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:
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.
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
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
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
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
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.