Brussels is often overshadowed by cities like Paris and Barcelona when it comes to dining destinations in Europe. But it's time to think again as up-and-coming chefs are showing that their contemporary cooking is a match for the best around.
These chefs are doing their own thing, often working with local produce and creating their own dishes rather than copying their modernist counterparts elsewhere in Europe. They're thoughtfully refining Belgium's beef, fish, and game dishes. And there's still the older, fine-dining establishments weighed down with Michelin stars and brasseries serving French and Belgian comfort food.
The Belgian capital is better known for beer and bureaucracy—as home to the European Commission and NATO, rather than for talented chefs or exciting restaurants. It is also a young and charming city, too. The pavement cafes on the cobbled streets close to the Grand Place are filled with millennials enjoying warm dishes and cold beers, while the local neighborhoods are home to cool restaurants with hot culinary talents like Nicolas Scheidt at La Buvette.
While the Belgian capital isn't yet a hotbed of gastronomic innovation, you can eat very well. The mussels of Brussels (and the frites) often gain most of the attention, but they are far from being the whole story. It's a lively city at night, with buzzing bars and restaurants… and the frites are still good, too.
Bon-Bon: Chef Christophe Hardiquest serves some of the best food in Brussels at this modern restaurant. You can sit at a counter facing the open kitchen or dine outside.
La Villa Lorraine: This gastronomic restaurant is one for the plutocrats. You can dine alfresco on beautiful French dishes. If you are not on generous expenses, the brasserie is a better bet.
Comme Chez Soi: The historic grande dame of fine dining. The food and the Art Nouveau room are a beautiful match for each other. There's a 60 euro ($67) lunch menu.
Boulangerie Charli: This small bakery may be the best in Brussels for breakfast. Go for the scrambled eggs with farmers' bacon and the pain au chocolat. The coffee is pretty good, too.
Etiquette: This is a fabulous modern wine bar with knowledgeable staff and friendly service. On fine days, you can sit outside. It's one of my favorite places in Brussels.
La Pharmacie Anglaise: This quirky gin bar is like a Gothic pharmacy, if such a thing exists. There are hidden nooks where guests sip exotic cocktails.
Delirium Café: Holds the Guinness World Record for its variety of beers: 2,004 in 2004. It now claims many more and is popular with thirsty tourists. But the locals (sheepishly) like it too.
Vertigo: Housed in a historic building and courtyard down an alleyway. It's right in the center but away from the crowds.
Getting Around: Easier and better than most European cities, it has unified ticketing for buses, the metro, and trams. Buy a card for multiple journeys from kiosks or vending machines. Generally, taxis don't accept credit cards, so it's an ideal Uber city.
Comic Heroes: Asterix and Tintin fans can celebrate their childhood dreams; The Comics Art Museum is housed in a pristine Art Nouveau building with a permanent collection dedicated to the fine art of comics and temporary exhibitions as well.
Shopping: The Sablon Antiques Market is the oldest in Europe and is popular with tourists and locals in search of bargains.
Meetings Getaway: Bois de la Cambre is a large and charming historic park with a boating lake. It's set in a forest on the edge of the city. A good way to get your cycling and jogging in and popular with families.
About Mussels: Belgium's most famous ingredient, locals stick to the "ER" rule: Mussels are best from September to December.