A popular subject of discussion amongst my friends is based around the thinking that there are certain places in Tehran that MUST be visited. Having visited all these places is almost like a badge of honour.
For sometime now I have tried to compile a list of these places and not surprisingly found that it is a rather large list. So here is a list of 19 places which for one reason or another represent the quintessential Tehran eating experience. I stopped at 19 because I am sure that there are many suggestions for number 20! The list is in alphabetical order:
1. Akbar Mashti
The origin and source of Iran’s national ice cream is subject to great debate. The saffron and rose water flavoured ice cream was first served in Rey Street (southern Tehran) at a shop which is still operating. But the real Akbar Mashti can be found on Shahrdari Street between Tajrish and Ghods Squares. And it is indeed a true original.
2. Bahar Kebab
At the end of Bahar Street just before the intersection with Bahar-e-Shiraz street is arguably one of Tehran’s best sources of minced (Koubideh) kebab. Its not pretty but the combination of the hot kebab and the fresh bread out of the clay oven makes for a delicious meal.
3. Café Naderi
As one of Tehran’s most iconic restaurant/café’s, Café Naderi is revered for its ”Chateaubriand” steak and of course its selection of coffees. Once famed for being the hang-out of Tehran’s literati, Café Naderi, which is situated on Jomhuri Street near the Ferdowsi intersection, is now more used to serving tourists and diplomats.
4. Estakhr Vanak
This simple and efficient restaurant is famous for its spring chicken kebab. There doesn't seem to be anything complicated about it, but somehow they manage to make better chicken kebab than anywhere else in Tehran.
5. Feraidoon Sandwich
This popular sandwich shop is commonly referred by a very unflattering name (which shall remain unused here). They serve a typical set of warm and cold sandwiches including chicken, steak and tongue. It is particularly famous for its large cut fries which are fantastic. The shop is situated at the bottom of Eshgyar Street (aka Niloufar) near Khoramshahr Avenue and is instantly recognizable from its old signboard.
6. Dizisara (Iranshahr)
Believed by many people to be the best place in Tehran for the traditional abgoosht (stewed meat), this restaurant is a place where people from all walks of life come together for a hearty meal in traditional settings. The service is at ligtht speed in order to tackle the constant queue of customers outside. A specially charming place to visit for non-Iranians. Dizisara is situated in Azarshahr Street between Iranshahr Street and Gharani Street.
7. Dizi in Takhti Square
No one is quite sure what this place is called and no one bothers to ask. All you have to say is “Dizi in Takhti square” and it becomes clear. This restaurant operates for only a few hours during lunch. Before lunch the dizi is still cooking and by around 2.00pm they are sold out. The demand is tremendous so you have to go early. The exact location is on Vatani Street below a huge car dealer.
8. Joseph Sandwiches
The tiny kitchen in this small shop (situated on the same street as Feraidoon) manages to serve out a surprisingly large number of sandwiches in one day. The Olivier Salad sandwich is one of my favourites in Tehran, though Joseph is also very famous for its cold-cuts sandwiches. Don’t be surprised if the guy ahead of you in the queue orders 30 sandwiches. Those are typical Joseph clients.
This is a very small restaurant, although you wouldn't know it from the number of people crammed inside. Khoshbin, which is situated on Saadi street just past Manoochehri Street, is usually referred to as Hassan Rashti. On my many visits I never met Hassan and don’t really know if he exists at all, but the authenticity of the Rashti food is beyond doubt. Try the salty fish eggs and walnut for starter and then order everything else on the menu. Its that good.
Some of the foods on this list are rather unhealthy and not for everyone’s taste. Khosravi serves an Iranian adaptation of the deep fried Russian Pirozhki and offers them with a variety of stuffings such as sweet cream, potato and meat. It is located on Jomhuri Street just before the Hafez intersection. If you go there take a cab because apart from beating the traffic you’ll want to walk off those tasty calories.
11. Moby Dick
Many of us have heard of the fantastic feasts our parents consumed in Moby Dick which today is catering to the masses in a “self service” format. The system is like a school food hall. You grab and tray and walk along a long buffet placing your order from the servers behind the counter. The choices include a large variety of freshly cooked Iranian and international dishes at reasonable prices. Most people go there for the famous Moby Dick Chelo-Kebab. The restaurant is located on Gharani Street.
As one of many restaurants in Grand Bazaar, Moslem is situated in the square at the entrance of the Bazaar. No sooner is your foot set inside the door and you are shepherded upstairs into a line, you grab a tray, you get your drink, you get your sides and you order your food which is handed to you within minutes.
13. Nayeb (Vozara)
Amongst the food lovers of Tehran its almost a sin not to have visited the old Nayeb in Vozara Street and once you taste the fillet kebab (Barg) you will understand why this branch of Nayeb has such a strong following.
14. Reza Loghme
Its surprising how many people who know of Reza Loghme, haven't actually tried it. This small sandwich shop only serves one main item known as Loghme which is fried minced meat wrapped in thin Lavash flatbread. Its one of the cheapest meals in town and this is probably reflected in the quality of the meat. But the taste of the juicy meat draws so many people to the 30th of Tir street that it’s a real struggle to place your order.
Named after the herb which accompanies all of its dishes, Reyhoon offers a variety of kebabs which is only served with fresh baked bread. Though prices are not low, almost every item on the menu is perfectly cooked. Start with the minced kebab and then work your way down the menu.
Some people are not familiar with Sahand even though it has a very strong reputation for serving one of the best Chelo-Kebabs in town. Their menu is reminiscent of restaurants in Tabriz and includes some interesting choices of chicken or lamb kebabs. Uniquely they also bake their own mini-sized Sangak bread. Sahand is located on North Mofateh Street before the Motahari intersection.
17. Seyed Mehdi
This midnight hangout is famous for three things, traditional ice cream, hot broth and causing gridlock traffic along Vali Asr Street. Seyed Mehdi is actually two shops next to each other, one serving ice creams and Faloudeh (iced noodles), the other shop serves hot broth (Aash) and wheat porridge (Haleem). They close just after midnight and open only four hours later. You can find Seyed Mehdi as you head south from Tajrish Square along Vali Asr Street.
This restaurant is all about lamb chops. Of course they serve all sorts of kebabs, but almost everybody goes there for their famous lamb chops, marinated and grilled in the traditional Shandiz/Mashad way. There are very few places serving meat of this quality in Tehran. I have personally seen someone consume 3.5 skewers (that’s 18 lamb chops) in one sitting.
Stepping into Yeganeh is like stepping back in time because they are serving the same style of sandwiches which were popular during our childhood days. Whether you want Brain sandwich or hot Bandari sausage, you can be sure that its going to be heavy, oily and uniquely delicious.