There was a time when I thought getting a world-class meal in Dublin involved hopping on a plane and flying to New York or Paris. Sure, I’ve enjoyed decent fish and chips and soul-warming bowls of Irish stew in the Irish capital, but spending time there has never revolved around food.
That’s why I was so blown away by the culinary scene Nat Geo photographer Catherine Karnow and I encountered during our recent visit. The quality, creativity, and dedication to locally sourced ingredients we witnessed were on par with what you’ll find in some of the most sophisticated cities in the world–yet set apart by a uniquely Irish emphasis on comfort and simplicity.
If there’s one mainstay headlining the foodie transformation in Dublin it’s bread. “Before, it was brown soda bread, but now it’s all kinds, like sourdough in different forms, focaccia, and fermented poppy seed bread,” William Gunter of Slow Food Dublin told me. “Perhaps it’s the influx of Eastern European immigrants who wanted better bread, but we’re really seeing a bread revolution.”
Here are ten must-try foodie havens–from restaurants and coffee shops to food markets and ice cream manufacturers–that are making waves in Dublin.
1. Forest Avenue: Located in Ballsbridge, a ten-minute cab ride from the city center, Forest Avenue is one of Dublin’s most exciting new additions, and one that’s quickly becoming a neighborhood anchor.
The space is inviting with an open, energetic kitchen as centerpiece and sturdy wood, soft fabrics, and pillowed banquettes that radiate a comfortable elan. Ingredient-driven dishes–like a salad of shaved asparagus, tangy capers, poached egg, radishes, and spring lettuce or a straightforward, elegant cod–shine on a constantly evolving tasting menu.
“There’s a lot more honesty in food in Ireland [since] the Celtic Tiger economic boom [passed],” said Sandy Wyer, who runs the restaurant with her husband, John. “The flashiness is gone.” At Forest Avenue, it’s fine dining without an ounce of pretension.
2. Murphy’s Ice Cream: There are likely fewer than a thousand Kerry cows in the world and Murphy’s uses their milk to make its addictive ice cream, handmade with organic sugar and free-range eggs. In fact, the ingredients are of such high quality that even simple flavors are unlike anything you’ve tasted before.
Launched by delightful brothers Kieran and Sean Murphy–who occasionally travel north from Dingle, where the ice cream is made, to spend time in their Dublin shop on Wicklow Street–in 2000, Murphy’s has two other locations in Ireland, one in Dingle and another in Killarney. If you pop in, make sure to try special only-in-Ireland varieties like “Dingle Sea Salt” and “Toasted Irish Oats.”
3. Roasted Brown: Amid the chaos of Temple Bar, you might never know to find Roasted Brown on the second floor of Filmbase, a membership organization that supports Irish filmmakers and filmmaking. But here is where you’ll find the pulse of Dublin’s blossoming coffee culture.
The cappuccino I ordered didn’t need any added sweetener. Why? “Many coffee shops heat the milk to higher temperatures so it loses its natural sweetness,” Robert Lewis, one of Roasted Brown’s charming baristas, told me.”But we do it differently here.” If the goal was to create a haven for coffee, community, and art that is at once comfortable and cutting edge, I’d call Roasted Brown a rousing success.
4. Queen of Tarts: Be prepared to resist temptation upon entering the comfortably cozy, exceptionally cheerful Queen of Tarts. Tiered trays are piled high with cupcakes, glossy strawberry tarts, blackberry and apple crumbles, buttery raisin scones, and exceptionally good carrot cake (The secret? A hint of pineapple.). You may even spot the “queen” herself, red-headed beauty Regina Fallon, buzzing around the eatery with a pot of coffee in hand.
Fallon told me that the big difference between her bakery, which opened its doors in 1998 (a second location is now a short walk away), and most others around the city is that they make and sell their own pastries. “We start baking at 5 a.m. and everything is made in house,” said Fallon, who trained at a culinary school in New York.
Looking for something more savory? The Queen of Tarts also serves up crisp salads and great sandwiches made with freshly baked bread.
5. Chapter One: While Dublin’s food revolution has brought new offerings to town, Michelin-starred Chapter One continues to set the standard in high dining after more than two decades on Parnell Square.
Here you’ll find farm-driven magic masterminded by head chef and owner Ross Lewis in the basement of the Dublin Writers Museum, which itself occupies a property once owned by George Jameson, a member of Ireland’s famous distillery family.
The elegant dining room is divided into intimate rooms (one of which formerly served as a whiskey cellar for Jameson) and each dish seems to be inspired by the Irish landscape and created with artisanal ingredients, such as Clare Island organic salmon and Lough Erne lamb. More than any restaurant in Dublin, a meal at Chapter One is the product of a true maestro at work.
6. Coppinger Row: While there isn’t anything especially groundbreaking about Coppinger Row, it is one of the most consistently enjoyable places in Dublin to have a great dinner with friends.
Located on a quiet eponymous alleyway, the Coppinger Row menu sways Mediterranean, much of it well-sourced from Irish farms. The vibe there is relaxed, but abuzz–a perfect worry-free zone.
7. Etto: Etto may feel like a wine bar–a tiny, convivial space with white walls and neutral furniture–and offer a formidable selection of wines, but the real draw is the food under the direction of chef Barry Fitzgerald.
At lunch, the meatball ragu and mozzarella sandwich was paired with tomato, fennel, and marjoram soup to produce a delightful combination of freshness and flavor. But Fitzgerald’s signature dish is fast becoming his ricotta and spinach malfatti, made with mousserons (delicate wild mushrooms), egg yolk, and sage butter.
8. Fallon & Byrne: It was instant love at Fallon & Byrne, a multi-level space filled with epicurean pleasures housed in an Art Deco telephone exchange building.
With a wine bar and tasting room in the basement, a coffee nook and gourmet food hall that sources products from all over the world on ground level, and a beloved restaurant upstairs, this sensual wonderland envelops visitors in its cheerful exploration of food and wine.
Be warned: You’re likely to leave with a few delicious items that you want, but don’t necessarily need.
9. Mulligan’s: At Mulligan’s in Stoneybatter, the first thing I noticed were canned goods stacked behind the bar. Just in case disaster strikes, I mused, they’re all set. But, as one of the bartenders told me, the display is a simple homage to history. “Loads of people remember when this was a grocery,” he said.
Nowadays this gastropub serves great eats and craft beer with a side of Irish wit to a very locals-only crowd. As a fellow customer leaned over and confided to me while I was there, “It doesn’t get any better than this in Dublin.”
10. Trocadero: This glamorous restaurant has been holding court with the theater crowd for well over a half century–and for good reason.
At “the Troc,” you’ll enjoy classic steakhouse fare ensconced in a dimly lit Art Deco lair filled with mellow yellows, sumptuous reds, and walls lined with the head shots of successful and struggling actors. As Catherine described it, it’s like “a living room in an Old World city home filled with actors and friends.”
This is a place where the waitstaff greet you with mischievous grins, as though they are giving you permission to be whoever you want to be for the night–like an actor playing a role.
Annie Fitzsimmons is National Geographic Travel’s Urban Insider, exploring the cities of the world with style. Follow her adventures on the Urban Insider blog, Twitter @anniefitz, and Instagram @anniefitzsimmons.
Catherine Karnow is a contributing photographer at Traveler magazine known for her vibrant, emotional, and sensitive style of photographing people and places. Connect with her on Instagram @catherinekarnow and Facebook.