As the calendar year turns over, we’ve grown accustomed to the barrage of lists telling us where to travel during the next 12 months. Oftentimes these places are a country or even a whole region – you could spend an entire year exploring just one of the locations listed and still barely make a dent.
We like to travel on a smaller scale. Forget countries and cities, for us the neighborhood is the ideal unit of exploration. Celebrating neighborhood life and businesses is, of course, essential to what we do as Culinary Backstreets. Since our founding in 2012, we’ve been dedicated to publishing the stories of unsung local culinary heroes and visiting them on our food walks, particularly in neighborhoods that are off the beaten path.
Last January, we declared 2018 as “The Year of the Neighborhood,” and what a fruitful year it was. We had our fair share of fresh experiences and were also able to contribute to the economies of neighborhoods otherwise neglected by the tourism industry. Tourism is an important economic force in many cities, as it should be, but if it is not dispersed responsibly, it can devastate the urban ecosystem, one that’s based on the sound health of all of a city’s neighborhoods.
With that in mind, we are happy to again focus on neighborhoods off the main tourist trail in 2019, as well as the people and places that keep them going. Below is a compilation of the less-visited areas that our correspondents are planning to explore this year:
An old Tbilisi neighborhood that stretches up from the Vera River to Mtatsminda Mountain, Vera is a quiet locale of narrow, chestnut tree-lined streets and charismatic brick buildings housing mom-and-pop groceries, hairdressers and second-hand clothing shops. While we monitor an encroaching gentrification with trepidation, we also can’t complain about how much wining and dining is going on here now.
Rooms Hotel, the poster-child of Tbilisi chic lodgings, opened several years ago and inspired a rash of fashionable boutiques, cafés and eateries up Belinski (Chovelidze) Street, like Euro-kitchen, Keti’s Bistro. Nearby, local chef Ramaz Gemiashvili is killing it at Keto and Kote with his classy and original takes on Georgian cuisine. On Zandukeli Street there are now espresso machines, as well as sushi, Mexican, and Italian joints along with Vera’s very own wine bar, Sulico. Obento Express, an authentic Japanese takeaway, relocated to Gogebashvili Street and if that doesn’t satisfy your Asian craving, Pepperboy on Tarkhnishvili Street will positively crush it.
On Vera’s west side, the 19th-century Tbilisi Wine Factory #1 has recently become a complex of restaurants and cocktail bars where celebrated local chefs Tekuna Gachechiladze and Keti Bakradze are plying their craft. Although the sleaze factor has thickened, you can still pub crawl on Perovskaya Street (now Ahkvladeli) in lower Vera or grab some savory eats at Cafe Mukha and Alubali.
Although Vera is accommodating more tourists, they tend to gravitate towards attractions in the old town, leaving the hood mostly for locals. We still have Betsy’s Bar for Friday nights, Rainer’s for its eclectic menu, and no shortage of hair “saloons” offering five lari haircuts. – Paul Rimple
Click here to read the full neighborhood guide.