I realise there's not a rush for anyone to go to Rotterdam, but I thought I would post my thoughts on my year's worth of eating in the city. Since I'm a student here, I have not tried the Michelin starred restaurants, so my recommendations are really for everyday dining, as opposed to special occasion dining.
First, let me just preface this post by saying that there is a reason Rotterdam (and The Netherlands in general) have not made it onto anyone's radar for gourmet eating. However, I have managed to dig out a few gems during my time in the city.
Kom de Soepwinkel
Given how cold and rainy it is in Rotterdam 300 days of the year, I'm surprised that no one thought of this concept earlier. It's a shop that is all soup all the time. The lady who started it had a catering business and the recipes she uses at the shop are ones that have been tested tweaked over the years. The store usually has 4 or 5 soups on offer and the selection rotates weekly. The best deal is the soep planck, which is a medium bowl of steaming soup served with bread and your choice of either cheese or tapenade for 6 Eur.
Sfeer Puur en Eerlijk
Cute cafe with decent pastries and coffee. It's nothing spectacular, but the city does lack these sorts of cafes and pastry shops where you can meet a friend for afternoon coffee so this is a welcome find.
This place is a little piece of Provençe in Rotterdam. It's a very cute cafe, which offers pastries, coffee, and light lunches like sandwiches, salads, and soups. I especially love coming here to read a book as I have a croissant and coffee. The pastries here tend to be a bit sweet for my liking, but the salads and sandwiches are tasty.
Nieuwe Binnenweg 79A
Very cute little bakery offering some very tasty cookies. The walnut melts are fantastic.
Anyone coming from Toronto, Vancouver or Hong Kong will not be impressed (I'm from Toronto, so I know), but as far as Chinese restaurants in Rotterdam are concerned, this is one of the better ones. It is kitschy and overdone with the chinoiserie decor, but the food (particularly the Cantonese dishes), is pretty solid if a bit on the greasy side. The hot and sour soup is also not half bad, but as with anything in Holland that is labelled "spicy", it is anything but.
Eethuis Bij Bao
The food at this place is SALTY... but that's how it's done on the Mainland. Therefore, this is pretty authentic. The stuff that is labelled "spicy" is actually fairly accurately labelled. This is the kind of food you'd find at little hole-in-the-wall installations on the Mainland of China. Just be prepared to drink a lot of water after your meal here.
Nieuwe Binnenweg 17B-19A
Decent food for decent prices, with good rock and folk concerts to boot. This is THE hipster hangout in Rotterdam, attracting plenty of young artsy types. Again, this is not gourmet food, but it is consistent. I don't bother with the appetizers on the menu, as they're nothing special. The mains, though, have been a fairly decent bet the several times I've been there for food.
Eetcafe de Stoep
This place is great for the student budget. Hearty, decent meals, for reasonable prices. Again, nothing special, but it is decent food. The daily specials tend to be particularly good bets, and the menu has good variety.
De Smaak van Afrika / Viva Afrika
Goudsesingel 342A / Nieuwe Binnenweg 153A-B
www.desmaakvanafrika.nl / www.vivaafrika.nl
Incredible, but true... decent Ethiopian food in Rotterdam. These sister restaurants have menus that span the northern half of the continent, but stick with the Ethiopian stuff and you're set. The portions are huge so go hungry or go with large groups. The food is reliable and consistent, and the service can be painfully slow, especially at the Goudsesingel location, but at least they're friendly.
Cafe de Unie
A bit of an institution in Rotterdam, as it was a hangout for counterculture types in the 60s, 70s and 80s. It still sort of has that vibe with its arthouse film nights. The food decent and decently priced, and the atmosphere is a bit more sophisticated, especially with the new renovations of the dining room.
For the 65 days of the year when it is sunny in Rotterdam, I recommend this place for genuinely good gelato. It's not too sweet, it's smooth, and the flavours are intense. I particularly like the nut flavours, as well as the dark chocolate. The line-ups are crazy in the summer months, but they have a good number of people behind the counter to make things go mercifully quickly.
Schiedamse Vest 40
Nice, casual place for pizza and pasta. The portions are filling, the prices are fair, and the quality is good. They are also the only place I know of in Rotterdam to offer "apertivo", the Milanese tradition of happy hour cocktails served with a buffet of nibblies, but I have yet to try it here. One word of warning is that if you sit in the upper mezzanine, you will come out smelling like what you ate, as it is located directly above the kitchen area.
Schiedamse Vest 2
Not half-bad Greek food. One of the few places to get a good Greek salad with the blocks of feta and not just crumbled stuff. The juvetsis and the stifado are quite tasty. Some of the appetizers have been hit or miss.
Great place for brunch, though weirdly, the only style of egg they serve is hardboiled. I guess it's because it's meant to imitate the picnic style of eating (before the invention of Tupperware, I take it). At any rate, the food here is overall quite good (my main complaint is of the quiche -- the crust is too sweet), though the service is often forgetful.
There are two sections to this restaurant: a fancier dining area and a more casual dining area. I have only been in the casual dining area, where they serve very competently done pizzas and pastas (the fancier side serves the osso buccos and such). This is considered THE place to go for Neopolitan style pizzas. The other items on the menu are also very reliable options. Even in the casual dining area, this restaurant is a bit more expensive on average than the others listed here.
Very cute French-style bistro, with decent food for decent prices. The food has overall been reliable. The atmosphere is casual but pleasant. The downside is that the service can sometimes be scattered, where they bring out dishes in a strange order or they bring everything at once and crowd the table.
I'm sure I'll think of others to add to this list, but this is it for now.
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