A City Where the Old and New Come Together
Antwerp is a city with a nice mix of old and new. You still have some old-school bistros, frietkoten (fry shacks) and cafés – or what we call “brown bars” because they often come with a dark wooden interior – but there has been a fresh wind blowing through Antwerp’s culinary landscape for the last few years. A lot of people are opening exciting new bakeries, bars and restaurants. Although every restaurant needs to be supported during these challenging times, I try not to forget the smaller, neighbourhood businesses as well as those places that opened just before or during the pandemic.
My Favourite Frituur
Frituur Falcon is my favourite frituur (kiosk serving French fries and other snacks) in town. It still cooks its fries in animal fat – so it’s not a place suited for vegans – but these fries are surprisingly easy to digest and taste amazing. The atmosphere of the place isn’t super friendly, but the fries make it alright, so just go in, order some great potatoes and leave.
Food in the Orthodox Jewish Quarter
In the Orthodox Jewish part of town, there’s a falafel place I love called Beni Falafel. Beni is retired and a young guy has taken over but has kept the same vibe. For more vegan Middle Eastern food, try Humm in Zurenborg: the hummus is great, and I also like the sabich filled with fried aubergine. If you want to discover the world of Jewish pastry, take a short walk to Kleinblatt, a very cool bakery with fabulous cheesecake. The shop is famous for making koffiekoeken (pastries) with blueberries in the summer.
Eating Japanese in Antwerp
I recently discovered a tiny, neighbourhood restaurant with a cosy and relaxed vibe called Apo’s. It does Japanese food with a Belgian twist like adding a hint of dark chocolate to ramen. I love the ramen there: there’s a super creamy one with oat milk in it that’s veggie-friendly. If you want good sushi, you’ll find it at Kato, the Japanese restaurant by chef Takeaki Kato. In addition to sushi standards, go for the deep-fried oysters.
A Mexican Taco Truck Worth Stalking
For food by someone who was raised in a Mexican household in Southern California, try to locate the SoCal Tacos truck for great chilaquiles, tacos, burritos and quesadillas. The truck stops in different spots in the city and has a group of loyal followers that chase it down wherever it goes.
Classic Cooking, Elevated
There are two addresses I recommend for elevated classic gastronomy. The two-Michelin-starred Bistrot Du Nord is a meat-heavy kitchen that uses a lot of offal in its dishes and it’s all delicious. Évidence is a really good restaurant near the docks, run by a French chef who very elegantly interprets French cuisine. There I had a light and tasty dish of North Sea sole with veal sweetbread, Jerusalem artichoke, vin jaune and bottarga.
A Hit-List for Exploring the Borgerhout Neighbourhood
Borgerhout is a multicultural neighbourhood with everything from trendy bars to Middle Eastern food. Some of the things you might like to do there include picking up some pastries from Boulot bakery and having a coffee at Cornichon; trying the wines at Glou Glou with some snacks on the side; grabbing a drink at Bar Leon or one of the many craft beers on tap at Beerlovers Bar; and enjoying a creative dinner with local ingredients at Essen Restaurant. You can also check if Loes & Krikke is making pizza with organic local ingredients. During the lockdown, the people from Krikke worked with the crew from Stoked – a really cool food truck that makes excellent pies – to cook food for people in need. They used vegetables from local organic farm Onslogischvoedsel to prepare the meals and teamed up with the city’s social services to distribute them.
More Pandemic Saviours
Nage is a nice, pandemic newbie which was opened by chef Koen Lenaerts and his partner Niki Vansant in the historic centre. It does a lot of homemade delicacies such as charcuterie, brioche and pasta. A lot of skill and good taste is to be witnessed in this place. I ordered-in a lot of burgers from Camino during the lockdown, as well as Indian vegetarian dishes from Aahaar.
The Great Belgian Bake
The former chef at restaurant Veranda and the barista from Broer Bretel joined forces to create a very refined lunch spot called Album. They serve natural wines and very delicate dishes like North Sea crab with smoked tomato consomé. They also bake amazing sourdough bread that you’re welcome to drop in just to buy: it’s really the best bread in town. If you fancy a nice lunch at a good bakery, try Domestic located inside a tiny historic house in the city centre. You can also have breakfast or high tea in the salon there, and a well-made chocoladebroodje (pain au chocolat). Good chocoladebroodje is so satisfying when you haven’t had it for a while: you can also pick it up at Bakker Aldo, Lina’s and Boulot. Hidden in a sleepy neighbourhood, Leo bakery is also worth searching for and always has something new to try. Patissier Sander Goosens makes exquisite pastries including great croissants and tarts with grapefruit, yuzu and mustard.
Drink Like a Belgian
The atmosphere at Café De Kat is super nice. The crowd that goes there is very diverse: older people from the neighbourhood mix with young students from the arts academy nearby. Oud Arsenaal has a nice beer menu with a lot of geuze: wild-fermented sour beer and Belgium’s national pride. De Duifkens is the bar where actors from the Bourla (the city’s historic theatre) go to have drinks after their shows and mix with regulars who enjoy a pint of beer. Café ‘t Licht der Dokken is at the waterside and gives away free crisps.
Asian Food Musts Near the Central Station
I really love Kunthun Café near the Central Station. It’s a low-key Tibetan place with a tasty cold noodle salad. To discover more of the Chinese neighbourhood near Central Station, try the hand-pulled noodles at Bai Wei, a wok-fried Thai dish at Tawan Thai, and Sichuan cuisine at Ni Shifu. Another good place near the station is Malaciorta which does real Neapolitan pizza.
A Stroll in Kloosterstraat
Mico & Jon is a really nice lunch spot in cosy Kloosterstraat, a neighbourhood which has a lot of (overpriced) antique shops that open on Sundays. Mico is a pastry chef from Hong Kong and makes amazing pastry like black sesame cake, yuzu tarts, cotton cheese cake and choux au craquelin (crisp cream puffs) with matcha filling. Her husband, Jon, is an amazing cook who comes from a family of restaurateurs in Antwerp. They describe their cuisine as “progressive Asian” as they combine traditional flavours and dishes with local ingredients. They are the sweetest people. The place also opens on Sundays so it’s really nice to combine a lunch there with a stroll around the antique shops, followed by some ice cream from Milad further down the street. This ice cream shop by Belgian-Iranian Setareh Pourjavand is a dream for anyone who loves gelato and Middle Eastern flavours. Her tahini-chocolate ice cream is great.
The Places I Take Industry Friend
If I’m hosting friends who are interested in natural wines, I take them for a glass and a bite at Osaka, a new wine bar with stunning interior and an impressive wine cellar put together by Daan Guelinckx. Guelinckx is a sommelier who worked at cool places such as Veranda in Antwerp, Sanchez in Copenhagen and Auberge De Chassignolles in France. I think friends in the industry would enjoy Ossip, a special 12-seat restaurant that Magalie Verbaet created together with Emiel Redant. Industry friends would be surprised by the owners’ inventive combinations, the subtle flavours of the food, and the natural wine list. If they’re lucky, they’ll get to taste Emiel’s famous pâté en croûte. I also like taking industry friends to an old-school mussel restaurant called Maritime. It’s the perfect spot during mussels season: we’ll order a big pot of them with freshly baked fries.
A Gem in the Former Meat-Packing District
I really enjoy Bart-à-Vin, a tiny restaurant in an old butcher’s shop on the outskirts of the city where the slaughterhouse and meat-packing district used to be. There were a ton of meat restaurants there but only a few have survived. This one is perfect because of its simplicity. The menu is very small with only a few dishes served each day. The kitchen and dining room share the same space, so you get to watch the chef at work. The owner works the service and makes wine recommendations. His wine card is rather classical so if you’re a diehard natural wine fan you probably won’t find your thing there, but I strongly advise you visit because the food is perfect and the atmosphere is amazing.
A Laidback Antwerp Restaurant to Unwind at with Friends
It’s been a while since I’ve done it, but if I think of unwinding with friends, it would be at Restaurant Victor, a relatively new restaurant by Victor Avonds. Avonds used to be the chef at Frenchie in London and returned to her hometown to spoil us with good food. Her restaurant is in a really cool spot near the water and the red light district. It’s laidback so you can choose from the menu as you please, whether that means a four-course meal, scattering dishes around the table to share, or simply ordering a starter and a main.
A Special Occasion Outing
If I’m celebrating an occasion and have some money to spend, I would like to revisit Le Pristine by chef Sergio Herman. A lot of the things there are loud – the music, the art, the melting disco balls – but the food is really delicate and amazing. I initially thought it would be a pumped up place, but was really taken by the top-notch food and service when I went to write a review. It’s Italian-inspired food and you can order à la carte.
Under the Radar
There are a few gems in Antwerp that are still not heavily frequented. There’s a new, tiny Korean restaurant called Picniq that serves very refined dishes such as deep-fried seaweed crackers, savoury pancakes, baked rice cakes with sticky gochujang and elegant rice bowls. If you’re looking for a fun place to hang out, you can take the tunnel under the Schelde de Schelde River to Minigolf Beatrijs: a miniature golf course where you can hear live music and grab drinks and some food. There are always different chefs working so the food can vary. It was very good last summer. I remember having a lot of tasty vegetable plates and homemade fish sticks.
If you’re in town during spring, try to find some white asparagus which is considered a local delicacy. You’re looking for fresh ones with white tips – they’re not good if they’ve turned green – and without cracks. On Saturdays there is a market at the Theaterplein where you can find bundles of it when it’s in season. If you’re here in the winter, we have a type of endive called the witloof which is also called Belgian endive. They’re these little white-pointed endives grown by farmers under the ground so that they never see the sun. They’re bitter-sweet and super tasty. Also try the volle grond witloof which grows in the soil but without an aquaculture system. It has a slightly weaker taste. You can taste a garnaalkroket (croquette of grey shrimps from the North Sea) at the Saturday market. There are different places that make it, one of which is in the shape of a lighthouse and very easy to recognise. If you’re looking for organic fruit and vegetables, The Barn in the south of Antwerp is a nice shop to seek out. Cru is an upscale food market in the city centre: although it’s expensive, it’s still a nice place to find local delicacies. For a nice selection of local cheeses I recommend a small shop called De 3 Zussen
Souvenirs to Bring Home with You
If you want to take home a local snack or need something to munch on at the airport I advise getting your hands on some Antwerpse handjes (little hands of Antwerp). There’s nothing historic about these butter cookies: they’re totally made up, taste really nice and shaped like the hand of Brabo, a character from the city’s folklore. A lot of places sell them but I advise you to buy some from Goossens, the oldest bakery in town. Don’t be discouraged by the long line outside though: the shop only fits two people at a time. You can also buy chocolates and pralines from famous chocolatier Pierre Marcolini. Coup de Chocolat is a really nice bean-to-bar chocolate brand that’s made in Antwerp and comes in colourful little paper packets. You can find these in most coffee bars.
Where to Drink Coffee in Antwerp
You can’t leave Antwerp without grabbing a bag of locally roasted coffee from one of our great coffee bars. Our coffee scene has been flourishing for quite a while and you can get quality coffee at Caffenation, Rush Rush, Normo, Black and Yellow, Tinsel, Kolonel Coffee Roasters and Kornel among others. If you’re taking the train through the Antwerpen-Berchem station rather than the main Central Station, you can enjoy one final (good) coffee from Melbourne Coffee at the station’s main entrance.
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