What I'm trying to say is, when you travel, you want something special, something you can't get at home. It doesn't necessarily have to be regional, but it does have to be good. For example, one of my favorite meals in Brussels is Middle Eastern fast-food. Let me also clarify, I'm not big on posh sit-down meals. No, give me a dirty, dodgy back-alley filled with someone selling something from a cart and I'm my happiest. Cardiff doesn't really seem to have this either.
What Cardiff does have is some truly unusual places to eat like Troy, a Turkish restaurant widely known for the best kabobs in town and charcoal grilled over a live fire in their restaurant. Then there's the two women down at Mermaid's Quay who will bake you a fresh Welsh cake on the spot. I'm also quite a fan of Clarkie's Pies too. What really interests me is how few of the students I attend school with know about these places. I feel like the internet is a black hole for this sort of information (believe me, I've looked), and truly, how tragic is it that some of my comrades might leave Wales having never eating cockles and laver-bread, or worse yet, never having a Welsh cake?
So here it is, I'm compiling a list which will be amended over the course of the next year, listing the best places I've eaten here. They're student oriented, meaning they're cheap, delicious and the portions are fantastic. Having written my own book on cooking and since I'm someone who has made a living from cooking in the kitchen, I'm particular when it comes to good food. It doesn't have to be expensive to be amazing, but it does have to be innovated. If I read one more blog out there that tells me the best restaurant in Cardiff is serving a cube of roasted duck with plum sauce drizzled artistically on a white plate, I might scream. I don't doubt it's good, it's just not realistic when the university budgets you to £5 a day.
1- New York Deli
Their White House sandwich is the size of Cardiff Castle, costs only £6 and some change, and will amaze your taste buds (and friends too). So far, it's the most incredible thing I've eaten in Cardiff. Normally I would completely reject an American concept abroad, but I really can't put into words how wonderful it is to have a real sandwich from a real deli, even if it does have New York roots. NYD proves to me that the arcades can compete against Saint David's, because the lines are out the door every time I walk by. We just need more innovative unique ideas from entrepreneurs like this one.
2- Mission Burrito
I'll admit I have a bit of an addiction to Mexican food. Considering it took me three months to find anything Mexican while living in Brussels, I was stunned to find Cardiff has a burrito shack, and it's actually really good. The beef burrito with habanero salsa is really flavorful, and I was really impressed that they carry pineapple Jarritos, an authentic drink brand from Mexico. Cost is about £6. I do wish they'd add queso to their offerings (similar to Moe's in the U.S.), but it's honestly one of my favorite places to eat.
3- Fresh Baguettes Bar
When I lived in Belgium I used to go to a little sandwich shop at the VUB just like every other student on campus. They were cheap, delicious, and simple. Fresh does the exact same thing, only a bit better. They're in Morgan Arcade and there's always a line. The shop is barely big enough to sneeze in, but the staff is super friendly and the baguettes cost under £4. I liked the pastrami and salami I had with its hand-sliced pickles and crumbles. I definitely will be returning and praying they open a second location next to the journalism building.
Sure it's not a restaurant, but yes, you can survive on Welsh cakes alone. Of course, you can get regular Welsh cakes everywhere including the Cardiff Market (which aren't bad actually), however, if you want the best, and you want them warm (which sort of makes them amazing) just like Nan used to make, well then you must go down to Cardiff Bay where some truly fabulous magic is taking place. They're baked in front of you on a hot griddle in the traditional style. Even better, they're just a few pence a piece.
5- Clarkie's Pies
Can I just say, if you don't have a Clark's pie while in Cardiff, then you've never truly never were in Cardiff. I'll refer to a previous review of Clark's (from my visit in 2010), but let's just say, it's Cardiff's most famous food. The soul of the city is baked into each pie. This is Welsh soul-food.
6- Dorothy's vs Tony's (Fish and Chips / Chicken Curry and Chips)
After clubbing and pub crawls, many drinkers stop at Chippy Lane on the Victorian era Caroline Street. Each reveler has their preferred allegiance to either Dorothy's or Tony's (two fish bars located next to one another), and both serve a menu of fast-food items like fish and chips or the 3 AM favorite, Chicken Curry and Chips. They're also open in the day with shorter queues and fewer blurred lines.
Having met the owner, I can tell you Demiro's will make you feel like family. You'll often find him shopping at local markets sourcing ingredients for the restaurant. They also serve really great Welsh food at really reasonable prices. More importantly, it's at the Bay, providing the perfect atmosphere for a night out. Yeah, I know I said I tend to stick to street-food, but every now and then a girl needs a nice meal too. I recommend starting off with some Cocos a Bara Lawr (cockles and laver bread) then moving on to the Welsh lamb and gravy with veggies and potatoes.
8- Cornish Bakehouse
Okay, seriously, I know they're a chain, but they're an European chain, and a rather good one at that.. Yes it took me half-way through my list to find something a yank (I'm cringing just using that word) would consider pan-English/Welsh food worth experimenting on. They offer giant steak pasties filled with potatoes and onion (their best seller) and other deliciousness which I'll be exploring for some time to come. They're actually still handmade and highly awarded, making it a pretty tasty place to eat at in Cardiff.
This is a rather unassuming place on Queen Street that is normally quite busy. This is one of those odd restaurants that I can't decide whether to list or not. You see, the food is best described as crack and doesn't appear fresh or special. In fact you'll feel dirty eating here, ashamed even, like that time you went to McDonald's at 3 AM and hid the evidence under the seat of your car so your boyfriend wouldn't know. The food appears to be partially pre-processed dishes, kept under a heat-lamp; however there's something about it, something akin to addiction going on here. £5 for a huge box of carbohydrates including noodles and spicy pepper chicken (my favorite). Occasionally you'll find me cowering the corner grubbing on it, but I won't admit it.
Crepe was okay, a bit over-priced, but their orange juice is out of this world. Definitely go grab an OJ.
Good food, really great imported beers that I can't afford (some upwards of £15), and a fun atmosphere. However, there just wasn't anything special about the place (other than admiring what I can't afford). This Scottish themed brewery is best saved when someone with more money takes you there.
More to come.
Obviously I'm going to add to this list. I've got a work-meet next week at Troy which everyone raves about, and I'm convinced I'm going to get to Cafe Citta which is claimed to have the best pizza in Cardiff..I also love the food they serve at the Riverside Market, however have not had a chance since I've received my funding.
If you have a suggestion, by all means, hit me up on email or social media with it.