The beautiful city of Isfahan is known for many things: It’s a top tourist destination; it is as historical as they come; it is home to numerous world heritage sites; and it boasts beautiful Iranian-Islamic architecture that to this day still manages to stun viewers.
But the Half of the World, as the city is endearingly called in Iran, is also known for its vibrant nightlife, cafes and restaurants. From traditional restaurants with a local menu to luxury establishments serving international cuisine, you’re unlikely to be disappointed with Isfahan’s food scene.
Here is a list of top 5 places to drink and dine in Isfahan.
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Toranj Traditional Restaurant
A traditionally-designed restaurant with a modern vibe, Toranj Traditional Restaurant in Isfahan’s Armenian neighborhood (Jolfa) is a top pick for locals and tourists alike.
Jolfa is brimming with cafes and diners, so the fact that Toranj stands out should tell you something about the quality of food served in this establishment.
Toranj was not always a restaurant; it was a house built during the Qajar era and owned by a wealthy Iranian-Armenian. It has been renovated to fit its new purpose as a traditional restaurant, complete with a cobblestoned open space, wooden benches and, of course, mirrors. Lots of mirrors.
Frequent diners suggest ordering their Joojeh Mast and drinking a specialty herbal tea made from 40 plants.
Khan Gostar Restaurant
Jolfa representation on this list is kind of heavy, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Khan Gostar is a high-end restaurant in the popular neighborhood that has been serving food for nearly 22 years.
A standout feature of the venue is the square-shaped hors d’oeuvres table with an appetizing selection of starters right in the center of the floor.
If you know your classic Iranian musicians, then you’re going to get a kick out of the framed photos of Iranian maestros hanging all around the interior.
While you may have to prepare to fork out, the food is worth every penny. People often rave about Khan Gostar’s kebabs, Chelo Mahi (a rice and fish dish) and Khoresht-e Mast, a local stew that consists of yoghurt, saffron and lamb neck.
Chah-e Haj Mirza Teahouse
How does drinking a spot of tea in Isfahan’s oldest teahouse sound? Chah-e Haj Mirza isn’t your typical teahouse; it’s around 300 years old, dating back to the Safavid era (1501 – 1736).
Decorated with relics of the past, Chah-e Haj Mirza is a virtual time machine that takes people to the glory days of ancient Isfahan, when the city served as the capital of the Persian Empire. From armor helmets and swords to old paintings and dated books, this venue is a history buff’s dream café. Some people affectionately call the place a museum.
Of course, it’s not just the collection of artifacts that draws people. Chah-e Haj Mirza also offers classic Iranian tea, but what really hits the spot, according to the teahouse’s regulars, is the locally-prepared doogh (a yoghurt drink) and Gosh-e Fil, which is an Iranian-Afghan deep-fried pastry.
Chah-e Haj Mirza is located in the Blacksmiths’ Quarter of Isfahan Grand Bazaar, so it’s a great place to unwind after a long day of sightseeing and shopping.
Jarchi Bashi Restaurant
Jarchi Bashi offers a dining experience unlike any other: It’s a former traditional bathhouse that has been renovated to serve as a restaurant.
Simple wooden tables and chairs are placed around the central pool, while beautiful Iranian tilework on the walls that is an integral part of Iranian-Islamic architecture helps liven the place up.
The venue served as a bathhouse until as recently as 2003, when it was closed down for renovations that took eight years. The restaurant opened in 2011 and has been serving delicious meals at reasonable prices ever since.
The establishment offers a variety of dishes served in copper plates, but the must-try foods are their Tabrizi meatballs and kebabs.
The restaurant is located on Sepah Street, close to Hakim Bazaar and Naqsh-e Jahan Square.
Haj Mahmoud’s Biryani / A’zam Biryani
No list of Isfahan restaurants is complete without at least one entry dedicated to the city’s most famous dish: Biryan, and Haj Mahmoud’s Biryani is the place to try it.
Not to be confused with the South Asian dish Biryani, Isfahan’s Biryan (without the ‘i’) is a greasy dish of lamb meat and lung served almost exclusively at lunch time.
Haj Mahmoud’s is a 100-year-old establishment in the Grand Bazaar of Isfahan that serves on average 600 plates of Biryan a day, and that’s just on a normal weekday. If that’s not one hell of a testament to how good they are, then what is?
Another top venue to try Biryan is A’zam Biryani, a chain of restaurants that specializes in the dish. The first branch, which is a century old, is a take-out place located near Darvazeh Dolat, whereas the other two branches on Masjed Seyyed Street and Kamal Esmaeil Street let you dine in.
So that’s it, our (very) brief list of popular restaurants and teahouses in the city of Isfahan. If you’ve been to any of these places, please let us know in the comments section below if you think their inclusion on this list is justified!
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