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October, 2019

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We stayed in Albania’s capital, Tirana, for five nights at the “Oxford Hotel”:http://Oxford Hotel and found it ideally positioned for eating out.

Googling ‘restaurants near me’ came up with Oxhaket, which we would never have come across, as it was down a rather dark side street. On arrival, the outdoor terrace was pretty full, probably because Albania were playing Turkey, and being a football mad country, there were a number of TV screens. So, we chose to sit inside and joined a family with young children, who kept running around despite our glares. The delightful young waiter had excellent English and from the Italian menu we chose to share a Diavolo pizza and Greek Salad (tomato, cucumber, cheese, olives and lettuce and green peppers). On view around the restaurant were a number of wine bottles and we asked to see the wine list but were told they didn’t have one (not even for other drinks). We therefore resorted to our usual half litre of house and wondered how they ever managed to sell the bottles without a wine list. I had a great view of the pizza oven which was kept busy all night. With a large bottle of sparkling water our bill with tip came to 1,600 Lek/£11.85.

The New Bazaar, a 10-minute walk away, had lots of restaurants and bars and we headed there on our second night.

At 8pm, many restaurants were full, but not Al Pazar Zgara. As we were trying to fathom the Albanian menu, a waiter helpfully came out with an English version. It didn’t look expensive and we decided to take a chance and had the choice of pavement tables. We ordered a Cesar Salad and from the grill section, a chicken shish kebab, two chicken and bacon meatballs, and a meatball stuffed with cheese. We were asked if we wanted bread and were glad we’d said yes, when we were served two delicious warm saucer-sized, thick flat breads. The food was drip fed and all was good. Trade levels soon picked up and by the time we’d finished, tables were being brought from the inside onto the pavement. With a litre of house wine and bottle of sparkling water, the bill came to 1,300 Lek/£9.60 which we were able to pay by credit card.

On the third night, we tried the New Bazaar area again. We spotted what we thought was a pasta restaurant and, as all the outside tables were full, went inside. Having got sat, Miss Surly did everything possible to avoid handing us menus but when we eventually got them, we found we were actually in a grill restaurant similar to the previous night. However, having already had one aborted attempt to find somewhere to eat, we decided to stick. A litre of white wine was only 600 Lek/£4.40, but we plumped for a half as it didn’t appear to be the ‘linger over a drink’ place. The single page laminated menu was cleverly designed with Albanian in the first column, English in the third and prices down the middle. We carefully avoided ‘village slug sausage’, and ‘grilled beef heart, melts and kidney fried potatoes’ and opted for two pork shish kebabs, two triple meatballs, a plate of chips, and two bread buns. To be fair, the food wasn’t bad and came relatively quickly, and the wine (served in a jug) was passable with sparkling water. As well as Miss Surly, there were two men running the place: one who chain smoked whilst standing under the ‘no smoking’ sign, and another who did most of the work. It was obviously a busier night than expected, as Miss Surly had to nip out for extra supplies. At £8.50, it was a cheap dinner, but we were glad not to be tarrying when two groups of loud youths arrived, and the music ramped up.

After virtually six weeks of Italian pasta and pizza or Greek and Albanian grills, we managed to find a restaurant called the Chinese Garden. It seemed a must for our penultimate night. The restaurant was up a flight of steps and we found an indoor room (where three Chinese people were eating, always a good sign), and small tables running around a balcony which we chose. There was an extensive Chinese menu with starters, noodle dishes, stir fries etc. We felt like children in a sweet shop before opting for a firm favourite starter of spring rolls, followed by crispy chicken with ginger sauce, sweet and sour pork and plain noodles. Wine came by the carafe and we ordered a half litre and large bottle of sparkling water. The spring rolls came quickly: four reasonably sized rolls with a spicy sauce and a sweeter one. We’d only just got halfway through the first, when the noodles and pork came out, swiftly followed by the chicken. However, the food was so good we could forgive the speed of service, particularly as the location of our table meant we could hear the food being stir fried, rather than the pinging of the microwave. At one point the chef, who I’d read on Trip Advisor was Chinese, popped out of the kitchen for a breather and we gave him the thumbs up sign. The waiter was lovely and told us that the chef didn’t speak a word of English: hopefully he spoke Albanian. Our bill, which we were able to pay by credit card was 2,140 Lek. At £16 this was one of our more expensive meals in Albania, but an absolute steal compared to London.

This appeared to be part of the same establishment as Chinese Garden and was listed in our Bradt Guide. Although there was a large indoor restaurant, it was deserted as most people were sat on the similarly large outdoor terrace (cardigans were needed). The menu had a good range of pasta, risotto, pizza, grills and fish (which are always more expensive) and salads. We ordered a fërgesë salad (a national dish), baked gnocchi with mozzarella and paccheri, which were large tubes of pasta, with tuna, olives and capers. Our litre of wine and water arrived quickly, and we waited quite a while for the salad thinking it was all going to arrive together, but eventually it came and we managed to eat it before the mains came out. The salad is basically feta cheese stirred into cooked peppers and tomatoes and when we’d had it before, it was very fine, but this was chunky chopped, and was absolutely delicious especially with the complimentary basket of ‘mop up the juices bread’. The mains were excellent with large chunks of albeit canned tuna and a lovely rich tomato sauce whilst the gnocchi was piping hot and had lovely stringy mozzarella. The total bill came to 2,170/Lek.

Another restaurant very near our hotel, was Grill House Greek Original Souvlakia, however, every time we passed by, it was rammed to the gills with people waiting so we never got around to trying it.

Helen Jackson

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