American food in Tbilisi

Editor’s note: If you’re a whiny crybaby who doesn’t want to read about food, this entry is not for you. Feel free to use this fine website to find something better.

I’ve recently had the opportunity to try several restaurants in Tbilisi that serve “American” food. I’d like to talk about them here. In no particular order:

Coffee.ge
Americanness: 2/5
Food: 5/5
Service: 1/5
Price: 2/5

I walked into Coffee.ge and was immediately assaulted by a fairly strong version of the disgusting stale air that permeates the majority of restaurants in Georgia. Because I was visiting for a friend’s birthday, I braved the smoke and sat down at a table. The decor struck me as a sort of upscale European/modern theme, but the place is lit up like a diner, which to me was kind of an odd and striking contrast. We came with a large group (maybe 9 to 12) and the servers didn’t know how to handle us. They didn’t take our drink orders first – they took food and drink together, which took a year and a day, so we sat there for literally like a half hour with absolutely nothing on our table other than place settings. Once they did get the drink orders in they took quite a long time. They got my order wrong – I chalk this up to language barrier – and they also got the appetizers (two orders of chicken wings) out about a half hour after everyone had finished their entrees.

On the upside, the food was excellent. The burger was delicious and almost, but not quite, reminded me of a burger from back home. The four cheese pasta was superb. The bill was somewhat steep.

McDonald’s
Americanness: 4/5
Food: 1/5
Service: 5/5
Price: 3/5

What is there to say about the Golden Arches? McDonald’s in Georgia is weird because it’s absurdly popular, especially among teens, kind of like the way you envision McDonald’s being in America fifty years ago. The McDonald’s here are huge in size, have free wi-fi, and are usually packed inside and out. Still, despite the weird alternate universe vibe, this place is definitely McDonald’s – it smells like McDonald’s, they don’t allow smoking, and the food and decor scream Mickey D’s.

The food, of course, is terrible. In the US, I eat McDonalds only under extreme circumstances, and every time I do I feel sort of sick to my stomach and my mouth gets dry from the ridiculous amount of salt in everything. I had a variation of my usual – Chicken Selects with french fries – and it was a little taste of home, and by home, I mean coming home from a bar at 3 am and deciding that the 24 hour McDonalds near my train station is a better option than the 7/11 by my house for a late night snack to soak up whatever random booze I’ve just spent six hours drinking. Basically, food at McDonald’s here is almost exactly like food at McDonald’s in the US – subpar and mostly disgusting.

The service at McDonald’s in Tbilisi, however, is excellent. They speak English, they’re fast, they get things right, and they serve a truly remarkable number of people without ever getting that soul-destroyed vacant thousand-yard McStare that most McDonald’s employees in the West put on every day with their McUniforms. They’re friendly and want to help you. It’s bizarre but awesome.

Still, you can get much better food at almost any Tbilisi restaurant for fewer laris, so I don’t recommend McDonald’s unless you’re really craving some America.

New York Burger
Americanness: 2/5
Food: 2/5
Service: 1/5
Price: 2/5

This place does remind me of a lot of places in New York, but not really in a good way. You walk down a few steps into a small, dingy, nearly empty greaser joint. The menu is simple: burgers, fries, onion rings. They offer cheap sliders, or “Big New York Burgers.” The “Big New York” is a quarter-pounder at most. It’s weirdly spiced and doesn’t taste like a regular hamburger, the meat is just okay, the bun is nicely toasted but way too large for such an anemic meat patty, and the cheese is sliced to be almost too thin to taste. The servers don’t really speak English, and they decided to take advantage of my poor Georgian by upselling me from a single slider (price 2.5 lari) to a Big New York with Fries (price 7 lari) without my permission. “არ მინდა კართფილი” (“ar minda kartophili,” or “I don’t want fries”) succeeded in getting them not to give me fries, but failed to get my money back for said fries. The cook was also woefully inefficient – it took me quite a long time to get my burger, and it definitely wasn’t worth the wait. I’d say definitely look elsewhere for a taste of New York.

Ronny’s American Pizza
Americanness: 2/5
Food: 4/5
Service: N/A
Price: 1/5

Ronny’s delivers. That alone gets them some Americanness points. However, the pizza itself is not enough like actual American pizza to merit high marks. The cheese is definitely Georgian, and the layer of sauce is tiny and flavorless, neither of which really worked for the overall flavor. However, their veggie pizza definitely tasted good, and they got the crust just about right. “New Yorker” is synonymous with “pizza snob” and I’m willing to admit that just about everyone else who tries Ronny’s loves it. I liked it too, it just isn’t New York pizza. Also, at 40 lari for a pie, it fails at one of pizza’s most fundamental functions, which is being a cheap, fast, ubiquitous source of empty calories for large amounts of people.

Still, despite being expensive and inaccurate, Ronny’s pizza is actually quite good. I can’t comment on the service since I had Ronny’s delivery at a friend’s house, but they deliver all over Tbilisi, which definitely also earns them points. If you’ve got some extra laris and are feeling lazy and homesick, Ronny’s is definitely a good bet.

Elvis American Diner
Americanness: 4/5
Food: 3/5
Service: 4/5
Price: 2/5

***Editor’s Note: Please see subsequent reviews of Elvis American Diner for more complete and updated information. – 9/23/11***

I wanted to hold off on this review until I tried their burger. They claim to have the best in town. So far what I’ve tried is their pizza. No mayo, which is good, and the crust and sauce were right, but the cheese was wrong and the pepperoni was just weird. The decor is American kitsch, but they lose a point for being a mall food court instead of a diner. They have different stations selling pizza, burgers, some sort of stew, gelato… I mean, I’m not complaining about the variety, it’s just jarring to walk into a 50′s diner that doesn’t have table service. The place is expensive, since they sell the experience, and the few people left in America who still care about Elvis would absolutely love it. I have to admit, though, that the place did give me my first homesick moment in Georgia. I’ll write again when I’ve tried the vaunted Elvis burger.

Texas Fried Chicken
Americanness: 5/5
Food: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Price: 3/5

Yes, that’s right. Texas Fried Chicken is far and away the best of the lot. You walk in to a bright spacious dining room with several different sections, most empty or nearly empty, offering the chance to sit and eat with some privacy. The menus are in Georgian and English, with delicious vivid pictures of fried chicken. The woman who took our order seriously spoke better English than many of the fast food workers who take my order when I eat out in America. They got everything right, and everything came out very fast.

The fried chicken was excellent. First of all, it was chicken, and it was fried, which already put TFC ahead of the game. The chicken strips were deliciously breaded and fairly substantial, and the Russian barbecue sauce was decent, although I personally hope they include honey mustard soon. The spicy fried chicken pieces were mildly but deliciously spicy, and the jalapeno poppers (which were called jalapeno rockets, or some such nonsense) were basically just mild. The fries were just okay. But I didn’t come for sides, I came for fried chicken, and what I got was fried chicken, and it was so good.

The only downside is that the fried chicken costs between 2.5 and 3 lari per piece, with the meals running from 7 to 11 lari. That’s not terrible, but it’s also not very nutritious and I can get healthier and more filling food for comparable prices or less at Georgian places.

Overall, though, if you’re looking for some American food, TFC is, so far, the best option – other than cooking it yourself, of course.

**********************

If anyone has any recommendations of other American restaurants or restaurants serving American food, please feel free to comment. I’ll also be following up at some point with a shaurma review post and a world foods review post.

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36 Responses to American food in Tbilisi

  1. Eric says:

    I thought you would have went to the resto ‘batonebi’ already, since TLGers have a 10% discount and it’s American owned.

  2. Konka Station (near the beginning of Chardini Street by the giant abandoned streetcar) does a 9 lari continental breakfast/brunch for homesick NYers like me!

  3. Victoria Wheeler says:

    I think now you’re just getting mean with the intros, to the point that it even makes me want to not read even though I -do- want to hear about your experience of American food in Georgia! Especially after yesterday’s entry having already been posted.

    That said, it certainly sounds interesting! I ran into the same issue of not being able to find a good pizza while I was in Europe. In Italy, I found a freakin’ delicious margherita pizza, but it wasn’t very American. Many people complained at us because a friend and I ate out at an Americanized fast food joint (not McDonalds) once a week for a taste of home while we were in Europe, but you just can’t explain to people how much, from time to time, you just want a taste of home and something you recognize, even if I don’t even eat fast food at home!

  4. Derek says:

    My favorite thing about the McDonald’s is their designer McDonald’s-brand jeans. I kind of want some. Wonder what they get paid….

  5. zicke says:

    I recommend you visit Latte :)

    http://latte.ge/

  6. Sasha says:

    Let’s get into a flame war about the phrase “empty calories”?

    • panoptical says:

      Okay! You start.

      • Sasha says:

        There is no such thing as an “empty” calorie. A calorie is a unit of energy, that food is providing you with one. It contains things, or it wouldn’t be a problem. The concept was invented to make people feel smug for not eating fast food, or to feel like there is an easy one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and diet which will lead to health, but, more importantly, an ideal weight. This is as ridiculous as saying everyone should avoid all carbs, or all sugars, or anything except cabbage soup (that is a real diet, not hyperbole). Calories give you fuel. Some foods are bad for you, and contain calories. Some foods are good for you, and contain calories. Not all the same foods are bad for all people.

        Therefore, only a fascist would use the phrase “empty calories.”

        • panoptical says:

          The human body can only handle a certain amount of calories before it starts to store all that excess energy in ways that detract from our health. Therefore it is to our advantage to try to minimize the number of calories we consume while still consuming enough essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutritionally important stuff to remain healthy and happy.

          Under this scheme, an “empty” calorie is a calorie that contains no, or minimal amounts of, other nutrients essential for bodily function aside from the energy that it delivers. It’s better to consume calories that are “fuller” – that come packaged along with more vitamins and minerals.

          Pizza isn’t the worst offender in the empty calories catalog, but it’s not great – it’s mostly bread made from highly refined, bleached flour, which has had most of its nutrients forcibly removed in its creation process…

          …but what am I saying? This isn’t a flame!

          What I meant to say was, your “all calories are equal” bullshit is communism! And we all know that under communism, it turned out that some were more equal than others. Is that what you want? You can disregard my warnings about empty calories, but if you do, your digestive system will collapse like the Soviet Union, you socialist Stalin-loving hippy! Go America! Take down this wall!

  7. pasumonok says:

    thanx, this was very informative.
    international food… that would be harder. cause i know several good places, french, fusion, italian, japanese….but you need around 30-40 laris per person to dine there. I usually just go for the dessert.

  8. In2Travel says:

    Warning to all Expats in Tbilisi – Do not go to the Sante Fe restaurant for Mexican Food. Last weekend, three of us “Georgian Village Idiots” took the long marshutcha ride for a 3 day weekend in Tbilisi and we were all hanging out for some Mexican food. Night 1-tried to find AztecRestaurant, which we had been told had a Mexican chef but ended up at the Irish Pub through miscommunication with our taxi driver. The steaks and the Guiness were great and not too pricey.Night 2- decided to try the Sante Fe as it was within walking distance. Problem No I – Mexican Restaurant with Klimt prints covering the walls plus classical music. No 2 – Nobody at all in the big restaurant and this was a Saturday night. No 3 – We order Margueritas and nachos to start while we peruse the menu. Margueritas at 15 GEL were made from a cheap mix and I don’t think there are words to describe what was given to us as nachos. Burnt yet soggy unsalted corn chips covered in Georgian cheese. Not a tomato or chilli or a bean in sight. Totally inedible and served by a grouchy waiter with no English.
    My friends decided that they would attempt the enchiladas but I ordered a beef steak as it looked to be the simplest choice on the menu. I valiantly tried to explain to both the surly waiter and the rude chef that I wanted it cooked medium rare but of course what I ended up with resembled a burnt offering to the gods. My friends orders were even worse, so we left there with most of the food still on the table and were relieved of 130GEL for the privilege. THE MOST EXPENSIVE AND THE WORST MEAL IN GEORGIA. Still hanging out for some Mexican food but it can wait until the end of the month when we are all home.

    • Carolyn Rice says:

      Agree about the Sante Fe. It should NOT be called a mexican restaurant. Terrible food not cooked by Mexican cook. Also, one place I tried — I was so excited to see nachos w/ salsa on the menu, and I ordered and got Doritos (yes the revolting ones with orange powder) with ketchup. Go figure.

      Today I’m going to try the Azteca Mexican restaurantt on Abashidze as I’ve heard they have a Mexican chef. I’ll let you know what I find.

      • brandon says:

        Azteca is out of business :( not cool… the place that has taken its place for somreason still kept the Fajitas, but at 20 lari was not worth the risk to have shity food

  9. Jefferson says:

    Have you checked out Donut Stop? It’s a fun little joint off of Abashidze.
    Americanness: 2/5
    Food: 4/5
    Service: 2/5
    Price: 2/5

    The fact that these are donuts gives it America points period. The donuts are actually the best I’ve had in Georgia, having been miserably disappointed by the failed attempts at donuts near Rustaveli Metro and along Marjanishvili. It’s a little pricey (around 1.3 GEL per donut). Service is typical, but it’s donuts so who cares. I enjoy it! It’s a good place for coffee and donuts.

    Also, sidenote that: I worked for McD’s. I can totally say I’ve witnessed the McStare of their employees, but I never fell victim to it. I love the ones in Tbilisi. Also Elvis gets mega low points for their burger. It’s bad cookout food. I say the price is ehh, but any restaurant that any “American Diner” that serves Thai, sushi, pizza, burgers and gelato can’t be good at everything… Ronny’s is wayyy better fresh. It loses something in the delivery process, although, as mentioned, delivery = awesomeness. It’s rumored that DS has starbucks coffee (if that’s your thing), but I’ve also heard that Coffee Time has it as well (down the way from DS).

    Final note: El Burrito, while a lot of people have torn it to shreds is. the. jam.

    • panoptical says:

      Awesome! I’ll totally try that out. Coffee.ge has Starbucks coffee, but I don’t go to Starbucks for their coffee bean selection so Starbucks coffee won’t be a draw without that Starbucks ambiance (not to mention milk chocolate covered graham crackers, frappucinos, caramel macchiatos, and espresso brownies…zomg Starbucks calories).

      Side note, I wish Vake and Ortachala had a damned metro line… and where is this El Burrito?

    • Thank you Jefferson. As the owner of Ronny’s just wanted to defend our Pizza. We use only Mozzarella from a small factory here in Georgia trained by USAID Millennium Challenge Fund. We use the best Toppings we can buy and we make each and every pie to order. Every pizza is customizable if you want extra sauce, extra cheese, double pepperoni just tell us. Our personal pizza starts at only 5 GEL. Our Chocolate Chip cookie is only 1 Gel and we are roasting our own coffee beans almost daily and we keep our fresh coffee in Airpots.

  10. tiki says:

    okey… i read ur article. u should try American restaurant in the old part of Tbilisi. it’s really quiet and comfortable place to eat. enjoy…

  11. Billy Burke says:

    Though most of the reviews where right, I wouldn’t agree about the New York Burger. Their burgers were the best. I tried big New York cheeseburger with bacon and I can say that was one of the best burgers I’ve tasted. Hot dog and enchiladas were not bad as well.

  12. HP says:

    If you want a good American steak, cooked right go to The Oval
    American Restaurant, 6, Rkinis Rigi St. (Old Town) Tbilisi. They fly the meat in from the USA, and their fish is also quite good. Yeah you will pay more, about what one would pay in the US.

    Also The Vera Steak House (American owned) in Vera Park is not bad, though the beef is not as good as the Oval.

  13. Pingback: Elvis American Diner: Friday Morning, Saturday Night. | Georgia On My Mind

  14. Karim says:

    Hey everyone thanks a lot for this info….I’m in Tbilisi for quite a while and have been searching for some great new places to eat. Can anyone tell me a good place to meet other Americans? I’ve spent 3 months mingling with the locals and have enjoyed it very much, but it would be great to converse with someone from back home! Anyone wanna meet up for a bite?

  15. GEORGE says:

    Hey everyone, first of all i wanted to thank you guys for the great reviews, saved my ass by not going to some of places her. Iam new to Tbilisi been here a month and its ok i guess, but thats due to the fact that i do not know anyone here yet but that can change if anyone wana meet up for a dinner with a lonely boy from NY holla at my facebook. George.hovel

    and btw i had to recomend El greco their pizza might suck but their shuarma sandwiches are great….and they deliver.

    Enjoy

  16. Pingback: Stuck in an Elevator | Georgia On My Mind

  17. katie says:

    Hi all! well i’m georgian, although i’ve been living in england for the past 4 years and just came back few months ago, so this american dining thing in tbilisi is very new to me. i used to work at hard rock cafe in ldn for 4 years, so obviously i miss burgers and all. so i wanted to treat myself to a nice juicy cheesy burger, and i decided to follow recommendations of this lovely blogger and see where it gets me.
    I started by this ”Elvis” thingie, and got very mixed feelings about everything. i liked the fact that u could only smoke upstairs (it’s such an issue in tbilisi. being a smoker myself, i find it absolutely repulsive to leave a bar or a cafe with that nasty smell of nicotine all over my hair and clothes. what happened to ventilation? at least leave the window open!). the food was average ( my friend and i had a slice of pizza, a burger and some pasta), to be honest, we got our money’s worth – but then again, ”Elvis” is located very close to the state uni so i guess, students dine there a lot, so it’s kinda smart to keep the prices low and the food quality average, (unlike most places in Vake area, where the prices are sky-high and the food quality =is NOT). Did not get the whole asian+italian+american+dessert mixture of food in one place called Elvis.
    Then i went to coffee.ge! i couldn’t help myself but laugh when i asked for a large white americano (6 GEL !!!!!) and a silly, overdressed barista poured a gallon of cold milk in something that looked like a single shot of espresso and served that cold, milky liquid to me. on a bright side, my friend’s caramel macchiato was delightful (9.50 GEL!!!)
    Loft was nice, but i felt a little like fish out of water in my jeans and vans as everyone was so pretty and gorgeous with nice clothes and heels and hair and make-up (even my friends, whom i was meeting up with (sorry ladies), looked overly polished for a burger joint!) i ordered a bacon cheeseburger with side of fries and asked the waiter not to put any onions either in my burger or on my plate. he politely replied that burger came with side of onion rings, but i asked him not to put any on mine. after 35 (i swear to god!) minutes of waiting, got my juicy bacon cheeseburger with side of fries and (ta-daaaa!!!) onion rings and let me tell you, it was fantastic. yes, i paid almost 20 Laris for it. yes, the meat was a bit overcooked, and yes, the fries were dry, but it was a good old-fashioned burger. in a nutshell, my belly was full and and my taste buds were quite happy. Although, once again, you get that kind off uncomfortable feeling of people checking you out once you take that first bite. that place is waayyyyy toooo posh for a burger diner!
    This weekend i’m planning to check out this El Greco place.
    Also, if anyone know where i can eat some nice Mexican, i would really really appreciate it.
    Have a nice day!
    Ta.

    • panoptical says:

      I hear there’s good Mexican in Yerevan – it’s only about six hours away! I also hear that in spring the Mexican place in Sighnaghi opens again, and I’ve been told they are fabulous.

  18. Moester says:

    I have been in Tbilisi for a few years now and to be honest… I have yet to find good pizza (I am from NY) Ronnies is okay.. but the sauce, i found is way too sweet. Best spaghetti and meatballs I have had in town is from the Hangar Bar… and even though I do go to Texas chicken every time I get a craving for fried chicken… I would so kill for a KFC or any other place that serves fried chicken in Tbilisi. For great German food (and cheap too) try Reiner’s on Barnovi St. It’s got a beer garden and is right next to Hotel Kartli.

  19. I have a request: can you write a blog about bathrooms in Georgia. I enjoy your language. I am sure you will do terrific job :)

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