One of the joys of visiting Almaty is sampling its growing, diverse and well-established restaurant scene. Almaty is Kazakhstan’s business capital which means it attracts visitors from all over the world looking to capitalize on the country’s relatively new-found freedom and growing energy wealth.
As a result, Almaty’s restaurant scene has kept pace with a slew of new establishments designed to meet the ethnic, traditional, fusion and casual dining preferences of it visitors. You can find great Italian, Korean and Chinese food in Almaty along with a strong selection of Indian and traditional Central Asian cuisine. The restaurants also vary greatly in price with everything for Sushi for a few dollars to exquisite French cuisine served on silver platters beneath elaborate chandeliers.
Among our must-try recommendations is the Uzbek-styled Alasha. It serves some of the best traditional plov in the city and imports from Uzbekistan the ingredients for the dish. It’s also decorated with exquisitely colored tile, elaborately carved wooden doors, streams and fountains. And they put on a show while you eat featuring tightrope walkers, acrobats and dances.
You’ll also want to check out Bellagio – reputed to be the choice of Bill Clinton, Vladimir Putin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Its location is spectacular, facing the Malaya Almatinka River in the foothills of the Tien Shan mountains and it offers a diverse Italian menu.
More and more restaurants – particularly the more upscale places – are beginning to offer English language menus. But even those that don’t usually feature friendly staff willing to help you out with a combination of pointing, simple phrases and a few descriptive hand gestures. And remember that tipping in Almaty usually runs about 10 percent of the bill.
So don’t let the language barrier keep you in your hotel. Almaty’s restaurant owners are more than happy to see visiting faces and to give you the help you need to enjoy a great meal.
Price Key (per person):
$ = 3000 tenge-6500 tenge
$$ = 6500 tenge-9500 tenge
$$$ = 9500 tenge-13,000 tenge
This Uzbek-styled restaurant is great fun and a wonderful experience. Located on a side street on Dostyk Avenue, its entrance resembles a traditional tiled mud brick mosque. Diners can eat Central Asian style on raised platforms or tapchans. The cuisine, like the décor, is classic Uzbek. Spectacular entertainment every night starts at 9 pm and includes music, dancers and acrobats. If you can’t visit Uzbekistan on your trip, this is the next best thing.
Asian Wok offers superb Chinese and Indian cuisine. Executive Chef Bappi Sharma honed his craft to world-class standards in Moscow for many years and it shows. Bappi has created showcase sauces that are his trademark: ginger and spring onion, black bean and hot Szechuan bean. All three are excellent for the wide of variety of fresh seafood and meats on the menu. Bappi is a high profile fixture in his own restaurant and thrives on interacting with his clientele. Take advantage of his passion for excellence.
Named after an Armenian district in Tbilisi, Avlabar is known for its Georgian hospitality. Located at Tau Dastarkhan in the Alma Arasan Valley, Avlabar is one of six restaurants in this complex that sits in the foothills of the Zhailiskii Alatau mountains. Avlabar’s Georgian kitchen has people from Almaty raving. The restaurant offers all the traditional classics – from fresh khachapuri (cheese-filled flat bread) to lobio (kidney bean salad) and pkhali (beets in a garlic and walnut sauce). Finally, no Georgian meal is complete without a few toasts, so try a bottle (or two) of Georgian wine from their wide selection.
Bellagio has a presidential reputation – quite literally. Bill Clinton of the United States and Vladimir Putin of Russia have both dined there and it’s also said to be a favorite of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev when he dines out in Almaty. The location is spectacular, facing the Malaya Almatinka River as it cascades down the foothills of the Tien Shan mountains and at the entrance of Ili-Alatau National Park. The restaurant is famous for its Italian menu and a regular haunt of Almaty’s elite. Reservations are recommended.
Bibliotheque provides European cuisine in a classic high culture décor that alone is worth the visit. The entrance sets the tone: It is dedicated with carved quotes about the joys and wisdom of wine. The clientele dines to a background of classical music surrounded by impressionist art. The restaurant is illuminated by electric chandeliers and the fireplace would do justice to any 17th century French chateau. Omar Khayyam and Beethoven would both love it here.
Even Marco Polo from Venice would feel at home here. Borgo Antico boasts vaulted red brick ceilings, warm tiles and a rustic Tuscan atmosphere that has made it a favorite gathering place of the Almaty elite. We recommend the prawn and salad steeped in balsamic vinegar. Its salmon, sea bass, lobster, red snapper and calamari are also all flown in fresh twice a week from Dubai.
Boudoir is a stand-out and the ultimate experience in global fusion dining. We’re confident in saying it is unlikely any other restaurant in Kazakhstan serves live mud crab from the creeks of Australia. Chef Shane Brierly from Australia and his Thai wife previously starred at Lotus One in Dubai and their creative range and quality is extraordinary. Even the cocktails are mixed by a maestro flown in from London and utilize local ingredients like Almaty’s classic apple. (The Almaty region is believed to be the genetic homeland of all the apples in the world).
Sushi cuisine came late to the largest land-locked country in the world but the Kazakhs have been making up for lost time ever since. Cooshy Sushi was Almaty’s first kaiten sushi bar and continues to deliver fresh nigiri, maki and temaki from a conveyer belt that winds through the restaurant’s loft-style interior. The décor echoes New York’s Soho and London’s hip mock-industrial hang-outs with exposed brick and industrial accents. Genuine Japanese chefs prepare the dishes on color-coded plates with each color indicating the cost. Diners grab their choices as the belt moves along. Crowded for lunch and dinner, it also offers a full menu of Japanese-prepared meals. Downstairs is the teppanyaki room where the chefs will prepare your meal right in front of you.
Do golf, the art of Salvador Dali and a breathtaking vista of the majestic Tien-Shan mountains go together with fine Mediterranean cuisine? Here they do. So check out this unique place in the clubhouse of the Zhailyau Golf Course. Its walls are lined with Dali’s wild masterpieces and even the ceiling is covered with a gigantic reproduction of one of his legendary Melting Clocks.
Outside appearances can be deceiving: Di Wang is located on a quiet, easily overlooked side-street but inside it is cutting edge trendy. Designed by the leading designer of the French modern furniture company Ligne Roset, Di Wang boasts images of Chinese and Japanese emperors on its walls, white leather chairs and a glass aquarium full of exotic fish. Singaporean chefs produce fine Japanese and Chinese dishes. Di Wang also provides a full sushi menu, a reasonably priced lunch and you don’t want to miss its traditional tea ceremony.
The Grill Restaurant
It has a deserved reputation for grilling some of the best steaks in the city. Located on the ground floor of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, this bistro style restaurant with wood-paneled walls prepares prime Black Angus steaks, T-bone steaks, strip loin, tenderloin, rib eye, not to mention lamb, pork and seafood – all ready to sizzle on the grill. Every day, one type of steak is offered at a reasonable price for the business lunch from noon to 3pm.
This conveniently located restaurant is designed to make you feel like you are in a Central Asian village. You enter through a brick gate, into a courtyard and into the restaurant where you’ll find a little foot bridge over a man-made stream with fish, as well as fake greenery and exposed Uzbek pots and pans on the walls. It all gives the quant feeling of visiting a neighbor’s home. As for the food, you’ll find hearty standards at reasonable prices.
Kok-Tobe offers one of Almaty’s most unique dining experiences. To get there you can take a tram up the mountain and catch amazing views of the city. Kok-Tobe is divided into three restaurants with its main eatery named Yurt because its sections are shaped like a traditional Kazakh yurt. Yurt serves up Kazakh staples such as beshbarmak, lagman and manty as well as any place in town. And, in a nod to its growing international clientele, the restaurant has added non-Kazakh cuisine to its menu. A trip to Kok-Tobe offers a unique combination of good food and great atmosphere.
Korean restaurants in Almaty go back to 1937 after Josef Stalin forcibly transported more than 200,000 Korean settlers from Russia’s Far East to Central Asia because he feared they could become spies for Japan. Today, more than 400,000 Koreans live in Central Asia, including 70,000 in Kazakhstan, and the Korea House’s chef is one of them. He produces all the traditionally spicy dishes and the restaurants decor resembles an indoor East Asian garden with lots of green and bamboo plants placed on its dark Asian-style furniture. Waiters bow to their guests and deliver their dishes with both hands to display respect.
Conveniently close to the Hyatt, Aiser and Astana International Hotels, Namaste’s Thai-trained Indian chefs deliver tandoori dishes cooked in a clay oven and a wide range of first-class vegetarian dishes. The atmosphere is loud and chaotic with Indian music videos and Bollywood movies being played but don’t be deceived, the cuisine is first class.
Namedni attracts Kazakhs, Russians and a diverse mix of expats alike with its large menu and signature dishes. Among its most popular are Namedni’s Russian beet soup and Pelmeni — a dumpling filled with a combination of meats, pepper, onion, garlic and spices. The decor is also interesting and could be defined as Soviet retro with artifacts from the 1930s through 1980s. Among the owners’ favorites are several transistor radios from the 1950s and 1960s.
Naoro is one of the jewels of the dining circuit. Chef Julian Sperondio studied under legendary Pierre Gagnaire, a great pioneer in fusion cuisine movement, and it shows. With director Sam Sedecias (formerly of Nobu London) Sperondio focuses on delivering a main ingredient, a complementary garnish and exotic sauces; his lamb with coffee chickpea puree and bok choy with cardamon sauce are outstanding. Naoro loosely means “On Gold” and the décor reflects this theme. Reservations are essential, but try a cocktail with tapas-style canapes while your table is prepared.
Piano Bar Mardi Gras
Palladium’s Piano Bar Mardi Gras proudly displays Kazakhstan’s transparent Schimmel grand piano. Operating in the centre of Almaty’s Business District, the Piano Bar is a popular lunch attraction for embassy employees, businessmen and international executives. Palladium offers an extensive wine list, a full bar and a first-rate selection of cigars making it an attractive afternoon gathering spot.
Pomodor offers a breath of Italy and serves some of the best Italian comfort food in town. Small-scale, it’s still a family-run restaurant that delivers superlative quality. Chef Patron Giorgio Palazzi knows his regulars by their names and favorite wines. Palazzi also travels each year to his native Le Marche, Italy to bring back cargoes of fresh, highly prized white truffles. Pomodor uses local ingredients and its mozzarella is made by Italians living in Almaty. The restaurant is also known for its great desserts.
Another first class fish restaurant in the Mediterranean tradition, Porto Maltese offers its clientele their choice of fish from a display at its entrance and a variety of preparation styles including “grilled”, “salted”, “in bergamot pepper”, or “steamed.” The regular available selection includes mullet, sole, dorado, sea bass, john dory and turbot. The waiters wear long blue aprons, as if they’ve just come fresh from a seafood market, and will fillet your fish dish at the table.
Located in a giant glass globe on the 13th floor of the Koktem (Kazakh for spring) Business Center, Primavera presents one of the most stunning views in the city. We recommend the panorama at sunset (The view is also worth seeing at night when the city is lit up.) Primavera also offers views of the Tien Shan mountains to the south and the steppes to the north. The over-the-top décor includes crocodile-skin wall coverings and velvet chairs. Primavera features European and Japanese-fusion cuisine and an impressive wine list chosen by the restaurant’s own wine club.
The world’s most discriminating gourmets say the crème de la crème cuisine is French – and Almaty’s Rixos Hotel is the only fine-dining venue in Kazakhstan to boast not just one but two French chefs.
Sadu Concept Store
This restaurant/boutique offers the convenience of following lunch or dinner with boutique shopping on the same premises. With its green- and brown-striped chairs and menus, olive sofas and soothing earth tones, the cool interior of this sunlit restaurant offers a refuge from the noise, crowds and heat of an Almaty summer. Secure in his older, elite clientele Sadu’s Italian chef Simone specializes in simple Mediterranean dishes, including a variety of hand-made pastas and sauces and his original limoncello.
At night, this Middle Eastern style restaurant displays an illuminated white façade with Arabic script. It offers Moroccan, Turkish and Georgian cuisines. Specialties include lamb served in a tagine with dried fruits and chestnuts on saffron rice, salmon-spinach falafel rolls served with wasabi and tahini sauce and the famous Turkish dish, Imam Bayildi. Its Arab-style coffee is brewed from a special recipe blended with cardamon and harissa and served with a pitcher of mint-flavored water.
If you’re a fan of kitschy theme-style restaurants you’ll love Schwabsky Domik. This place is designed to look like a European village with little pitched roofs everywhere, lederhosen-clad staff who greet you with a smiling “guten tag”, and plenty of German beer on tap. And they have plenty of sausages and meat dishes with which to wash down all those draughts. An extensive wine menu is also available for those who aren’t quite in the kitschy spirit.
Located just round the corner from the InterContinental Hotel, Sumo San is popular with Japanese expatriates living in Almaty. The extensive menu offers sushi and teppyanaki among other dishes. The restaurant is also adorned with photos of sumo wrestlers. Its inviting maze of dining rooms offer a tasty bento lunch with a delicious miso. And in the summer, Sumo San offers a great outdoor seating area.
Caffe del Teatro
Located immediately west of the Abai Opera and Ballet Theater, you can dine in the restaurant’s terrace garden during the warm months to the sounds of operatic rehearsals. The elegance of opera is carried into Teatralnoye’s dining room where you’ll find stately columns, silver serving trays and ornate chandeliers. A frieze of an opera also lines one wall. The menu is largely international with a French focus.
Horsemeat wrapped in pandan leaves is an unlikely but widely popular favorite here. It’s one of the best Thai restaurants in town offering first class Tom Yam Goong (spicy prawn & lemongrass soup) and Tom Kha Gai (chicken & coconut milk soup). The chefs come from Thailand and many of the delicacies are flown in every day from all over the world, delivering reliable authentic flavor and freshness. The restaurant also includes ‘Zen’ – a minimalist Japanese sushi and sashimi bar, offering popular maki and sushi.
This remarkable restaurant offers a choice of Central Asian, European, Russian and East Asian cuisine with different dining areas and decors for each. Zhety Kazyna means Seven Treasures and it lives up to its name. A Kazakh apa or grandmother directs guests to the rooms of their choice. The main restaurant has an Uzbek theme with an open, tiled kitchen on one side with beautifully carved Uzbek columns, painted ceilings, marble fountains and arched windows with paranjas (latticed screens with a geometric designs). It offers Kazakh, Uzbek, Uighur and Dungan dishes of the highest quality. We recommend the besparmak, which is the Kazakh national dish made with meat and ribbons of home-made pasta. Zhety Kazyna also features the Zi oriental emporium which serves Japanese and Chinese dishes. A purple corridor with oriental clouds painted on the red ceiling and a dragon looping its way over the doors guides guests to private, oriental style rooms where guests squat on the floor and waitresses enter on their knees.
Zontiki means parasol, or umbrella and that theme is honored in the décor, with cream and orange parasol lampshades dangling from the pale wooden walls surrounding a minimalist decor. The fresh, light interior generates an optimistic atmosphere enhanced by the background music of classic pop songs. Zontiki’s Korean chef prepares a wide selection of Japanese and Korean dishes. The sushi is served on a wooden boat and, as at Korea House, if you order Korean food you’ll be treated to Korean kimchi (or starters) for free. Kadury – a sweet Korean rice cake with toasted sesame seeds and honey – is available with tea as is the eponymous Umbrella Cake. Reservations are recommended.