Where to eat in Armenia

Since eating is such an important daily event for me, and now that the tourist season is in full swing, I’d thought I’d mention some random places to dine in and outside Yerevan, based on my own experiences.

For fast food: Go to Tumanyan Shawerma + (http://shaurma.armshops.com/) located at 19 Tumanyan Street, not far from the corner of Abovyan Street intersection going in the direction towards Opera Square. This place offers the best, freshest version of the Middle Eastern shawerma sandwich in the city, which includes finely sliced slow roasted chicken, beef, or pork, parsley, sliced hot peppers, onions, mayonnaise and ketchup wrapped in a round thin pita bread, although you can choose your condiments. Other offerings include dzhvzhik, which is basically a sandwich with sautéed beef liver and onions, and beef, lamb, or chicken kebab sandwiches—kebab is a long, thin barbequed slab of finely ground meat mixed with pureed onions. Nothing in the city tops their selection of sandwiches. Hundreds of people visit this place every day, so the meat is always fresh since there is a noticeably high turnover. I do not recommend going anywhere else for shawerma in particular, since you don’t know what you’ll get or how long it’s been sitting around.

There are lamejo (aka lahmejune) joints throughout Yerevan. The best I have tried is found at Our Neighborhood (Mer Tagh) near the Deryan and Tumanyan intersection. Usually these meat pizzas are salty and fatty no matter where you go, but they’re fairly cheap, costing 100 dram each (or $0.25).

For classic Armenian cuisine: The first place that comes to mind, and a very popular restaurant for tourists, is called Our Village (Mer Kiugh) located on Sayat Nova Street near the Deryan Street intersection and next to the florist, Brambion. This place has an excellent assortment of classic dishes found both in Western and Eastern Armenian cuisines, including the standard dolmas and kuftas. They also offer homemade cheeses, cold cuts, and wines that are delivered from various villages. Go as early as possible since things run out towards closing time. Another place to visit is called Kilikia, on the corner of Tumanyan and Alaverdian (Hanrapedutian) Streets. This place has unique dishes that you cannot find anywhere else, including an extensive selection of cold salads and even Harissa, which is a slowly simmered mash of shredded lamb or chicken and barley, topped with a pond of melted butter.

There are restaurants offering national dishes in nearly all towns and small cities throughout Armenia, especially those having some sort of tourist attraction. Usually you will not be disappointed anywhere you go. If you happen to be going towards Garni for example, on the right hand side of the road about 15 kilometers or so outside Yerevan’s city limits there’s a great place to visit, which has a huge, outdoor patio with an excellent view of some sweeping hillsides found throughout the Kotayk region. I don’t think the restaurant has a name—a common phenomenon in the regions—but it can be instantly recognized by its white, stucco exterior.

For regional cuisine: Caucasus restaurant at the beginning of Alaverdian (Hanrapedutian) Street near the Sayat Nova intersection has an excellent assortment of Georgian dishes as well as Armenian. Some of the authentic Georgian dishes offered, particularly the soups and stews, I have not seen anywhere else. They also offer a selection of different kinds of khachabouri, perhaps the most authentic you will find in Yerevan without visiting Tbilisi. Additionally, their fish is very good, as they offer fresh farm-raised ishkhan and sig, both variations of trout, as well as salmon. Service can be inconsistent here, but the food is worth tasting. Prices are very reasonable, with the majority of the dishes costing anywhere between 800-2500 dram ($2-6). The “kino bar” or fresh, homemade dry or sweet red wine, delivered several times a week from the regions or even Georgia, is fabulous.

For Middle Eastern cuisine: Many of the restaurants offering dishes like hummus, taboule, shish taouk, and even falafel are run or managed by Armenians from Lebanon or Syria. There are quite a few doing business now, but my favorite is Nury, located near the Deryan and Moscovyan intersection. This place also has an excellent selection of Western Armenian dishes, like mante and sini kufta, both favorites from my childhood. They also have an excellent Lebanese fish dish made with tahini, tomato, and lemon. During the evening supper is usually accompanied by live piano music. Honorable mentions include Lagonid, at the top of Tumanyan Street, as well as Amazon, located in the Sayat Nova Complex, which has a great Incan-influenced, colorful atmosphere. There is also the restaurant Beirut on Vazken Sargsyan Street not far from Republic Square, but I have not been to it for four years.

For International cuisine: Cuisine from other societies, including Chinese, Thai, and Italian, is appearing everywhere in Yerevan now, which is an exciting welcome. There are two Chinese restaurants that I have frequented: Beijing on Tumanyan Street and Lotus on Sayat Nova. The latter is very pricey, but the food is average. For authentic Mexican (Tex-Mex) cuisine as well as margaritas, visit Cactus, on Mashdots close to the Tumanyan intersection. I say authentic because the head chef is Mexican, and the food is very tasty. For authentic pizza accompanied by cold, draft Kilikia beer, visit Tifosi on Deryan Street—they offer about 30 varieties. It also doubles as a sports bar and museum, located on the lower floor.

A great French restaurant featuring authentic Cog au Vin and Beef Bourguignon can be found on the corner of Arami and Abovyan Streets, called Chez Christophe. Excellent Filet Mignon steak can be had at Studio Café near the Cascade, probably the only place in the country you can find grilled beef that is not charred dry resembling rawhide.

And for authentic Indian food, go to New Delhi on Tumanyan, across from the Opera. Sanjiv just two weeks ago united forces with owner of Tandoori, who shut down his place and brought his clientele with him to New Delhi. They also offer Chinese cuisine as well as a few Thai dishes.

For those visiting from the US who need a quick burger fix for whatever reason, check out Square One on Abovyan Street, near Republic Square.

For barbeque: Since Armenians worship barbequed meat, particularly pork, it is difficult to be disappointed with this offering. While in Yerevan, go to any one of the now few, tiny family-operated restaurants along Proshian Street, especially the ones facing the Hrazdan Gorge so that you can observe a great view while you eat. These places always aim to please since they have a harder time attracting customers than do the monstrous, opulent dining centers not far away. There is access to Hrazdan Gorge from Proshian Street, at the base of which are dozens of gigantic compounds offering live music (usually Russian) performed by two or three-piece bands whose members play synthesizers and sing badly. All of them undoubtedly offer barbeque, which can be enjoyed amidst a pleasant, tree-lined open air environment alongside the Hrazdan River.

Once again, I should mention that most dining experiences in the regions will be pleasant, even better than those in Yerevan in terms of quality and especially service. Along the Meghri highway, in the lower section of Vayats Dzor after you pass through Yeghegnadzor, there are several riverside restaurants offering barbeque cooked either in the in-ground clay roasting oven tonir or on charcoal. I have not really had a meal that was inedible anywhere outside the capital. Stick to the barbeque pork or lamb chops and kebabs as well as fresh roasted tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, and you’ll do just fine.

Why are there so many cafés, and which one should I go to? This is a very good question. There is a political answer: in summary wealthy government officials as well as parliamentarians open them for money laundering purposes, and few are actually profitable. I cannot say this for every single café, as I know there are also private ones operating. The other answer is that they are major tourist attractions, but at the expense of vanishing green spaces throughout Central Yerevan. Most of the trees and grass in these parks are cleared away, only to be replaced by tons of poured cement. It’s a travesty, something that troubles me unquestionably, and it’s continuing while Yerevan’s populace is hypnotized by “vochinch.”

The only one that I frequent in the Opera vicinity is called Vernisage, located in the weekend arts marketplace of the same name in the park where the Saryan statue is located. This place is far from pretentious, prices are reasonable, and the wait staff is relatively attentive as well as friendly compared to other places within Opera Park. An added plus is that there are actually trees there surrounding some of the tables. I also like the café near the fountains in the vestibule of the National Museum of History and Art on Republic Square. The prices there are dirt cheap as well.

But my father loves Jazzve, located directly behind the Opera House. We were there nearly every night during my parents’ 20 day stay last September. They have an extensive menu of desserts, coffee and tea drinks, not to mention ice cream sundaes. This place seems to have adequate service, but be warned that at most cafés the wait staff is pitifully inefficient. My patience runs thin at most of these places, which is why I try to avoid them, unless I need to meet people.

Well, there you have it. Bon appetite!


Anonymous said…
Have you tried Sherlock Holmes? I want to try it next time I'm in the city.
Ankakh_Hayastan said…
The Shaurma place has a nice website.

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