Ghent is one of my favorite cities I’ve traveled to. During three days in 2015, I had a chance to see a good portion of the center of town, toured around by my amazing couchsurfing host Nele. I also took the free walking tour where Maria gave me some great suggestions where to eat. By the end of my visit I had eaten some of the most delicious food in all my travels. Here is a list of my top 5 best restaurants in Ghent.
To begin, know that Ghent is a major tourist destination, although perhaps not quite as famous as its neighbor Bruges. There are over 600 restaurants in Ghent, most of them catering to the millions of affluent travelers coming to see what was once the second largest and richest city in Europe. The restaurants I list, however, are recommended by locals and as such are where the locals themselves frequently eat. That’s not to say that tourists don’t eat at them too, but these are the true gems. So if you want to a touch of the local culture, here they are.
Established in 1989, this restaurant serves a wide range of international cuisine including (but not limited to) Spanish, Moroccan, Italian, Thai, Indian, Japanese and Australian. Meals range from €8 for a croque monsieur to €21.75 for a steak (beef or kangaroo). Tapas are €6.25 or €7.25. Desserts and cocktails are equally as diverse.
What really makes the Mosquito Coast stand out is the ambiance. The owners have decorated the whole venue with memorabilia from their travels around the world, and you can expect to engage in globetrotter stories at the bar with fellow travelers.
Oh, and this is Belgium, so expect some of the best beer in the world.
I had the Mac Marrakech, a Moroccan lamb burger with a spicy garlic sauce, served on a whole-wheat bun with a salad and couscous on the side. Nele had the Lebanese falafel with hummus, beetroot, tabbouleh, and salad to satisfy her vegan diet. My burger was simply the best I’ve ever had, only closely rivaled by the lamb and harissa burger at Moaburger in Krakow. Gin tonic and wine completed our fantastic meal.
Opening hours: from 11:00 Tues-Sat (kitchen open 12:00-14:00, 18:00-22:30); from 15:00 Sunday (kitchen open 18:00-22:30).
Telephone: +32 9 224 37 20
Amadeus – The Place for Ribs
Amadeus originally started in the 1990’s after the owner traveled to Texas where he loved the BBQ ribs so much, he brought the recipe back to Belgium. This little restaurant has since grown into 8 thriving locations around Belgium, but the original is in the Patershol district, and has since become one of the top restaurants in Ghent on Tripadvisor.
The menu is simple. All-you-can-eat spareribs. Okay, maybe a little more than that.
Ribs are their feature meal, but they also serve chicken stew (€13.75), lamb chops (€15), prawns (€18.95) and other dishes. Sadly, the all-you-can-eat, divine jacket potatoes they served with my ribs no longer seem to be on the menu (might just not be mentioned). Instead, the current deal is all-you-can-eat spareribs with tomato soup or a Greek salad and chocolate mousse, rice porridge or coffee (€22.50), or all-you-can-eat spareribs, 2 glasses of wine and an Irish coffee (€24.50).
As to the quality, this is not your American GMO pork. This is Belgium, and the quality is superb. The Irish coffee is also made to perfection – in three layers.
My own experience was interesting. It was the only meal I ate in 2015 when I really wish I wasn’t eating alone (Nele wasn’t available that day). When you’re eating something that good, you want someone to constantly say to, “OMG!” and “Isn’t this the best?” After polishing off 36 spareribs myself, as well as three jacket potatoes and the salad. I thought I was done. Then I saw the family to my left get their dessert – the creme dame blanche, a dish in Belgium and the Netherlands made with French vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and hot Belgian chocolate. I had to order one. I was almost done with that when I saw the couple to my right get their dessert – an Irish coffee. Let’s just say I was more than satiated by the end of the evening.
This isn’t the cheapest restaurant, and has grown into a bit of a tourist attraction in itself. Expect to pay €25-30 per person, or more if you go for appetizers, desserts and drinks. But boy is it worth it. Also, get there right as they open, or make reservations ahead of time on their website to guarantee you’ll get a seat. This place really fills up.
Opening hours: Mon-Thurs 18:30-11; Fri-Sat 18:00-24:00; Sun 12:00-14:00, 18:00-23:00
Telephone: +32 (0)497 438 571
Now for a real local gem. Souplounge is one of the top restaurants in Ghent frequented by the locals. This cafeteria-style restaurant has a very simple menu – soup. There are a couple sandwiches and salads for variety, but soup is definitely the specialty. Each day there are four different flavors. The day I went, the choices were tomato, carrot, bell pepper or chicory. On the website they advertise tomato, pumpkin, broccoli and zucchini. For takeaway, a medium is €4 and a large is €5. If you want to eat in, you pay €1 more and you get two rolls and a piece of fruit.
Personally, I had the paprika (bell pepper) soup with all the trimmings – mozzarella balls, croutons, cheese and various vegetables. The €4 serving was almost more than I could eat in a single meal, and the large looked twice as big! What a perfect meal for a cold, winter morning.
Address: Dairy Brugstraat 4, 9000 Gent
Telephone: + 32 09 223 62 03
This is a cafe where you can find some pretty fantastic breakfasts, but their primary specialty is hot chocolate. Unfortunately, this cafe is next to the most tourist-oriented part of the city, and the tourists have certainly found it. It’s not the cheapest, but it’s certainly one of the best! Breakfasts range from the Breakfast Lys (croissant or chocolate cake) for €2, to the Breakfast Charles (coffee with mini pastries, two multigrain bread, fillings, jam, Nutella, boiled eggs, fresh juice, brie, smoked salmon, pancakes with chocolate, fresh fruit salad, yogurt and granola) for €30. They have a range of other pastries and drinks as well. Their waffles are legendary, but get there early before they’re sold out.
I went just for their hot chocolate. Simply put, it was the best I’ve had in the world, and I’ve definitely sampled hot chocolate all over. I can actually say I prefer a cup of hot chocolate over an alcoholic drink any day – especially a cold, wintry day. Here’s how Chocolato makes theirs: whole milk boiled and a block of rich Belgian chocolate on a stick stirred in until melted. A glass of water to rinse your mouth out before you start, and chocolate drops to finish up with. Now that’s a perfect cup of hot chocolate. €3.60 is certainly worth it for this divine creation.
Opening hours: Tues-Fri 10:00-18:30; Sat-Sun 09:00-18:30
Telephone: +04 83 66 49 23
The Hidden One
The last is a hidden, local gem. Technically, it’s not a restaurant, as it closed down a few years back due to various reasons. But you can still knock to have a drink with the proprietor…I mean the man who lives there. You might not get the best beer in Belgium, but you’ll get Belgian beer for sure, and whatever else he happens to have in his home – wine, spirits, etc. There is a menu, but again, this isn’t an official establishment. So, shhhh!
What’s more, you’ll see one of the most unique…well…homes you’ve ever been in. Don’t forget, this used to be a pub. Now you’ll see all kinds of memorabilia and artifacts, books and lots and lots of bicycles. My Dutch isn’t great, but I believe ‘t Velootje means “little bicycle.” Consider this the ultimate scavenger hunt for Ghent. If you go there, make sure to sign the guest book. You can even comment about what you found, but don’t give away where this place is. Let the hunt begin!
Update: ‘t Velootje has since regained its license and is open for business. But it’s still just as hard to find. Good luck.
If you’re traveling with more than one person, I’d recommend using Airbnb. Some locations can be fantastic.
Couchsurfing is my favorite way to stay in a city.