One of the hardest things about visiting Tirana is knowing what and where to eat. Let’s face it. Albanian foods are not exactly commonly known around the world. Add in a language that only a few million people on earth speak fluently, and well… you get the picture.
I’ve been blessed to have friends and family point me in the right direction when figuring out where to eat in Tirana. So I’m passing their tips for which Tirana restaurants to try, onto you. I hope your visit will be as delicious as all mine have been.
In this guide
Many countries in the world seem to have their own version of a fried meatball. Albania’s version is called qofte, and it’s traditionally made of minced lamb or beef, mixed with various herbs and spices and fried. They come in pretty much every shape and form you can imagine, and could appear solo or in the middle of 2 pieces of crusty bread as a sandwich. Whatever form it takes, you can count on it being savoury and satisfying.
If you leave Tirana without trying this essential Albanian food, you’d be missing out on one of the country’s great gastronomic delights… especially since it can be found pretty much every which way you turn (meaning there’s no excuse). Eat it as a street snack from a stall in the middle of the afternoon, have a fancy version in a fine-dining Tirana restaurant, or buy it pre-made at a grocery store. Wherever you end up getting it, it’ll be super-affordable, flavourful and have you asking for seconds in no time.
Tirana Restaurants to eat qofte
My favourite version of qofte is definitely in a Zgare Korca. These Korca-style grill restaurants are very popular and can be found all over Tirana. Here, the qofte are grilled, rather than fried, so they have that great smoky flavour that’s impossible to get in any other way. I especially love dipping the qofte into salc kosi – a thick, garlicky yogurt based sauce similar to tzatziki. And while I should probably follow the Albanian tradition of ordering a tomato salad to balance everything out, I prefer some crispy fries instead.
In a Tirana restaurant, a single qofte costs just 30 lek, or 30 cents each.
Byrek is as representative of Albania as the double headed eagle on the country’s flag. Eaten all day long, and made from scratch in pretty much every household in the country, it’s layers of flaky dough stuffed with a variety of fillings. When eaten at home, byrek will usually be made in a huge pan, cut and divided like a pizza, among family members.
I’ve had the great pleasure of eating all types of homemade byrek made by various members of Agri’s family. I’ve tried byrek filled with meat and tomato sauce, with leeks, and with spinach, and all have been delicious.
My personal favourite is undoubtedly byrek me mish (with meat), but byrek me djathë (with cheese) is more common. You can also try byrek me spinaq (with spinach), byrek me kungull (with zucchini) or byrek me presh (with leeks). These are all common, but the fillings for byrek are really only limited by your own imagination.
Tirana Restaurants to try byrek
Byrektores are found in absolutely every neighbourhood, and you really can’t go wrong with most of them. They’ll vary only in flakiness / greasiness of the pastry and the fillings offered. Keep in mind that if you’re looking for byrek at a restaurant in Tirana, you’ll only be able to find it in the morning.
I recommend trying byrek at Lej & Laj. It’s a local favourite due to it’s super flaky pastry and delicious fillings. Get there early, so you don’t miss out. A byrek there costs 50 lek, or about 50 cents.
Where to try Classic Albanian Foods
If you have no idea what makes up Albanian cuisine, you wouldn’t be alone. Visit Mullixhiu, one of Tirana’s best restaurants, for Chef Bledar Kola’s 8 course Degustation menu. He trained in the kitchens of NOMA before returning to Tirana to open Mullixhiu, and for a measly 15 euros, you can try modern and innovative interpretations of traditional Albanian foods.
All the bread served in the restaurant is milled right on site, and loaves can be purchased to take home.
Oda means Room, and that’s about the size of this family-run restaurant in Tirana. Decorated in the style of Albanian houses from the 1950s, eating here is like being fed by your favourite aunt.
Try lakror – a pie from the Korca region, speca me gjize (baked peppers with salty ricotta cheese), and corba (a tasty soup). If you’ve got a strong tummy and you’re not squeamish, give the tave me plenc a try. It’s veal stomach cooked in oils with garlic, onion and other spices. Be sure to call ahead and make a reservation because there are just a few tables in this tiny Tirana restaurant.
Where to eat Italian Food in Tirana
The truth is there’s Italian food EVERYWHERE in Tirana, and most of it is damn good. With a huge Albanian diaspora in Italy, it’s not that surprising, but add in the 18,000 Italians expats that have moved to Tirana in recent years, and you’ve got a pretty exciting Italian food scene.
I’m not advocating that you fly to Southeast Asia, but head to the Tirana restaurant shaped like that little island country instead. There you’ll find not only delicious Albanian classics, but also some of the best Italian food in the city. In fact, I still dream about the penne arrabiata I ate there a few years ago.
Taiwan is much more than just a restaurant. It’s more accurate to think of it as a complex in the middle of Tirana that offers multiple entertainment choices. There’s 3 separate restaurants, 2 bars, bowling, billiards, a casino and much more.
Vegan / Vegetarian Restaurants in Tirana
Happy Belly Juice Bar
To call the Albanian diet, a little heavy on meat and bread could be understating it slightly. It’s nothing I’m complaining about, since pretty much every carnivorous meal I’ve eaten in Tirana has been beyond delicious, but every once in a while, my digestive system starts complaining. That’s when I know it’s time to give my system a break, and the place I head to is the Happy Belly Juice Bar.
This place is totally dedicated to healthy eating. It was the first vegan / vegetarian restaurant in Tirana when owner Tixhi Bushi opened it 4 years ago. She prepares all the cakes, pies, and food in Happy Belly every single day. There’s a constantly rotating menu of carbs, proteins, vegetables and juices – all made with as little sugar as possible. You can try vegan and vegetarian versions of classic Albanian foods, including qofte, which Bushi makes using ground beans, instead of meat.
Fresh juices and smoothies can be purchased for 250 – 350 lek. Pies, cakes and various foods run to a maximum of 500 lek. A small price to pay for your health.
Street Food in Tirana
While qofte is easy to find pretty much anywhere, my go to street food in Tirana is Greek. Sufflaqe or souvlaki is made in the traditional Greek style, stuffed with meat, french fries, and veggies. You can order plates or pita. Order a bottle of Dhalle to go with it for a refreshing treat.
Are you hungry now? Which restaurants in Tirana do you want to try? Let us know in the comments below!