Brussels – an expat’s city for restaurants

Yesterday, the lovely author of Not Just a Pretty Dress spotted a post by Elle Belgique which got a few of us chatting over Twitter. Elle asked a bunch of expats to pick their favorite restaurants in Brussels for authentic food from different countries. To be totally honest with you, I haven’t heard of half of them (which is good news because this gives me yet another excuse to go out to dinner!) But I also disagreed with a few of them – one of them, violently (The Old Oak is simply not the best Irish pub in town…)

So I decided to put together a little list of my own. Not an expat list by any means. But rather, the start to a new series I’m calling “Jess Recommends”. Enjoy.

Best place to eat Thai and meet Janet Jackson’s back up dancers

True story, In what will still be one of the funniest dinners I have ever had in Brussels, we ended up eating Thai food next to the performers of Janet Jackson’s tour coming through town, including the tallest dancer I have ever seen. He was so tall, his legs would not fit under the table of the restaurant. That night will forever make this already special restaurant even more special. Premier Comptoir (Noi) makes a killer Pat Thai and Chicken Red Curry. And you can order everything for take-out for about 10 euros a plate.

Entertaining people watching

The food at Brasserie Royal is very good, glamorous Belgian fare. But there is also quality people watching at this place. A dinner here constitutes a pretty fancy night out for us, but most of the other people eating there seem to make it a regular thing. Young, old, there are all sorts of folk who come here and for some reason I find its crowd completely entertaining and over the top. Its the Belgian equivalent of preppy and kitsch at the same time. And sometimes that is fun. (Warning – the tables are all pretty close together…get there early for a pick of a table with more space.)

Impress the parents (or guaranteed special occasion destination)

Most expats will know this place simply because they remember their jaws dropping when they walked in as well as the funny little aprons the waiters have to wear. Belga Queen, an old bank turned fancy restaurant, is an eatery to impress, and yet it isn’t stuffy. Well worth the price for anniversaries, birthdays or any other special night out. Make sure you come prepared for indulgent cocktails and also visit the basement.

Best business card in town

I love this place for its quirkiness. Old school French cooking, eclectic colorful ceiling decorations, slightly chipped blue and white china plates, and owners who clearly love the place, L’Idoit du Village {The Village Idiot} is worth a trip. And in case you were wondering, the business card clearly states “The Idiot rests on weekends”. Simply charming.

Because you would never expect to find an amazing Italian restaurant here

You have to know where to find this place. And yet it is always crowded which I take as a good sign. Sale Pepe Rosmarino is a tiny Italian restaurant tucked in the otherwise residential streets behind Place Stephanie in St Gilles. You don’t come here for the service or a quick meal, and its a tiny bit overpriced, but there is something about the cozy atmosphere and heaping pasta dishes that makes the place feel authentic to me. {This place is so elusive that it is close to impossible to find quality pictures of it. The shot below comes from the cool blog Wicked Winterfrost.}

Best restaurant I’ve walked by for years and stupidly never noticed

Ever lost track of time and realised in panic that it is 10pm, you are a group of six people and you haven’t eaten dinner? This happened to us recently and Aglio e Olio opened us with open arms. Full of warmth in the way of wood paneling, mirrors and large wine glasses, this place simply felt friendly. The waiters improvised a spot for us where we could have drinks while we waited for a table. Several big parties intermixed with couples settled in for a romantic dinner out. We left at midnight and were certainly not the last to leave. The food was ridiculously well priced and while the staff was busy, they were quite friendly once you managed to flag them down. {Disclaimer: I was delusional with hunger at the time, so I’ll definitely be trying this one again to verify all this.}

I don’t want a meal, just a tasty snack and heaping glasses of wine

For the live of me, I can never remember the real name of this wine bar (Oeno Tk) so it has become known as “that wine bar behind the church near Chatelain” or “the pink wine bar” or “the bar that used to have that amazing South African pinotage before they stopped carrying it and broke my heart”… but I digress… Ask for recommendations in this place because they know their wine. It is reasonably priced. And their cheese and truffle oil snack served with fresh bread is to die for (and easily replicated at home. Your guests will think you are a genius.) Warning: it is very crowded on Wednesday nights when the Chatelain evening market is up.

It is on the street where Audrey Hepburn was born and is awesome

Les Brassins is a true Brussels restaurant. This is a casual place that loves good food, a comforting, cozy brasserie interior, and the essential: a table full of laughing friends you can share a late night with. This is the place you end up running to at 10pm at night, with a group of six people in the dead middle of January, praying that they will have space so you can laugh the night away, warm inside, over a good steak frits {that’s steak and fries for you anglophones}. If I ever leave Brussels, I will truly miss this place. Just bring cash as they do not accept cards. {Added bonus, the NYTimes endorses it… which means it has to be marvelous.}

Where to get your lunchtime taco fix

That isn’t really an accurate description but I do go to El Verde (or as it used to be known in its slightly better hey-day, El Vergel) when I am craving the closest thing to Latin American food I can find in Brussels. It is located way too close to work and therefore I’m pretty sure half of my salary has gone to this place. But it is worth it for their Churrasco queso. You can also get great salads here.

Where am I dying to go but have never been?

Neptune, on Rue Lesbroussart about half way up the hill from Place Flagey. I pass it ALL THE TIME and it looks tiny, adorable and romantic. This Brussels Kitchen spotlight made me want to go all the more. Sigh… (hint, hint, hint)

Any more recommendations from Brussels expats or natives?

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19 comments
  1. Jay said:

    Well you know I loved Belga Queen but now I’m hoping to go back to Brussels to give these other restaurants a try!

    (We visited “The Village Idiot” in Revelstoke, BC (a ski town) last summer. It looked funny when I checked in on my iPhone.)

  2. boo said:

    Good selection Jess. Spot on. Next time I look forward to a list of unknown restos…boom. I just threw it. Down. The gauntlet.

    • Challenge accepted. Though I define “unknown” as unknown to most of the Brussels expat community. Your “unknown” I imagine would be close to impossible to identify.

  3. Tatiana said:

    love this! A few others you should absolutely try: Toscana 21 (Italian, they fly to Italy every couple weeks to bring back fresh Italian produce), L’Estrille du Vieux (classic french cooking, warm and oldy-worldy, and their signed guestbook has some big names!), Les Petits Ognions (also French food, great value for 3 or 4 course menus and great wine selection) -all near Sablon and all great food for good value.

    • Great suggestions Tat! I’ve been wanting to try L’Estrille since around the first day I arrived in Brussels and walked down that street…

      • Ryan Bowles said:

        Jess, I think we’ve been to Toscana 21. It is next to the outside elevator past the Sablon.

  4. Eamon McHugh said:

    And the best Irish pub in town must be Kitty O’Shea’s, non?

    • It was in the running until it CLOSED!! Now my vote is for De Valera’s…closely followed by Michael Collins.

      • Carey said:

        DeValera’s? What? Seriously? Dev’s is to Irish pubs what Budweiser is to Belgian beer…. The Collins is ok – but the only authentic place in town (and this is as much an indictment of Ireland as it is Brussels….) is O’Reilly’s.

      • The true problem here is that there are no real authentic Irish pubs in Brussels. But I disagree with you on O’Reilly’s based on a key factor – location. Right in front of the Bourse! Not my favorite spot. Now if you moved it back a block to the other side of St Gery, I’d be less judgemental… but alas…

  5. Carey said:

    authenticity and location are two different things. Difficult to disagree with my assertation that it is authentic (probably for worse rather than better) on the basis of its location

  6. L said:

    Here are a few suggestions of other types of cuisine not on your list:

    – Chez Oki for his franco-japanese fusion foie gras sushi
    – Shuka for traditional, homemade Persian food (order take-out). It’s run by an Iranian family and is pretty authentic.
    – Ambelis for Cypriot food (you might be the only non Greek-speaker there…)
    – Izaka-ya for their great selection of Japanese “tapas”

    I’m purposely not recommending any Italian, Belgian or French cuisine cause you already got those covered! 🙂 and agree with you on El Vergel, which I’m still reluctant to call by its somewhat ridiculous new name “The Green”

    • L, that foie gras sushi was one of those “you are proven to be 100% wrong” moments. Thought I would hate it. Absolutely loved it. A must try. Based on your list, I think you are the one who needs to tackle the original Elle list! Let’s chat… 😉

      • L said:

        Was not impressed by the Elle list at all! Happy to talk about it over coffee 🙂 As for Cafe des Spores, it’s an interesting experience but a bit of an overkill if you’re not a hardcore mushroom lover…

  7. Try out Cafe des Spores and La Buvette (Forest/Saint Gilles). Great food. Fabulous decor. Awesome overall.

    • So many people have recommended Cafe des Spores and I have still yet to go. The mushroom-ice cream has keep me on the fence – but I think I just have to bite the bullet and try it! Thanks for the recommendations.

      • It’s worth a try. I’m not a mushroom fan and I was pleasantly surprised…

  8. I lived in Brussels for a while but haven’t been back for about 6 years. It seems like a love of things have changed. These recommendations sound great.

    • Milla, you must come back and try some of these! I think we are quite spoiled with the food choices in Brussels considering how much smaller we are than Paris. Do let me know if you are ever back in town. (Very glad to have discovered your blog as well!)

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