The Best Restaurants in Istria: Between the Truffles and the Adriatic

The gastronomic offering of Istria ranges from earthy
tavernas set high in the misty Učka Mountains, to bona fide agritourist bistros
and chic fine-dining establishments, constituting some of the best restaurants
in the region. The offerings range from Italian pastas, wood fired pizzas,
earthy Croatian cattle meats, oodles of award winning
Brtonigla wines and more truffles—white and black—than you can shake a bottle
of Ipša oil at!

Zenon Konoba & Enoteka
© Zenon Konoba & Enoteka

Zenon Konoba &

In the heart of Croatia’s most famous truffle country, Zenon Konoba
& Enoteka’s range of flavoursome pastas, seafood, meat and cold
mezze does well to fuse the Istrian, Italian
and greater Mediterranean cooking traditions. The overarching style is an
enticing mix of fine-dining and rustic taverna-type eating, with an interior
that’s decorated with oodles of fine wines, bucolic Istrian paraphernalia,
exposed brick walls and rough wooden tables to match. What’s more, the location
is excellent—perched high on the Istrian coastal mountains in the sleepy
farming village of Brtonigla, with its charming churches, old roman ruins and
pretty red tiled roofs.

Zenon Konoba
& Enoteka, Mlinska 2, Brtonigla 52474, Croatia
, +38 595 897

Medveja beach © Sl-Ziga/WikiCommons

Konoba Kali

Nestled below the looming limestone peaks of the Učka Range,
just a stone’s throw from the shimmering white beaches and crystalline Adriatic Sea around Medveja, Konoba
Kali offers up earthy, traditional and rustic Liburnian cuisine.
House specialities include hand folded ravioli prepared with oodles of seafood
and traditional Istrian beef steak grilled over a real flame. Inside, the
exposed wood ceilings, rocky walls and various ornamentations create an
authentic ‘Old World’ feel, while the on-site terrace offers up sweeping views
of the Adriatic and the verdant coastline of northern Istria.

Konoba Kali,
Kali 39a, Medveja, Lovran, Croatia
, +38 598 563 872

© Konoba Buščina


Halfway between rustic Istrian taverna and gourmet
fine-dining, this homely restaurant in the extreme northern reaches of the
peninsula has long been hailed for its adherence to seasonal changes and
dedication to local produce. That means a wealth of authentic Croatian flavours
throughout the year, with specials that range from home-cured hams and Adriatic
cuttlefish, to Istrian olive oils and—Buščina’s trademark—boškarin ox meat, which
only a few kitchens in Istria are licenced to prepare professionally.

Buščina, Buščina
18, Umag, Croatia
, +38 552 732 088

© Konoba Buščina

Le Mandrać

Adding a dash of Scandinavian-style modernism to Volosko’s
rustic old fishing harbour with its chic, floor-to-ceiling glass sitting area, Le Mandrać
is a real hotspot for fine-diners in search of fashionable and creative Mediterranean cuisine in Istria. The menu is
the work of Deniz Zembo of Masterchef fame,
who has brought real flair to the traditional southern European kitchen by
combining fresh and local food with contemporary presentation and a careful
balancing of flavours. What’s more, what Le Mandrać may lack in the way of al fresco dining during the summer, it
more than makes up for in sleek and snazzy interior design and service
throughout the year.

Le Mandrać,
Volosko, Opatija, Croatia
,+38 551 701 357

Rovinj streets
Rovinj streets © oksidor/Flickr


Unquestionably one of the most cutting-edge eateries in all
of Istria, Monte
is perched amidst the old town of Rovinj, in the shadow of the magnificent
Basilica of Saint Euphemia. Here, the kitchen’s pièce de résistance comes in the form of a five-course degustation
selection, all made with ingredients sourced straight from the town’s local
farmer’s market. The flavours are a creative reworking of traditional Istrian
seafood and meat classics, with Mediterranean mussels in sea foam rubbing
shoulders with cauliflower ragout. There are also a whole range of reds and
whites on offer, selected largely from the greater Alps-Adriatic-Danube region.

Montalbano 75, Rovinj , Croatia
, +38 552 830 203

Damir & Ornella

Staying firmly true to the culinary philosophy of fresh fish
direct from ‘sea to table’, it’s hardly a surprise that the folk at Damir &
Ornella are often hailed as the best fish chefs in all of Istria.
The range of dishes on offer are designed to apotheosise the natural and
organic flavours of the catches above everything else, reminiscent of‘Mediterranean sashimi’ that combines a
series of curious raw appetizers with truffle infused mains, seafood pastas and
simply cooked fish fillets. What’s more, Damir & Ornella boasts a truly intimate
service from the get go, with just six tables and a charming location between
the tight-knit back alleys of seaside Novigrad.

Damir & Ornella, Zidine 5, Novigrad, Croatia,+38 552 758 134

Main Square of Novigrad © Marianocecowski/WikiCommons


Surrounded by the sweeping farm fields and dramatic mountain
ridges of the beautiful Ćićarija region on Istria’s extreme
north-eastern edge, this rustic taverna bills itself as agritourist gastronomy,
dedicated to taking the concept of farm-to-table to new and dizzying heights.
Everything that’s plated here is home-grown within the fields and hills around Toncic
itself, or sourced from local producers working in northern Istria. With such a
remote setting the restaurant can be a little tricky to find, but once you’re
there, expect homely service, knowledgeable food recommendations and an
authentically Croatian culinary experience from beginning to

Cabarnica 42, Zrenj, Oprtalj, Croatia
, +38 552 644 146

Modovun city gate © Scops/WikiCommons

Konoba Mondo

Set just below the medieval old town of picturesque Motovun, this
lovely little restaurant is hailed for its ability to mix Italian classics with trademark flavours from
the greater Istria region (truffles in particular). Consequently, guests can
choose between dishes like beef carpaccio with shavings of truffle; creamy
tagliatelle infused with truffles; and potato soup flavoured with white
truffle. What’s more, while the location may not boast the same sweeping views
of central Istria that some of the other restaurants in Motovun enjoy, Konoba Mondo does have a
charming al fresco terrace that’s
perfect for people-watching as the crowds pass beneath the town’s impressive
medieval gateway.

Konoba Mondo,
Barbacan 1, Motovun, Croatia
, +38 552 681 791

San Rocco

While perhaps better known as one of the most popular
boutique hotels in Istria, San Rocco also boasts a fantastic fine-dining
bistro that’s dedicated to mastering regional staples from both Italy and
northern Croatia. That means a whole host of homemade pastas, Roman pizzas, more than a dousing of local
olive oil, flame grilled Istrian beef, and an abundance of truffles. What’s
more, San Rocco’s gourmet offering pairs up neatly to the verdant gardens of
the hotel, where guests can sit and eat on the al fresco terraces while watching the rays of the Croatian sun
caress over the surface of the pool.

San Rocco, Via
Media 2, Brtonigla, Croatia
, +38 552 725 000

Buje © Sl-Ziga/WikiCommons

Restaurant Zigante

Truffles, truffles and more truffles adorn the menu at this
gourmet eatery in the sleepy town of Livade, where guests can try a seasonal
offering of Mediterranean foods inspired entirely by this most definitive of
Istrian ingredients. In fact, Zigante
is owned by the man who currently holds the Guinness World Record for the largest white truffle find in history, which
was discovered in the Istrian hills around Buje back in 1999. There are pastas,
seafood dishes, local meats and even classic American steaks to enjoy, along
with a selection of non-truffle dishes and vegetarian meals. Put simply, if
it’s truffles you’re after, then Zigante’s the place to be.

Zigante, Livade
7, Livade, Croatia
, +38 552 664 302

Motovun © Rich Francis

By Rich Francis