Lithuania’s Good Food Academy recently named the country’s top 30 restaurants and dared tourists to visit them all in a week. Challenge accepted.
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Lithuania might not be traditionally known for fine dining, but the country is experiencing a food revolution, with young chefs updating old-school methods via produce from their own backyard.
The country’s best restaurants are serving up everything from fresh takes on cepelinai (Lithuania’s national dish: potato-meat dumplings) to fine-dining reinventions of the ever-popular cold beetroot soup, šaltibarščiai. We asked Linas Petrukaitas, CEO of the Good Food Academy, how to visit all the top 30 restaurants during a week’s stay. Read on for his itinerary.
First tip? Loosen your waistband…
Start in Vilnius at Stebuklai, the former number one of Lithuania’s top 30 list, for the capital’s most popular breakfast. Favourites here include eggs Benedict, huevos rancheros or ricotta cheese pancakes topped with caviar. Indulgent much?
Then take Gediminas Avenue towards the Cathedral and stop off at Dine for a lunch of octopus with potatoes and homemade duck sausages.
Come evening it’s all about Stikliai, a fine-dining restaurant in the plush hotel of the same name, which has hosted everyone from celebrities to kings. Head chef Gerdvilas Žalys honed his craft under Joel Robuchon and while you can dine à la carte, he really flexes his creative muscles on the six-course tasting menu. French techniques are applied to Lithuanian ingredients: think smoked trout soup, or venison loin with caramelised onion and juniper seed oil.
Finish your evening at Sofa de Pancho with margaritas and late-night ceviche, quesadilla and guacamole (if you can cram it in).
Start your day exploring the Old Town with champagne at Telegrafas Kempinsky. Bag a table by the window to savour a continental breakfast, fresh-baked bread and a glass of bubbly, over unbeatable views of Cathedral Square.
For a boozy lunch, you can’t beat Saint Germain‘s wine list, which offers 25 varieties by the glass. Soak it up with refined, French-inspired dishes (we love the lamb chops with fresh figs and olives) before wandering in the direction of Ertlio namas, where you’ll nibble on pre-dinner snacks.
Here, traditional Lithuanian cuisine is king: try the roe deer pate peppered with black salsify, or pheasant with Jerusalem artichokes. The menu changes every two months, with the chef deliberately avoiding Soviet-era ingredients like pork, beetroot, and potatoes in favour of flavours that reflect the city’s gastronomic history.
This evening, dine at the official, best restaurant in town. Dziaugsmas has topped Lithuania’s top 30 list for two years in a row and for good reason: head chef Martynas is one of the country’s highest-ranking chefs. The focus here is on Lithuanian ingredients purchased from local farmers known personally to the chef and constructed into beautiful sharing dishes of cod fritters, toasted bread and beef ribs, paired with natural wines.
Day trip: Vilnius to Trakai
Head out of Vilnius to the medieval city of Trakai, 30 minutes away, and start with brunch at Apvalaus Stalo Klubas for the best views of Trakai Island Castle in the middle of the lake. The dishes here offer a fresh take on Lithuanian classics: a venison-stuffed version of cepelinai (potato dumplings), Lithuania’s national dish, or baked local cheese with caraway seeds, pumpkin and potato gratin.
After a few hours exploring the city, take a late lunch at La Esperanza – a classic French dining room that riffs off herbs and vegetables from the kitchen garden. Leave room for dessert, which is best savoured on the open-air terrace, surrounded by pine trees. Then it’s time to head back to Vilnius, where you can enjoy European dishes with a taste of India at Gaspar’s. Chef Gaspar Fernandes’ culinary creations are inspired by recipes handed down through generations of his family, like his Mum’s curry with chicken or jumbo shrimp, packed with exotic Indian spices. Don’t eat too much, as you’ll be making a late-night stop at zero-waste eatery Amandus for a Scandi-inspired tasting dinner, prepared by up-and-coming chef Deivydas Praspaliauskas.
Can you cope with one last stop? Finish the night at SOMM, considered to be the best wine bar in Lithuania, with some of the country’s most knowledgeable sommeliers on hand. Local terroir and tradition create notes not often found in Southern European wine. Wild berries and apples create strong Nordic flavours, like the Voruta brand’s rosé, which is made with strawberries.
After all that wine you’ll want to sleep in. Start the day with a lazy cappuccino at Da Antonio, one of the oldest restaurants in Vilnius and the only Italian à la carte restaurant to make the top 30. It’s easy to see why. Chef Dmitrij Babenko combines imported Italian delicacies with local produce to create innovative mashups, like burrata cheese with shrimp ceviche and guacamole.
Come lunchtime, it’s time to taste the best beef in Vilnius. Choose between Meat or Böff, both just a short walk from the old town. Aptly named Meat specialises in Lithuanian dry-aged beef and lays claim to the Baltics’ largest meat-aging cooler, with all beef matured for a minimum of 28 days. Böff purchases its USDA certified beef from Creekstone Farm in Omaha. Their bulls are fed a grain-based diet for at least the last 120 days (which could be why the filet mignon tastes so good).
After winding through the old town’s cobbled streets, find your way to Sweet Root, where the menu features Lithuanian seasonal produce dictated by local nature and weather conditions. Think juicy tomatoes, vivid pink beetroot and crisp cucumber in the summer months, boletus mushrooms and earthy potatoes come autumn and winter.
For late-night snacks and drinks, Selfish has some of the most reasonably priced fish and seafood in the city. Snack on the popular tuna tataki – lightly seared fish with a citrus sauce – or Thai-style mussels in a coconut broth. If you can stomach it, wind your way to Vilnius Street and Islandijos Street for some proper nightlife.
Roadtrip: Vilnius to Kaunas
On the way to the coast, stop off at Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city, and another foodie hotspot.
Dia comes highly recommended for lunch, where a global menu spans Italian truffle ravioli and Thai red duck curry. Or head for Momo Grill, in a historic riverbank building. Despite its name, you won’t find Tibetan dumplings on the menu here. Instead, you get legendary charcoal-grilled meats, including homemade Lithuanian sausages or Brazilian beef fillet.
For dinner, head for experimental uoksas, where the seasonal tasting menu features Baltic produce such as beetroot, boletus mushrooms and potatoes. In 2019, chef Artūras Naidenko began curing meat using koji mushroom spores and the restaurant also serves homemade fermented soft drinks.
Otherwise, opt for Nüman – a restaurant that prides itself on its ever-changing menu. The chef’s constant search for new produce, suppliers and techniques means that he’s never repeated a dish on the menu. Past delights have included mackerel with dried dill ice and whole, locally sourced duck for two, skillfully carved at your table.
Roadtrip: Kaunas – Šiauliai – Palanga
The bustling seaside resort of Palanga is always packed, so make sure you book a table (and a room) for your evening at Vila Komoda well in advance.
It’s a four-hour drive, so stop for lunch at Avenue Brasserie in Šiauliai. This is the first restaurant in the city to make it onto Lithuania’s top 30 list. Tuck into duck breast with pear puree and chicory or try the braised octopus with potatoes and cauliflower.
Then it’s on to Palanga. The chef at Restaurant Palanga serves up a French menu with absolute precision – the duck soup with porcini mushroom is a hit, while diners have described the tirimasu as ‘legendary’. Some regulars have returned after more than a decade for just another taste.
At nightfall, check into the restaurant at Vila Komoda. Chef Martyn Meid’s experimental style and obsession with natural aromas means that the tasting menu is a sensory overload. Make sure to try the house rye bread, which is handmade from a 100-year-old recipe. Then collapse into bed in the historic building’s upstairs rooms, once home to Lithuanian nobility.
Roadtrip: Palanga – Klaipeda – Šturmai – Pazaislis
It’s not Sunday without brunch, and family-run Monai is your best bet in Klaipeda. Work up an appetite with a stroll around the charming old town, with its cobbled streets and quaint, half-timbered buildings, before tucking into the home-cooked menu that’s constantly changing. Linger over tuna tartare and a midus (mead) aperitif, a sweet honey liquor that dates back to the 11th century.
Drive to Šturmai for an early dinner at Šturmų švyturys. Owners Česlovas and Asta Žemaitis have created a magical space on the shores of the Curonian Lagoon where you can lazily watch fishing boats pootling into the harbour, or dine on the cosy terrace while the sun sets over the Coronian Spit, a sand dune peninsula that stretches all the way to Russia.
Select your own fish from the ice counter – choice varies depending on the season and what was brought in from the boats that day, but often features pike or perch – which is then cooked in a wood-fired oven. It’s a great opportunity to learn about what’s caught locally, as well as the produce foraged from the surrounding forests: boletus mushrooms, nettles and beetroot.
The drive back to Vilnius takes around four hours, so it would be rude not to stop off at Monte Pacis for refreshments and the chance to see the Pazaislis Monastery‘s baroque architecture. Too stuffed to go on? Spend the night here before returning to the capital.
Reckon you’ve got the stomach for a Lithuanian food odyssey? You know what to do.