Three things immediately sparked my love affair with Tallinn. First, its Old Town is beautiful and compact. Second, the social culture and generally friendly temperament of locals makes meeting people a great experience. Lastly, I was continually impressed by the quality and value of Tallinn’s food. This is still a city that’s off the radar for many people and this means prices have remained affordable and there aren’t many tourists. For all these reasons, it remains one of my favorite cities in the world. I recommend going to Tallinn now before more people discover this relatively hidden gem. Hopefully the Cheap Eats Guide to Tallinn help to make a visit even more worthwhile.
Kompressor: Rataskaevu 3, 10123, Tallinn
€4-7 per person, Open from 11 a.m. until they decide to close
After talking to some local friends I was led to Kompressor. I continued to hear about this great spot from many more people during my stay. I ate here multiple times. The restaurant’s website describes them as a “Legendary pancake pub” near the Old Town Square.
Kompressor offers both sweet and savory options and the portions are sizable. The bacon with Gouda and the garlic options remain my favorites. The salmon with smoked cheese was also very good. The cheese in each pancake combined with the sour cream dip can be a bit rich but Estonians tend to love their dairy products.
Local garlic bread is also available as an appetizer. Their preparation style is to season and roast the black bread and serve it with garlic dipping sauce. I recommend giving it a try as well.
Kompressor is open seven days a week beginning at 11 a.m. They also offer a solid beer and wine selection. I quickly learned that drinking is very popular among locals, regardless of the meal.
Pegasus: Harju 1, 10146 Tallinn
€13-20 per person, Open noon-11 p.m. during the week or midnight on weekends
A seasonal menu, classy interior and great service make Pegasus a must-try. From the summer menu the traditional beetroot soup, served chilled with pumpkin seeds and a quail egg, is a great vegetarian option. The beef broth soup served with herbs and a quail egg is also nice for a heartier option. It’s served with carrot pirukad, a local bread stuffed with vegetables or sometimes meat. Each soup was around €4.
The server suggested the goat cheese and eggplant tart as lighter main course. Their interpretation was more as a crispy base. A rocket salad of mixed greens, eggplant, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes and a drizzle of vinaigrette dressing were built on top of the tart.
The combination of the dish were impressive. The flavorful eggplant and cheese were perfectly complemented by peppery greens, acidic tomatoes and the vinaigrette dressing. The texture of leafy greens and vegetables also went nicely with the crunch of the tart.
Rataskaevu 16: Rataskaevu 16 Kesklinna Linnaosa, Tallinn
€15-20 per person, Open noon-11 p.m. during the week or midnight on weekends
Although I was unaware at the time, Rataskaevu 16 is a sister restaurant to Pegasus. Its popularity among locals also means you’ll likely need a reservation. It took me a few day’s notice mid-summer.
To start, the server’s recommendation was what he considered a true Estonian salad. It was a medley of mixed greens, smoked white fish, radish and a cottage cheese dressing with a dash of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. It was fresh and light. The cottage cheese dressing and dill added a nice creamy touch with a pop of herbs.
For a main course, the server recommended another popular Estonian dish of braised elk with beet, carrot, herbs, black currant sauce and celery puree. The elk was very rich and flavorful and paired well with the currant. The beats and carrots provided an element of sweetness with a little cream from the puree and a final elegant pop of flavor from the sprouts and herbs. The elk was roasted a little more than I would have liked but still was very enjoyable.
III Draakon: Town Hall – Raekoja plats 1, Tallinn
€2-5 per person, Open 9 a.m. to midnight daily
Neary every local will recommend III Draakon for the elk meat soup. This rich and hearty €2 dish is a fast favorite for just about anyone, regardless of budget. The restaurant is also located in the Town Hall Square and is easily the best deal you’ll find in the area. They also offer the local favorite pirukad stuffed with a variety of vegetables or meat for €1-2. The ones stuffed with carrots were my favorite.
Be prepared for some humor and personality from the staff. They don’t give out spoons for the soup, meaning diners have to slurp from the bowl. They offer free homemade pickles from the barrel, as many as can be spooned out. Lastly, for anyone who is tired from too much soup, pirukad and pickles they rent a bunk bed in the back for €1 per hour. Good food on a budget and lots of personality. Highly recommended.
- Dumplings are a very popular and tasty budget food served throughout Estonia. The cheapest in Tallinn can be found at EAT (€1.50-3, Vaike-Karja tn 3, Tallinn 10140) or purchased in a local supermarket for around €1 and cooked at home.
- Grilled meat & vegetable skewers can be found at many street events and public gatherings. While they aren’t the cheapest at around €6-7, they are delicious and worth a try. They’re generally served with spicy mustard and a side dish.
- The tipping recommendation for formal restaurants is generally 5-10% in Estonia.