High season is approaching here in Europe, and hopefully, many of you will be finding your way to Amsterdam, one of my favorite cities and a place very special to me. Despite being a great place for shopping, the city is a gustatory paradise, and if you are “in the know” (and avoid the terrible touristy places), you can have a great meal every time. Here are my top recommendations and insider secrets for the best food in Amsterdam.
Best Restaurant with a View – Elf
Elf (“el-eff”) is a top floor restaurant/bar/club/cafe on the river the Centraal Station. It’s a very fresh, modern cafe. The view is stunning – especially watching the trains bustling in and out of the station below – and the food is fabulous. It’s a great place for brunch, lunch, dinner, and it turns into a nightclub at night. It’s on the eleventh floor, hence the name elf, which is Dutch for eleven. The building – formerly the Dutch Mail headquarters – is the temporary home of the modern art museum, which is moving back to its original building soon, and the restaurant has changed ownership, so its unclear how long this gem will remain around.
Best Restaurant Architecture – De Waag
De Waag is a fabulous building in the center of the Nieuwmarkt you can’t miss it. In summer there’s an outdoor terrace, though a candle-lit evening inside the building is a real charmer. Built in 1488, the building is one of the original city gates of Amsterdam. When the walls of the city were torn down in the 1600s, the building was re-purposed as a weigh house. Today it serves up some of the best food in Amsterdam: tasty soups, sandwiches, steaks and salads.
Best Sandwich in Amsterdam – Pasta Tricolore (formerly Pasta Di Mamma)
Oh man, the “broodtjes” at Pasta Triocolore (formerly Pasta Di Mamma) are to die for – they aren’t just the best sandwiches in Amsterdam, but the best sandwiches in the world. This is sort of an Italian deli with a cafe on the side, so you’ll find locals strolling in to pick up something for dinner after some luxury shopping on P. C. Hooftstraat, where this cafe is located. The breads are baked daily – they’re massive, and I recommend the tomato bread. Ingredients are fresh and they’ll make whatever you want, but try the Bari: fresh parmaham, pesto, and mozzarella. It is pure heaven and the best food in Amsterdam you can enjoy on a bench in the nearby Vondelpark.
Best Bakery in Amsterdam – De Bakkerswinkel
I risk offending many by saying that the Bakkerswinkel (translates as the baker’s shop) has better scones than you can find in England. There are multiple locations but the best one, and most popular, is on the Warmeostraat in the red light district – a cute, tiny tea house surrounded by sex parlours, toy shops, and bathhouses. The irony that they have the best food in Amsterdam only improves on the experiences, and beyond great scones they have the best tea selection in town as well as tasty sandwiches. You can get baked goods for takeaway, and you can buy their homemade jam in the shop.
Best Indian Restaurant in Amsterdam -Gandhi
Gandhi is the best Indian restaurant in Amsterdam, though you’d never know it. An “only in Amsterdam” location, you’ll find this restaurant on the Damrak – yes, that street full of awful souvenir shops and noisy neon signs – just below a massive sauna. Yup. Anyway, if you find it, tell them I said hello, as myself and my friend Linda have been there more times than we can count. The staff are charming, and I couldn’t more recommend their veg samosas, followed by butter chicken or chicken saag. Best food in Amsterdam? YUM.
Best Red Light District Dining – Blauw Aan De Wal
Blauw Aan de Wal is no secret, as you’ll find it written up in all the travel guides and best food in Amsterdam lists, but most people can’t find it. (See it in the picture above? Ha – it’s just off to the side.) Translated into English as “blue on the quay,” you have to go down an alleyway off of Oude Zijde Achterburgwal and then through a courtyard, so ask your hotel or accommodation to explain it to you or else you’ll spend the night in circles being offered all sorts of special deals. It’s Mediterranean food and to me there’s a tinge of French influence. It’s tasty and the ambience is very romantic.
Best Dutch Restaurant in Amsterdam – Moeders
Moeders means mothers in English, and not only is this place fantastic to enjoy some Dutch home cooking, it is also a great place to take your mother. (I’ve been with mine – she approves and is her first choice for the best food in Amsterdam.) First is the ambience – set on a canal near the Westerkerk, the walls are covered with pictures of mothers, which makes this small and cozy venue that much nicer. The dishes, knives, and forks are all different too – all donations from locals, which I just love, as it’s fun to compare your mug to your neighbour’s. Top tip is to have the hemawurst stamppot – it’s a sausage, spinach, and mashed potato concoction guaranteed to satisfy. If you’re feeling brave, wash it down with a moeders koffie – packed with as much alcohol as there is coffee!
Best Cafe in Amsterdam – Cafe De Jaren
Cafe de Jaren is a ultra-popular cafe in central Amsterdam. It’s got a massive canal-side terrace (shown above) and is a lovely, airy place, though sometimes it can be pretention; it is certainly a ‘see and be seen’ sort of venue. Regardless, the coffees are good and so are the sandwiches and popular salad bar, so go and mix it up with the locals, en vogue.
Best Takeaway Food – Wok to Walk
Yes, you should try FEBO – the weird and wonderful snack bar you’ll find on most corners. But if you want a proper snack that’s fresh and yummy, my vote goes to Wok to Walk. They have several central locations – the one just off Leidesplein is more like a sit-down restaurant – and ordering is simple. First, you choose your meat or veg, then you choose rice or noodles, add on any additional veggies, pick a sauce, and off you go. Your stir fry will be made in front of you and handed over to you piping hot. I’ve had so many of these and they’re the best food in Amsterdam, perfect before a night out or a bit of a pick-me-up halfway along.
Best Pancakes in Amsterdam – The Pancake House
So Dutch pancakes are called pannekoek, and if you haven’t had one, they are a halfway point between French crepes and American pancakes. I’m going to cast my vote for the best pancakes in Amsterdam to The Pancake House; some will disregard this opinion because this place is very touristy, but given the fact that they do have very good pancakes and their menu of choice is miles long, it is a great bet. If you can’t decide, just try the “plain” – which comes with lemon and lots of powdered sugar.
Best French Fries in Amsterdam – Manneken Pis
Vlaams Friteshuis is the most famous place place for fries in Amsterdam, and they do have very good fries, but the queues are often very long. I had no idea, though, that my friend Robert & I have frequented a couple of times the very place that is rated the best in the country – Manneken Pis! It is right on Damrak and it, well, looks like just the others, but I love their frites/chips/fries/whatever-you-call-them, one of the best food in Amsterdam experiences you can have is walking around with some piping hot fries. I take mine just with ketchup, but feel free to try them with mayo (Dutch mayo isn’t the same as American or UK mayo – it’s far lighter). Brave souls should order a pataat oorlog – Dutch for ‘french fry war’ – which comes with peanut sauce, mayo, and onions.
Best Steak in Amsterdam – Cafe De Klos
Down the assuming lane Kerkstraat, Cafe De Klos is probably the darkest restaurant you’ll ever eat in – it is a bruin cafe, so it’s more of a bar first, restaurant second. However, locals know it for having very very tasty steaks on the cheap. Who doesn’t like a steak and beer? The staff here are friendly, in fact perhaps a little too friendly, so regardless you’ll have a good time and a good meal here.
Best Bar Snacks in Amsterdam – Cafe De Schutter
On a small alley between the Rokin and De Spui, Cafe De Schutter is a student hangout. The reason I send tourists there regularly is because it’s upstairs and the walls are covered in posters and paraphernalia, so this place has a great vibe and buzz. Their menu is mostly bar food, but it’s great to have a few drinks and a snack, such as their chicken satay which is legendary.
Best Italian Restaurant in Amsterdam (and Most Romantic Restaurant in Amsterdam) – Pastini
Pastini is a very special place for me – it must be one of Amsterdam’s most romantic restaurants – just check out the view you get! It’s a corner place, very tiny, and very simple. But when you stock the menu with quality wines and simple dishes that have the freshest ingredients, and all of that for reasonable prices, what else do you need? Everything they serve is the freshest and best food in Amsterdam, but if it’s a special occasion, I recommend a bit of bubbly to start. Oh, and be sure to have the meringue for dessert.
Best Dessert in Amsterdam – Appeltart at Cafe Winkel
Another “well known secret”, Cafe Winkel on the Noordermarkt makes the best appeltaart in Amsterdam. It is kind of like apple pie, but not really. You’ll want to ask for it warme and of course met slagroom – with whipped cream – it is heavenly. Wash it down with a cup of coffee, and you’ll be right as rain – even if it is raining out.
Best Thai Restaurant in Amsterdam – Song Kwae
It is possible to run your body on pad thai – I tried. I’ve had more of them at Song Kwae , a brilliant little Thai place in the Nieuwemarkt, than I care to admit. Their soups are fantastic too, and be sure to try some of the other starters if you’re hungry enough. Despite having the best food in Amsterdam, the staff are cheeky and fun too.
Best Outdoor Cafe with a Terrace in the Sun – ‘T Blauwe Theehuis
While technically this shouldn’t be on a list of the best food in Amsterdam, I couldn’t help but squeeze ‘T Blauwe Theehuis in because this terrace cafe, hidden away in Vondel Park, is the perfect place for a glass of wine or a beer on a sunny day. They do have fresh bread with various spreads which are quite yummy, but if you’re buying drinks you can always bring along a sandwich or something of your own. The name means the blue tea house, and I suppose you could have a tea or coffee, but doesn’t a refreshing rose and a bit of sunshine sound like the perfect afternoon?
Best French Restaurant in Amsterdam – Harkema Brasserie
I’ve only been to Harkema once, and it was one of the best birthday’s of my life. The venue is crazy fun – which is unexpected as it is hidden down the alleyway called Nes, just off of the Dam Square. I love French food, so when I say this is some of the best food in Amsterdam, I do mean it. Fresh preparations, paired nicely with their wine selection (which is almost an art installation, actually), and probably the best table service in Amsterdam. Bon appetit!
Other Tips and Thoughts
There’s so much great food in Amsterdam, I’ll probably remember a few others and update this in the future. Despite typical misconceptions, Amsterdam is a foodie destination. Jump on your bike, get away from the tourists, and see if you can find a cozy little place to hang out. De Pijp is a neighborhood out just on the edge of town and is a good place to explore restaurants. If you find there’s only a Dutch menu, just ask the staff to translate, or a recommendation. They’ll be happy to oblige.
Photo Credits: Mingo.nl, helena, cookiemouse, Michell Zappa, Venue Photo, Taver, Darcie, Mauricio, Javi, Tracy Hunter, Bookeditor, lbsterling, Veronique Debord, taver, Starry blue sky, appaloosa, dutchamsterdam, roland