Visiting Croatia’s southernmost gem in the off-season does come with many perks you might not expect.
The walled old town of Dubrovnik is a majestic stage for endless wanders with minimal crowds. Winds set the mood of any given day in the winter. “Bura,” a dry and crispy wind that blows from north-northeast to the east-northeast, is ideal for outdoor discoveries. But when the rainy “Jugo” blows, it’s a great time to explore museums and monasteries. Either way, a warm and hearty meal will be the cherry on top of your day or, as Croatians would say, “the sugar at the end.”
Gradska Kavana and Arsenal Restaurant & Bar
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Once home to the dry docks of the old town’s harbor, Arsenal is graced with expansive space and glamorous high ceilings. Its front part is the Gradska Kavana, a Viennese-style café where locals love to enjoy coffee paired with vistas of the Church of St. Blaise. The restaurant faces the old harbor and overlooks the mighty St. John’s Fortress and the scenic strip of luxe hotels. Relax into your meal with the signature “Don’t Panic” cocktail of tequila, agave, tobacco, and ginger beer, then choose between fish or meat for your main dish. Top off the experience with a traditional flan-like rožata and a sweet carob liqueur.
Even though its name, ništa, means “nothing” in Croatian, Nishta means plenty of things. This tiny eatery has a loyal following for its vegan menu that takes inspiration from far-flung places like India and Thailand while sourcing their ingredients locally, offering organic options whenever possible. From curries and falafel to moussaka and ratatouille, the choices are both hearty and exotic. Gluten-free and raw options are another highlight, like the beet and avocado sandwich or zucchini lasagna. The interior is colorful and cozy, and due to the small number of tables, reservations are always recommended.
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Tucked away on a side street off Stradun, the old town’s main thoroughfare, Forty-Four Restaurant occupies a splendid historic palace that abounds in original architectural details, from exposed beams and stone walls to an interior courtyard with a stone staircase leading up to its very own guesthouse. The restaurant name is a tribute to the owner, the famous Utah Jazz basketball player Bojan Bogdanović, whose number 44 jersey is on display inside. The gastronomic escapade is a trip around the world: from escargots de Bourgogne to Korčula island macaroni with beef and young goat’s cheese—every meal here is a tasty slam dunk.
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Housed inside Dubrovnik’s iconic Hotel Excelsior, Sensus is sensational. There’s hardly a better backdrop for a romantic dinner than the one here: the old town wrapped by its city walls, with the sleepy historic harbor at the forefront. Floor-to-ceiling windows allow you to take in the view while top-notch waitstaff offer to pair it with one of more than 80 wine and Champagne labels. In the meantime, the masterful culinary team prepares lamb shank with black truffle puree and crispy onions in an open kitchen, so you can witness the skill and dedication that go into every plate.
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With a cozy interior strewn with oriental decorations, mosaic-tiled floors, and artisanal copperware, Taj Mahal in Hotel Lero immediately transports you away from Dubrovnik. Featuring traditional Bosnian cuisine, everything is home-made here, from their phyllo pastry for meat burek and a variety of pitas to their tarhana, a typical soup pasta. Call ahead for your order of the Bosnian pot, a slow-cooked stew of veal and lamb with cabbage, carrots, and potatoes, or warm up with a bowl of Bey’s broth, blending chicken and veal stock with okra, vegetables, and creamy kajmak (cheese spread).
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Set in the former boathouse of a 16th century nobleman’s palace, Tavern Loggia charms with a snug interior, showcasing vaulted ceilings, barren stone walls, and a relaxed vibe. Admire the lush greenery of their Renaissance garden from the warmth of the heat lamps lined up along the glass-walled terrace. The menu at this family-run tavern changes with the seasons. Among the winter highlights is whole duck with red cabbage and mlinci (traditional Croatian pasta), but make sure to preorder it. Those with a sweet tooth will adore the home-made baklava from the owner’s mother, or the traditional Dubrovnik cake of cream and almonds.
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With a modern setting accentuated by pops of color on vibrant wallpaper, hip local favorite Pantarul in Lapad lives up to its “feels like home” motto. Run by two restaurateur friends and a food blogger / cookbook author, this labor of love is steeped in the principles of slow cooking, with ingredients that are all locally grown and hand-picked. The menu showcases a handful of classic dishes, like the slowly braised ox cheeks and pan-seared foie gras, and a changing selection where chef Jadran Tutavac gets to play with seasonal ingredients and inspiration.