By Lauren Mescon
How can I possibly share all the great food experiences I’ve had in Amsterdam? My head almost exploded at the task …so many places, so little time!
Here are a few of our favorites, loosely grouped by food type. From Michelin-starred restaurants to holes in the wall, this town offers it all.
High-end, expensive restaurants
— For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, go to De Librije in Zwolle. It is the only 3-star Michelin restaurant in the Netherlands. After a drink at the bar, the fun begins when you’re escorted to your table. Each of the courses is more creative than the previous. The first was a shell containing caviar held by a black rubber glove that had been filled with water and frozen. One of the desserts was coffee that was also served on an ice pack. The monkfish course was the best I have ever tasted, and I am not a monkfish fan. (They had no problem with food restrictions, either.) Our five-hour meal was part food, part art, and part theatre. Our wine pairings even included a Dutch wine (not great though, aroma of asparagus!). You can also sign up for the Saturday overnight package and spend the night in the hotel, which was formerly a women’s prison. You will be greeted at reception with gin and tonics, then you can check into your room and tour the town. It is a typical Dutch town and has a fantastic museum, Museum de Fundatie. The next morning, a multi-course breakfast is again a creative assault of the senses. Do not plan to leave early!
— To celebrate our first “Amsterdammiversary,” we went to Restaurant Vinkeles at The Dylan Hotel. It's a 1-star Michelin, and it’s absolutely lovely. I ordered Dover Sole. It was perfect, and I think the best I have had to this day. Several amuse-bouches added to the experience, and the sommelier suggested an outstanding rosé. Although it was 3½ years ago, the review I wrote on Trip Advisor still gets the most likes of any of my reviews, so I’m guessing it's still fabulous!
— Moon is a revolving restaurant at the A’Dam Toren, just a ferry ride across the Ij. The view is the best 360 in the city, with amazing sunsets. The chef’s tasting menu changes often, so check it out. We took our son and daughter-in-law when they visited — they are the real foodies. (We're faux foodies; we eat too fast and don’t savor.) This is a special occasion restaurant, so if you ever want to "fly someone to the moon," take them there. (If you are adventurous, get on the tallest swing in Europe on the top of the tower. The ride lasts only a minute, albeit a long one, but it’s so much fun. Just make sure you wait to get your drinks until afterward.)
— John Dory on Prinsengracht is the best upscale fish restaurant, in my opinion. All of the fish is Dutch-sourced and changes daily. What makes it so unique is that you order a certain number of courses, and that’s it. They take care of the rest. I just learned they also have vegetarian and meat options as well. Try to reserve on the early side so you'll have a better chance of sitting by the big window overlooking the canal.
A Taste of Dutch
— Restaurant d’Vijff Vlieghen, (the Five Flies) on Spui is a beautiful old restaurant. It's a dark maze of dining rooms set in canal houses from the 1600s: you could dine beneath a Rembrandt etching. The dishes are tasty classic Dutch. Make sure to check the brass plate on your chair to see what famous person sat there before you! This is a great place to go for a romantic dinner, but also to take guests that want a nice white tablecloth dinner. It's like dining in a museum, plus the food and wine list are both very good.
— Our go-to for everyone that comes into town is Restaurant Haesje Claes, also located on Spui. It is truly Dutch food, with a seasonal menu. The starters include all of the Dutch staples: herring, mackerel and croquettes, and the mains include hutspot (a.k.a. stamppot), beef, cod, and mussels. If you are a vegetarian, try the vegetarian stamppot – it's delicious and you'll be stuffed! The restaurant is always busy, but don’t be put off by the tourists — there are plenty of locals, too. The staff is amazingly friendly and the portions are large. Make a reservation, but if you have to wait, go to their bar next door for a beer; it makes the wait go faster. If you decide just to stay there and order, they’ll bring your food over from the restaurant.
— Moeders (a.k.a. Mother's) on Rozengracht is another Dutch classic. You really do need reservations, but occasionally you can get lucky and just walk in. It is one huge room (huge being a relative term) and the walls are covered with pictures of random mothers. It is a very fun, campy place and the menu is equally campy. The specialty for visitors is their Hollandse Rijstafel, which includes beef, potatoes, and sausage, in many different forms. They have plenty of options for vegetarians and fish eaters, so not to worry. It's a very fun place with friendly staff.
There’s so much good sushi in this town!
— Izakaya, located on the Albert Cuypstraat, is particularly non-Dutch, in that you are limited in how long you can stay when you book. When you do book it, make sure to specify you want a table, unless you don’t mind sitting on stools at a long bar. It can also be very loud and is populated by a younger crowd. If you want a fantastic “Japanese grill with South American influences” experience, request the booth by the kitchen, then order the chef’s menu and get a bottle of sake. It’s all absolutely fantastic, and it includes sushi and wagyu beef. (They will honor food restrictions in the tasting menu.) They also have a delicious duck, a la carte. You can also tell the waiter your favorite tastes, and the chef will put something together for you. It is pricey, but worth it for a special night or a celebration — or if you prefer spending money on food over shoes.
— Just as tasty but without the ambiance or buzz is Dragon I, located on Amstelveenseweg. It is also a fraction of the price, with dishes ranging from €4.50 to a Sashimi mix for €16.50. All of the usual dishes are there: edamame, miso, spicy rolls, etc., and they also have a very good duck pancake. Go any time and often, but it doesn’t hurt to have a reservation.
Barbecue: For a southerner, it's a must!
There are two great places here for the BBQ fan: Pendergast Smokehouse and Carnivore. Both places have fabulous slow-cooked meats, including beef ribs, sides of mac and cheese, cornbread, beans, slaw and more. My friends like to debate which one is better so just choose the one closest to home and go for it!
— Pendergast Smokehouse, on Groen van Prinstererstraat, is small, so a reservation is a must, but the food is just as promised: real Kansas City BBQ.
— Carnivore on Amstelveenseweg is a bit larger, so you are more likely to get in if you forgot to reserve.
Indonesian Rijstafel: the best “Dutch” food the Netherlands has to offer
Whenever we have visitors, the first thing we offer is Indonesian food. Decide which experience you want and choose from there. The food at all three of these Indonesian restaurants is delicious and something that should not be missed by visitors.
— I am sure there will be lots of disagreement with this, but we regularly go to Sama Sebo, on P.C. Hoofstraat. It is said to be the oldest Indonesian restaurant in the Netherlands, and I think neither the décor nor the waitstaff has changed since it opened. Make a reservation and go hungry. The service is prompt and efficient. They are always happy to snap a photo and will bring you extra things if you run out. Also feel free to tell them if you prefer more chicken than beef or veggies and they will accommodate you. Their command of the English language isn't great (albeit much better than my Dutch or Indonesian), but they know how to serve a great rijstafel and explain the dishes. They also have vegetarian crackers if you don’t like the shrimp ones.
— As a back-up, we often go to Sampurna, located in the Bloemenmarkt. It has all of the same dishes and probably offers a bit more variety than Sama Sebo. (Be sure to reserve in the front of the restaurant if you are the least bit claustrophobic, as the back has no windows and low ceilings.) The staff is very friendly and, again, while their English is not the best, they will offer suggestions for which rijstafel to choose.
— I would be remiss if I didn't mention Restaurant Blauw Amsterdam on Amstelveenseweg. Many of my friends take their guests there, as it is more modern, with clean lines and high ceilings. It can be crowded and noisy, and during my visits, it’s usually been full of Americans.
Best Italian in the city
There are two restaurants that I find amazingly authentic and delicious: Risto Enoteca PepeNero and Lo Stivale d’Oro.
— Make reservations in advance for PepeNero on Eerste Oosterparkstraat. The portions are ample and the service unhurried. If it's warm enough, sit outside. We had the best cod there, and I will not hesitate to go back to order the homemade pasta with tomato sauce and amazing fresh parmesan, prepared in the parmesan wheel. My mouth is watering! I love tiramisu, but this one is served deconstructed, so if you like it that way with very strong coffee as the key ingredient, try it out.
— Lo Stivale d’Oro, on Amstelstraat, is located five minutes from the National Opera and Ballet, so it is perfect for a pre-theatre dinner, but of course, go early! It feels like you’re in Italy, crowded and with all of the favorites: antipasto, spaghetti, lasagna, gnocchi, and pizzas, plus delicious desserts of tiramisu, profiteroles, Tartufo and sgroppino!
One last one…
— Krua Thai is the best Thai I have had here. Located on Staalstraat, it is a cozy restaurant with authentic Thai food. No visit is complete without an order of Miang Kham, deliciousness wrapped in wild pepper leaf. Make a reservation as space is limited and it's very popular!