Local food has been on an evolutionary culinary path for years. While the cosmopolitan ideals of sushi stops, burger bars, pizza houses and so on continue to feature; and succeed; on local turf, local’s love and desperate need for good food soars at the highest of heights.
Traditional restaurants in Malta are not only for the visitors to our glorious islands, but also havens to local groups of families and friends who chow down on their home-cooked favourites that have remained unaltered for years.
And for those diners looking for a special take on the culinary offerings of Malta, the Michelin brigade of exceptional restaurants has taken the food scene to a whole new level – satisfying both the islanders longing for entertainment and expertly prepared meals while leaving a great impression on those discovering our land.
Malta’s Traditional Restaurants around the Islands
Traditional food in Malta and Gozo is, at its very core, humble comfort food. Rich in seafood, fresh fish, local meat and extremely heavy on the carbs, there’s no going wrong with a local Majjalata (Pork Dinner), Fenkata (Rabbit Feast) or the looser and not so grammatically correct, Fish-ata – which as you might have guessed means a Fish Frenzy of sorts.
Understanding the local cuisine is appreciating the culture and folklore of a country, and there’s no purer way to dive into Malta’s food history than with these top-level traditional restaurants:
Legligin: the Wine Bar with a Cultural Menu
Situated in St Lucy’s Street Valletta, Legligin is a wine bar with the most imaginative menu. They started off their ode to Maltese cuisine with an extensive wine menu that could, if the diner’s appetite allowed, blow you away with a pairing menu prepared according to the diner’s wine selection.
As Legligin’s reputation soared, fixed menu items made it to their old-school blackboard in order to satisfy returning customers while giving new patrons a chance to experience the Malta of Olde through a modern Mediterranean lens.
Gululu: a Sea-Side Stop for Traditional Food
If you’re in St Julian’s, which we hope you will be at some point during your visit, Gululu is an ideal restaurant to stop at for lunch. With the picture-perfect setting of Spinola Bay right by your table, Gululu gives you the full-on Malta vibe in the most subtle, yet highly accurate way possible.
With 4 menus to choose from you’ll surely be satisfied with the selection on offer regardless when you visit. Sundays will treat you to a Fornata which literally translates to an Oven Event where baked treats such as Imqarrun il-Forn (Baked Macaroni) and Zaqq tal-Majjal Mimli (Stuffed Pork Belly) are the highlights of the day. You can also visit Gululu in Bugibba.
Tac-Canti: where a Fenkata is Always the Answer
Tac-Canti is found in rabbit-village-central, aka Mgarr and one of the most loved destinations for your traditional Fenkata. Learning what to order in these kinds of places takes some getting used to, so to speed things up a little we’ll help you out with a few tips:
Make sure you head to the restaurant with a big appetite. You will get a portion of Hobz biz-Zejt (Open Sandwich) for the table, but ordering a starter portion of Snails and a Spaghetti with Rabbit Sauce is the most rewarding thing you’ll do all holiday. For your main opt for the ultimate tradition with Pan-Fried Rabbit in Garlic, maybe try out the Horse Meat for a deep meaty flavour or the Pan-Fried Quail for a delicate poultry option.
Skipping on dessert is acceptable in restaurants like Tac-Canti since a complimentary plate of Helwa tat-Tork (Halva) and sometimes a bowl of monkey nuts will find their way to your table. The Imqaret (Date Cakes) are pretty hard to pass up though.
Diar il-Bniet: Nanna-style Farm to Fork
A favourite to many, Diar il-Bniet is an ideal spot to visit when you need some wholesome loving in your belly. Their seasonal menu is special because all their produce comes directly from their farm, is taken into the open kitchen and prepared with all the love possible to deliver a steaming bowl of goodness.
The restaurant is also set up with house-made preserves, pickled items and other delicacies that are not only ideal as souvenirs but also as happy little memories of the flavours of Malta. Diar il-Bniet is perfect after a long country walk or a wander in the Northern region of the island.
Ta’ Marija: for a Trip down Memory Lane
Get ready for some lively entertainment where folklore is the pivotal point of the restaurant’s success. Ta’ Marija is a magical experience of Malta’s past life where traditional dress, dance and cuisine take centre stage as the main entertainment for the night.
With bite-sized treats such as Sfineg tal-Incova (Anchovy Beignets), platters including bigilla (bean dip) and kaponata (ratatouille) and main course like Froga tat-Tarja (Capellini Omelete) and Ravjul ta’ Marija (House-Made Goat Cheese Ravioli), your night could go on until the doors shut – it’s extremely easy to lose track of time at Ta’ Marija.
The Best of the Best: Malta’s Michelin Restaurants
Upon finding their way to Malta, the Michelin Guide, without a shadow of doubt, were pleased to find a large array of quality restaurants that they could not help but slip into their coveted guide. The local culinary talent is one that should be heavily celebrated, each for its own special focus on menu, technique and flair in the kitchen.
While there are many Michelin Restaurants worthy of a mention on this short list, here are some of the tried and tested favourites that your visit to the island of Malta cannot miss out on.
Noni, Valletta – One Michelin Star
The experience at Noni is all about embracing the history of the capital city of Valletta with the modern and contemporary look on life. Chef Jonathan Brincat is adamant on delivering fine dining quality with the subtle experience of traditional dining.
His ability to transform local street food and culinary staples in Maltese culture and elevate them into dishes worthy of a Michelin Star is phenomenal. Chef Jonathan Brincat gives Noni the character and charisma true to Maltese heritage.
Root 81, Rabat – Michelin Guide Mention
Offering an A La Carte and Tasting Menu experience, Head Chef and Patron Robert Cassar won the Chef of the Year award for 2020, the same year his restaurant Root 81 received their first Michelin Mention.
Selecting only the finest ingredients, meats, fish and wine for his menu, Chef Cassar creates a focus on locally sourced foods with a sustainable element. His hearty portions and focus on creating something magical with every meal is what keeps Root 81 high on locals’ lists.
59 Republic, Valletta – Michelin Guide Mention
Situated in Republic Street’s St George’s Square, 59 Republic takes fine dining to a whole new level. Where Chef Maria Sammut uses luxury ingredients that are interpreted as aesthetic dreams on a plate and every day menu items are elevated beyond comparison.
Al fresco dining allows the Valletta city experience while the indoor seating area gives you that glam feel with their chic interior and fun vibe. A 59 Republic experience is highly recommended whether it’s for lunch in the capital or an up-beat dinner.
Terrone, Birgu – Michelin Bib Gourmand
Chef Patron Adrian Hili has graced Malta with a culinary experience that focuses on the bounties of the sea! From crudi to sea-based risottos and so many other marvellous creations, the menu at Terrone is as picturesque as the view that acts as your meal’s backdrop.
The rustic charm and contemporary elements that make this restaurant unique are the focus points of the dining experience. Situated in the historic city of Birgu, Terrone is definitely not one to miss if you’re here to experience the seafood of the island.
ION Harbour, Valletta – One Michelin Star
Breathtaking. Focused. Beyond delicious. The menu at ION Harbour is impeccable to say the least. Chef Alex Dilling has taken the standard up a few notches with his infallible restaurant experience that simply takes the diner on a journey.
Chef Dilling’s plating is a work of art which upon first glance seems too precious to destroy simply for the human experience. But with every forkful and sip at the fine wine accompanying your meal, the savoury sensations seem to breathe new life into your soul.
The Golden Fork, Attard – Michelin Guide Mention
Found in the quaint village of Attard, The Golden Fork is the brainchild of the highly talented and ever creative, Chef Letizia Vella whose meshing of savoury and sweet is insightful. Her menu is playful and inspiring, creating an impact from the moment you’re presented with her magical amuse bouche to the final spoonful of her decadent desserts.
Attention to detail is key at The Golden Fork and the innovative approach taken in Chef Vella’s kitchen is a breath of fresh air.
Tmun, Mgarr, Gozo – Michelin Guide Mention
The sister island of Gozo is also home to a number of Michelin-rated restaurants, Tmun in Mgarr’s Gozo Harbour is one of them. This well-loved and booked-out restaurant is one that will keep on giving in creativity and consistency.
Tmun is all about the focus on classics and the seafood dishes that come out of Chef Paul Buttigieg’s kitchen. Their ability to create magical pairing in their dishes while elevating their menu with a supreme wine list is what makes the experience so special.
Discover Malta’s Traditional & Michelin Restaurants
Visiting Malta is a great idea for the travelling foodie who throughout their stay on the islands will get to savour the traditional dishes that include Stuffat tal-Fenek and Pastizzi as well as elevated versions of the dishes through the celebrated chefs on the islands.
Malta and Gozo are blooming with restaurants worth a second, third and fourth visits – finding your favourite will probably be the hardest task of your trip. So get your reservations in and get ready to enjoy your meal – or as we say in Malta; L-Ikla t-Tajba.