a few regional specialties. There isn't much in the way of international cuisine or innovative dishes. On a positive note, restaurants generally use fresh and local ingredients, and there are usually daily specials prepared from whatever looked best at the market.
Specialties vary depending on location: on the coast, seafood dominates, while inland meals incorporate more pork, chicken, and beef. Here are just a few dishes to get you started.
Croatian cuisine is meat-heavy and there are very few restaurants that cater specifically to vegetarians. However, most restaurants offer a few vegetarian-friendly options. Make sure that the waiter understands your needs, as many people consider fish a non-meat (and therefore vegetarian-friendly) food.
Tel.: +385 91 46 49 400
PYR Club Restaurant
+385 1 48722 44
Tel.: +385 1 3461 300
It is customary to leave a tip for good service at restaurants where you actually sit down and dine, but there is no clearly defined amount or percentage of the bill. Most customers simply round up or leave a small bill. Leaving around 10% is about right if the service was great - there's usually no reason to leave any more than that.
At some restaurants, there is a "cover" charge that includes a small appetizer, usually some sort of pate or cheese spread and bread. This amount can be factored in as a tip.
Bakeries are the most popular stop for a quick bite. There are many bakeries throughout the city center selling sandwiches, rolls, pastries, and often slices of pizza. Burek, a savory pastry made from filo dough and stuffed with meat or cheese, is particularly tasty and a great (if heavy) late night snack. Get a plain yogurt to drink along with it.
Cevapi, a dish of grilled and spiced minced meat served alongside onions and lepinj, a chewy pocket bread, is another popular quick meal - though it might take a little longer than typical "fast food." Eat cevapi and similar grilled meat dishes, like pljeskavica, with kajmak, a creamy cheese, and ajvar, a relish made from red peppers.
Restaurants in Zagreb are constantly opening and closing, changing their staff, and changing their menus. As such, quality can suffer: what might be a great meal one night can be mediocre the next. Still, there are several restaurants in Zagreb that are fairly consistently tasty. This is not an exhaustive list of the "best" or most popular restaurants in Zagreb, but rather a few pretty consistently satisfying restaurants that are also affordable.