For foreign tourists who are new to Iran it might be a bit hard to choose a restaurant as they don`t know what prices, quality and cuisine to expect from them. However, the cheat sheet on Restaurants and Street Food in Iran is there to help you understand what food options you have in Iran and always feel confident while entering a restaurant that the price on the check won`t exceed your budget. Moreover, in this cheat sheet you will find various street food options that are usually available all over Iran. Some can be a life saver for vegetarians or those who are sick and tired of rice with kebabs while others can be a good snack on the go.
Restaurants in Iran
If you want to have a proper meal, there are 5 options for you. But first, decide what kind of cuisine you are craving. If you want to try something Iranian (which is the easiest food to find), you can choose a usual restaurant, sofreh-khaneh or chay-khaneh. Standard restaurants are the most popular in Iran. They focus on satisfying people`s hunger, so the interior design is usually very simple there. They offer one or two khoreshts (read more about Iranian food in this cheat sheet), several types of kebabs (served either with rice or bread) and cooked meat or chicken with rice.
Sofreh-khaneh restaurants are tourists` favorites. They are traditional restaurants with takht, a wooden sofa where you can spread out your legs after a long walk, lean on pillows and have rest; however, sometimes tables are available too. Most of the times they are beautifully designed inside and can be an amazing option for the afternoon rest before a new portion of sightseeing. Their menu offers more variety – beside the standardmenu most sofreh-khaneh restaurants have tea (served in small traditional glasses), dizzi (check Iranian food cheat sheet for details) and even waterpipe.
Chay-khaneh is quite rare in Iran. Most of them offer only dizzi, waterpipe and tea while people want real food, so this kind of restaurants is not that popular in Iran. As for the price, sofreh-khaneh restaurants are more expensive, although not significantly.
There is one more type of restaurants which doesn`t have a certain name, but you can identify it at first sight. It`s an expensive restaurant which in addition to standard Iranian menu offers salad bar, dessert bar and a number of international dishes. They have a big area inside and flags of various countries either outside or inside the restaurant. However, the most obvious sign is easy – they look expensive! They are most easily found at big hotels.
It`s easy with fast-food restaurants – you`ll find all the same hamburgers, pizzas and fries like anywhere.
Coffeshops in Iran are a place for dating and hanging out with friends. You`ll find good coffee here, tea (in normal cups), fresh juices and milkshakes. However, it might be a bad idea to have lunch in a place like that. Most coffeeshops have some sandwiches, salads and sometimes even pastas, but you shouldn`t expect much of them. Also, keep in mind that coffeeshops are a bit pricy comparing to other eateries with coffees starting at 2€ and milkshakes or fresh juices starting at 3€.
Ghahveh-khaneh is usually a small place packed with two rows of tables where you can have a waterpipe and a tea cheap. Of course, if you are a man! Although, a foreign female traveller accompanied by men may be let in, I suppose, but be sure you won`t feel comfortable in a place like that.
Street Food in Iran
The most popular lunch option on the go in Iran is definitely felafel. For a euro you will have a sandwich packed with felafel and vegetables of your choice. One of the most famous felafel shops in Tehran is at Marvi Bazaar near the Grand Bazaar; also, lots of falafel stands can be found at Enghelab Square. Most of the times falafel shops also sell sambooseh which is a hot snack of mashed potatoes, herbs and spices wrapped in lavash bread and then fried. Iranian felafel and sambooseh originate from the south of Iran – Abadan or Ahwaz.
Another vegetarian option and the best winter treat is ash. It`s a thick soup (the thicker, the better) with noodles, beans, chickpeas and herbs. A bowl of ash accompanied by some freshly baked bread can be quite filling; the price varies from 1 to 1.5 €. Ash is sold in ash shops which usually offer plastic chairs in the street.
Liver kebab or jigar is sold at jigaraki. Although jigaraki shops can be found all around Tehran, the best are located at Bahman Square which becomes very busy in the evening, especially at the weekend. As liver kebabs are very small, people usually order 3+ skewer per person. Liver kebab is served with fresh bread.
Iranians are big eaters, so you can find snack everywhere. Popular snacks include grilled corn, Mexican corn (cooked corn kernels with cheese, mushrooms and spices), cooked fava beans (baghali) and beetroot (or laboo; mostly in winter), lavashak (made of fruit puree) and sour berries (available all year long) and of course, ice cream (at ice cream shops you`ll also find fresh juices and various milkshakes). Iranian ice cream should definitely be on your must-try list. They have several types of traditional Iranian ice cream which will save you from summer heat. To help you figure out what ice cream to try and where to find the best ice cream in Tehran, check out my post on What You Should Know About Ice Cream in Iran.
And finally, there is a website fidilio.com, a huge database of restaurants and cafes that you can sort according to their location, price range or cuisine. It can come in handy if you don`t know where to go for lunch or dinner, however, is available only in Farsi. They`ve also launched an app both for IOS and Android.
Tipping in Iran
Good news! It`s not common to tip waiters in Iranian restaurants. While in some restaurants service is not on such a level to tip the waiter, in others it`s included in the check (maybe in more expensive restaurants). Another thing that won`t let you tip your waiter is that generally people pay at the counter after making their order or finishing their meal.
If you haven`t downloaded Cheat Sheet on Iranian Restaurants and Street Food yet, don`t miss a chance to take it with you on your trip to Iran to be able to eat out like a local!
If you have any suggestions for cheat sheets, don`t hesitate to write them in comments. Looking forward to you feedback!