Deservedly popular – forget just rocking up without a booking – this ever-so-charming, retro-rustic restaurant in Valletta is one of the capital’s most reliable tables for old-timey Maltese cooking that feels hearty and honest but still adequately finessed to make this an occasion meal. There’s no set menu but, don’t worry, it’s all traditional, bone-warming, country-style crowd-pleasers done very well.
117/119, Santa Lucia Street, Valletta
As it's a seafaring nation, it would be madness to come to Malta and not do at least one fish-focused meal. And if you’ve looking for a table worth a decent outfit, then head to this smart, long-standing and Michelin-listed seafood specialist in the folksy village of Marsaxlokk. Expect a trim menu of delectable dishes that begin at swordfish tataki and tops out at lobster fresh from the tank and baked with garlic, lime and ginger. Carnivores and veggies are taken care of, too.
20 Fisherman's Wharf, Marsaxlokk
Set in a cute 17th-century palazzo in Valletta’s Old Town, this stalwart of the capital’s food scene retains loyal adherents who return to its cosy basement enclaves for refined but damn good value Maltese Mediterranean cooking that isn’t trying to be too clever. Think solid portions of pasta, rabbit terrine or lamb rump with sweetbread and you won’t be disappointed. Best to book ahead in summer.
22 Old Bakery Street, Valletta
Inspired by the cool East London ’hood of the same name, this petit corner-bistro definitely has a hipster swag that’s all its own (well, for Malta, anyway). It does calorific, no-apologies comfort food that centres on a seriously sinful roster of brilliantly stacked burgers as well as the somehow even naughtier list of pancakes. Breakfast is a good bet, too: come slay that hangover with an order of eggs benedict or pulled-duck tacos.
43 Triq il-Wilga, Saint Julian
A bright, peppy spot that’s quite different to anything else in Malta, Café Jubilee's bric-a-brac, 1920s-Paris-bistro vibes might not be for everyone. But with three outposts in the area, it’s a good one to have on your radar for a failsafe, quick and easy lunch of homemade pasta like the raved-about, signature Gozo cheese-filled 'Nanna’s ravioli', served in a spicy tomato sauce with baby spinach.
125 St Lucia Street, Valletta
8 Indipendence Square, Victoria, Gozo
209 The Strand, Gzira
Run by the same family since 1940, this homey institution in Mġarr specialises in made-in-Malta standards such as fenkata (a rich, rabbit casserole made with onion and garlic), bragoli (slow-braised beef in red wine sauce) and summien (oven-roasted quail). There’s more familiar, pizza-pasta Italian fare on offer here too, but smart gourmands come for the comforting local classics. A rarity for Malta in that it's open Sundays.
Triq IL-Kbira, Mġarr
Established in 1906, this small, dreamy deli-restaurant in Valletta still serves its signature cassata Siciliana (ricotta and liqueur sponge cake) but also does the full dinner service of classic Maltese and Italian dishes ordered from the daily changing blackboard, which might include a truly wonderful wild rabbit cavatappi with tomato and ’nduja or spaghetti rizzi (with sea urchin). Either way, save room for those desserts.
53 Old Bakery Street, Valletta
Is Bahia Lija’s best restaurant? Well, it’s definitely up there. This chic, stone-walled bistro set in a 200-odd-year-old house excels in stylish, colourful plates of creative, pan-Mediterranean cooking with a changeable menu of seasonal dishes, which could include anything from fresh scallop sashimi with samphire and millet salad to slow-cooked saddle of rabbit with garlic chive and spinach purée.
75 Preziosi Street, Lija
Few places do breakfast in Malta with the same sunny panache as this easygoing Saint Julian bistro. It boasts a rooftop terrace with sparkly views of Spinola Bay and a menu of well-constructed, lightly riffed-on brunch classics, from spicy avocado eggs to Bajan fish tacos. Dinner doesn’t slouch, either (think slow-roasted suckling pig with rosemary jus and the like), but it's just as appealing a stop-off for fresh doughnuts and coffee, too.
65 Mensija Street, Saint Julian
If you make it to the northerly island of Gozo then make sure to nab a table at what is likely its best restaurant. Set in Xlendi Bay, the Boathouse's sea views add to the appeal in the sunnier months but, really, the seafood is so good here that this place would be fine without them. Expect warm, efficient service and a delightful roster of fresh fish dishes, from white-vinegar octopus salad to the signature mixed-shellfish marinara.
Xatt Ix Xlendi, Il-Munxar, Gozo