As an Amsterdam blogger I’m often disappointed by the tourist traps that many visitors are recommended when looking for somewhere great to eat in the city.
I’m assuming this is because people want to be helpful and if you’ve been somewhere and had a meal that was fairly reasonable you might be happy to pass it on if asked. And so the loop of below-par tourist haunts continues.
I want to share why I think some of the frequently suggested locations aren’t the best of what the city has to offer and some similar but significantly better alternatives.
Let me kick off by saying that whilst in London, I love to eat at a diverse and in particular a multicultural array of places. However, when I’m in a new city for just a few days, or in a new country for just a week or two, I’m keen to eat food that makes me feel grounded in that place in some way, and ideally not a place full of other tourists. Sushi is particular bugbear of mine. I adore sushi and pan-Asian food in London but in Barcelona I want to eat from the incredible array of Catalan specialties on offer; in Milan I want to eat extraordinary Milanese dishes. Looking for sushi in Amsterdam would, for me, be like eating paella in Vietnam, fish and chips in China or asking for the best place to eat spaghetti bolognese in Japan.
Amsterdam has a huge amount to offer both in terms of quality local ingredients and an incredibly rich colonial heritage that has given rise to an extraordinary selection of authentic ethnic food. Just not sushi, which will have inevitably been imported from oceans far and wide despite the rich seas which surround the country.
So here then are the tourist traps that are often referenced in forums I follow, the reasons I think you can do better, and some really special alternatives that should blow your socks off. Enjoy
Why I wouldn’t bother with Momo
Momo is a pan-Asian city centre restaurant which is always full. Of tourists. The food quality is high, the location central and the room suitably impressive but there is nothing uniquely Amsterdam about it and the food is that ubiquitous inoffensive modern mix of Peruvian ceviche; mod-Chinese dimsum; Cal/Mex (Asian?) tacos and Japanese sushi.
Why Ron Gastrobar Indonesia Downtown is a better alternative
If you’re looking for Asian food in The Netherlands, Indonesia is the country you need to be thinking about. A Dutch colony for many years, its impact on local ethnic cuisine is profound. One of Amsterdam’s standout chefs Ron Blauw has just opened the extraordinary Ron Gastrobar Indonesia Downtown right in the heart of Amsterdam. A beautifully designed space offering fabulous cocktails, music and entertainment on weekends and best of all one of the standout Rijstafels (literally rice tables) on offer in the city. Rijstafel is a very Dutch/Indo passion and involves dozens of small plates to share ranging from mild to spicy, packed with flavour and served with rice. The Saté is standout and the scene is hip.
Why I wouldn’t bother with Cau
Oh dear, Cau is frequently recommend and I just can’t understand why. Billed as an “Argentinian” steakhouse (inexplicably there are dozens of these atrocities clustered around downmarket Dam Square) it is actually a British provincial chain. Not only is it overpriced and in one of our least favourite and touristy areas, literally nothing about it is Dutch!
Why Loetje is a better alternative
Dutch beef is world famous and the Dutch really love their steak. Steak tartare abounds across the city which is only possible when you have the freshest and highest quality meat to hand. For Amsterdam’s best steak, locals will tell you that Loetje is hands down the place to head. They only do one cut called “biefstuk ossenhaas’- the tenderest medium rare fillet you’ll ever have, in a kind of butter gravy which is to die for. We love the always-packed out of town branch at Ouderkerk aan de Amstel but that’s closely followed by the original Café Loetje in the Museum District. Loetje is the place we go to every single time we go to Amsterdam (that’s a lot).
Why I wouldn’t bother with Cecconis
This year Soho House finally opened in Amsterdam after literally years of development, and their centrepiece restaurant is much loved Italian, Cecconis. I actually really like Cecconis and you’ll find it full of locals as well as tourists BUT the original and rather wonderful Cecconis is in London so if you’re from London, enjoy it at home and head for something more interesting in Amsterdam.
Why Toscanini is a better alternative
If you’re looking for upmarket Italian there’s only one place to go – Toscanini. This is a place that Yotam Ottolenghi raves about and says is his absolute favourite restaurant in Amsterdam. And he should know. Yotam spent several years living in the city editing the Dutch Jewish Newspaper before heading to London to study at the Cordon Bleu Cookery School. Toscanini is wonderful, classy and serves high quality food to locals in the know. Nigella Lawson is also a huge fan.
Why I wouldn’t bother with Pasta e Basta
An Italian restaurant. Where the waiters break into song. In Amsterdam. Gaahhhh!! Just the thought of it gives me shivers. Maybe (just maybe) a concept like this would be a good idea in New York but in Amsterdam…inexplicable.
Why Primi or Fa Pekelhaaring are better alternatives
If you’re after a reasonably priced decent Italian meal in Amsterdam (though I encourage you to perhaps head somewhere for local cuisine instead) there are two fantastic options depending on whether you’re in the East or West of the City. On the edge of The Pijp district lies the always buzzy Fa Pekelhaaring which serves Italian-inspired food with a laid-back vibe, or if you’re nearer the Westerpark check out Primi – the kind of quality cosy Italian you wish was your local.
Why I wouldn’t bother with Bakers and Roasters
…or Greenwoods. These two places are mentioned frequently when it comes to places for breakfast or brunch. And I have to admit they are pretty good. But Bakers and Roasters is run by a Brazilian/Kiwi couple and Greenwoods describes itself as “an English tearoom and shop”. Lovely if you’re Dutch, but if you’re British then step away from the familiar and explore somewhere else instead.
Why Dignita Hoftuin is a better alternative
If you only have one breakfast or brunch in Amsterdam make sure you have it at Dignita Hoftuin. Yes I know, forget the atrocious (deathly) name and focus instead on the locally sourced organic food which is presented with outstanding, unpretentious flair in a stunning glass box in a secret garden behind the Hermitage Museum. Greenwoods and Bakers are small. You’ll have to queue and yet again the food (though nice) is the type of thing you can find in any modern city these days. Dignita is special and I almost hesitate to recommend it so frequently as part of me wants to keep it exactly the way it is.
Why I wouldn’t bother with Izakaya
If I tell you that Izakaya serves sushi you’ll know the answer as to why I don’t recommend it for Amsterdam. Its perfectly good sushi in the Sir Albert Hotel and probably second only the sushi restaurant at the Okura in terms of quality and price. But its sushi, and this is Amsterdam. You can do better.
Why a Dutch herring is a better alternative
If you’re looking for raw fish, go Dutch! and get a herring from a streetside stall. Ok, its brined and not completely raw but it was swimming in an ocean a lot more recently than that tuna nigiri and there is literally nothing more Dutch or more delicious to tick off on your travels. Ask for it in a roll (a broodtje) or eat it with a cocktail stick sliced in pieces with onions and pickles and please, give the sushi a miss on this one occasion.
Why I wouldn’t bother with the Skylounge at the Hilton
Not a restaurant this time but a bar which gets a fair amount of airing. For me Amsterdam is a city vastly best seen from street or even better canal-level. It doesn’t have a skyline and for that reason high up places offering a view are just less appealing than dipping your toes in the water with a cocktail in hand.
Why Hanneke’s Boom or Hiding in Plain Sight are better alternatives
The fabulous Hanneke’s Boom (Hanneke’s Tree) is the place to head for a drink on a warm Summer night. Hidden away right by Central Station this is a laid back waterside shack with a fabulous terrace (a very Dutch way to enjoy a drink) packed with fairy lights, colourful picnic tables and live music all being enjoyed by locals who’ve pulled up in their boat for a beer or two before cruising off into the dusky light. For colder days or as a slightly smarter alternative why not disappear into Amsterdam’s most loved cocktail bar “Hiding In Plain Sight” – this small speakeasy has featured in the Sunday Times “World’s 50 Best Bars” list and they’ll knock you up something special in no time.
Why I wouldn’t bother with Supperclub
Oh dear. Supperclub used to be THE coolest place in town but that was a long, long, LONG time ago. Reviews these days are universally terrible and you’re more likely to find seedy out of towners collapsed on the white beds than Amsterdam’s hip crowd.
Why Vuurtoreneiland is a better alternative
There really isn’t anything directly comparable to Supperclub (thankfully) but if what you’re looking for is something utterly unique and a once in a lifetime experience, why not book ahead for Vuurtoreneiland. This incredibly special place is a small lighthouse island North of Amsterdam that houses an extraordinary pop up restaurant. For €100 per person, a boat will take you and your fellow diners from the city out to this wild spot of land where you will be hosted and served a fixed 4 or 5 course menu complete with wine pairings. In Winter diners carry hurricane lamps and eat in an atmospheric underground bunker. In Summer a glasshouse with a view of the roaming sheep and the iconic lighthouse. Naturally all the food is locally sourced and foodies travel from around the world for what has been called one of Europe’s most memorable dining experiences.
I hope I’ve whetted your appetite and if you were considering any of these places you might now reconsider. But if none of them quite tick the box, head over to this list of our 50 must-eat places in Amsterdam for an even longer list of the best the city has to offer.