Standard travel advice for Europe is to get off the beaten path if you’re hoping for more than mediocre, over-priced food. Yet many of the best restaurants in Tallinn, Estonia are located within the picture-perfect Old Town. As you linger over your meal, you can watch the sun slowly set behind the medieval Town Hall and surrounding pastel-colored buildings. Waiters turn on heat lamps when the temperature begins to drop and hand out blankets as needed. The scenery is just too pretty to consider dining elsewhere in the city!
Vaike Rataskaevu 16
The top rated restaurant in Tallinn is rather unassuming. It doesn’t even have a proper name! Vaike Rataskaevu 16 is simply the old town address where the restaurant can be found. But don’t let that deter you. The food is surpassed only by the outstanding service. I showed up without a reservation, but a kindly server found space for me anyway. He then attentively explained all the specials and made recommendations based on my tastes. I settled on creamy pumpkin soup and an artfully plated salmon fillet. Tempted as I was to end with a warm chocolate cake for dessert, I followed the waiter’s advice to try the bread pudding and am sure glad I did.
For those who want to fully indulge in Tallinn’s medieval atmosphere, Ill Draakon pub is the perfect choice. The fragrance of cinnamon and spices were enticing as I ascended the Town Hall spire, so I rewarded myself with a hearty bowl of elk soup and mug of cider upon return to ground level. The pub’s costumed barmaids also serve meat and vegetable hand pies, elk jerky, and homemade pickles you spear with a pitchfork from an old beer barrel. Go early to avoid the lunchtime rush.
For a menu of more modern Estonian cuisine, head to Restoran Kaerajaan. Selections change seasonally, but you can count on farm-fresh local ingredients prepared with contemporary flair. At the time of my visit, the star was a succulent wild boar stew that had been elevated with red wine and organic vegetables. A selection of Estonian cheeses and a warm chocolate fondant cake are the perfect choices to round out any meal.
Billed as Estonia’s first “garlic restaurant,” Balthasar opened in 1999 in a 15th-century apothecary. Garlic, as you may have guessed, is the star of the show, though not all dishes feature the pungent ingredient. I started with creamy parsnip soup and followed it up with a stuffed chicken breast served with brandy mushroom sauce and a scrumptious garlic risotto. My companion ordered a steak that came on a sizzling pan with a whole head of roasted garlic and scalloped potatoes so garlicky they could have knocked out a vampire. As curious as I was about the garlic-infused desserts, a bowl of refreshing fruit sorbet was the smart choice after such a feast.
I’ve eaten plenty of delicious food around the world. There was all the pho in Ho Chi Minh City and paprika everything in Budapest. But it’s not often that I’m still dreaming about a particular dish long after enjoying it. The smoked Saaremaa cheese soup with crispy bacon at Rae Restoran is one of those memorable meals. Luscious and smooth, each cheesy spoonful left me craving more. The soup pairs well with a light Estonian beer and freshly baked bread. I’ve since learned that Saaremaa is a large island off the coast of Estonia, and dairy farmers have been producing cheese there since the 16th century. The island apparently has a long history of beer production as well. I will be planning a visit.
Estonian for “sweet tooth,” Maiasmokk has cases filled with impossible-to-resist treats. I recommend the fruit tarts and any pastries featuring marzipan. The charming cafe, which claims to be the oldest one in Estonia, is located a short distance from Town Hall Square, making it the perfect spot to take an afternoon tea or coffee break.
This cozy cafe serves up the best chocolate confections, from an array of truffles to elaborate cakes that look like works of art. Of those I sampled, the Marc de Champagne was my favorite and happens to be the specialty of the house. Chocolaterie Pierre is tucked away in the master craftsmen’s courtyard, where local artisans sell handicrafts and souvenirs.
Have you ever tried Estonian food? What do you think are the best restaurants in Tallinn?