True Lithuania

Restaurants in Lithuania

Most non-chain restaurants in Lithuania serve the Lithuanian cuisine.

Every city and many towns have these traditional restaurants. They are also pretty much the only option for a roadside meal (save for buying up at gas stations). City center restaurants are generally more expensive and have outdoor seating in summer. Further from the center, the prices are lower but the restaurants are scarcer. In smaller towns, there are fewer options so in weekends all the local restaurants might be booked up for weddings.

Another cheap Lithuanian cuisine option in cities is to use canteens available at factories and other large non-downtown businesses. Most of them welcome outsiders, although opening hours are limited (~10:00-17:00 weekdays only); look for words "kavinė" and "valgykla" written on windows of uninspiring Soviet buildings.

An authentic canteen at a former Soviet factory. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In theory, valgykla is self-service, kavinė is either a cafeteria or a casual restaurant, restoranas is a more prestigious affair while baras is a drink-oriented edifice (but meals are also often available).

Lithuanians eat their main dish in mid-day and some also have an evening out, leading to the common restaurant opening times at ~11:00 and closing times at ~22:00. There are few eating out possibilities after 23:00 and even fewer before 10:00 (as Lithuanians have their breakfast and morning tea/coffee at home).

A restaurant at a modern office tower empty 'between the meals' ~17:30. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Fast food in Lithuania (pizzas and burgers)

If you prefer international fast food to culinary adventures, you may use McDonald's and its Finnish competitor Hesburger. There are a few Pizza Hut, KFC, and Subway parlors. In general, the worldwide chain presence is low-key in Lithuania with none having more than 10 outlets (with the exception of Hesburger, which is a regional rather than worldwide chain).

Certain local chains have been more successful. Pizzerias are extremely popular with 4 large local chains (Čili Pica, CanCan Pizza, Pizza Express, and Charlie Pizza) and many smaller ones that usually concentrate either on cheaper and less tasty pizzas or on more-expensive-than-mainstream options. You can order food home (or to a hotel) from each of them. The main pizzeria chains serve other meals besides pizzas but usually, these is less tasty. In some of the pizzerias, you may also get Italian pasta, but this is not always the case.

Even though Lithuanians love shopping malls, food courts are rare. There are various types of restaurants in the shopping malls, ranging from fast food to fine dining, and nearly all of them have their own tables.

Most locally-owned restaurants (even the fast food ones) tend to offer a rather long menu with many meals, often even combining multiple cuisines.

International cuisines in Lithuania

Chinese cuisine is very popular in Lithuania with numerous non-chain restaurants in every city and some towns. While most Chinese restaurants are owned by ethnic Chinese, the waiters are usually Lithuanians (unlike in the West, where they are also Chinese). Unlike in Chinese restaurants elsewhere, the rice is typically not included into the price.

Kebab parlors are even more popular and while this type of food was brought in by Turkish immigrants, now this business is developed by Lithuanians as well (almost every town now has a kebab stall). Usually bought at kiosks, the kebabs are meant to be eaten quickly.

The kebabs continue a tradition of great acceptance of Turkic fast foods into the mainstream Lithuanian society that started with the Tatar and Karaim cuisines. Their pasties with meat inside (kibins and čeburekai) have long been the sole fast food in Lithuania and may even be considered a part of the Lithuanian cuisine.

A Karaim kibin truck. Often, kibins and čeburekai are sold from non-permanent locations. They are even carried to the beaches by walking salesmen. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Caucasian cuisine (Georgian, Armenian, Azeri) was among the first foreign cuisines to establish itself in Lithuania as both Lithuania and the Caucasus were ruled by the Soviet Union until 1990. Now available in all the cities and some towns, the Caucasian restaurants are often oriented towards an evening out.

The other international cuisines are less common, although you may find sushi parlors and Indian restaurants in the major cities. Lebanese, Morrocan or other Arabic restaurants are hard to come by.

A new trend is the multi-cuisine restaurants, often owned by large-scale Lithuanian chains. Such chains include "Soya" and "Manami" (both combine the main East and Southeast Asian cuisines). "Le Crepe" serves a massive array of pancakes (with some pizzas).

Foreign restaurants in Lithuania. Top: kebab stall and a Chinese restaurant (marked by iconic red lanterns). Bottom line: Caucasian and Indian restaurants. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Vegetarian, vegan, halal and kosher restaurants

If you are a vegetarian you won't encounter problems. Bread and potatoes are widely used in the national cuisine with certain dishes, such as the Potato pancakes, lacking any meat. Moreover, vegetarianism became somewhat popular in Lithuania in the 2000s together with certain Asian religious practices. In the main cities, there are specialized vegetarian and vegan restaurants as well. A new main-city fad is the raw (uncooked) food.

Given the small size of the local Muslim and Jewish communities, dedicated halal and kosher restaurants are very hard to come by and limited to Vilnius and Kaunas.

Fine dining in Lithuania

Before the 2010s, uber-expensive dining opportunities in Lithuania were generally limited to the restaurants of expensive hotels, aimed at the rich foreign visitors. However, in the 2010s, luxe dining really took off in Lithuania with many expensive restaurants opened in the main cities.

Typically, each such restaurant is associated with a recently-well-publicized name of a famous Lithuanian chef. The cuisine is often international (Western). The "regular" Lithuanian cuisine is nearly entirely skipped. The customers of such restaurants are hailing from the increasing group of Lithuanians who receive large wages (e.g. the IT specialists working in foreign companies). Eating there is often at least as much about the prestige as it is about the meal.

The price for a similar meal in a fine dining place may be 10 times larger than that in a "common" restaurant. Many meals in such expensive restaurants may seem not worth the price for the uninitiated.

Practical issues with Lithuanian restaurants

Chain restaurants are more common in major cities although some of them, such as Charlie or Hesburger, are available in some minor towns as well. They are most easily found at or near shopping malls although some are at city centers. While most chain restaurants serve foreign cuisine, some (such as "Forto dvaras" and "Katpėdėlė") specialize in the Lithuanian cuisine.

The restaurant prices are significantly lower in Lithuania than in the Western Europe (for comparable offers). Drinks are cheaper by an order of magnitude. This includes drinks in shops, not only at the restaurants.

Tipping is a foreign tradition. However, it has been introduced by the first Lithuanians who traveled to the West in the 1990s and now is very common in cities and resorts (but rare in smaller towns). There is no customary rate: some will leave 10%, others believe 20 euro cents is always enough.

Outdoor cafes in Vilnius in summer. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

If you eat together with locals it will be the best if everyone pays for his own meals/drinks (ask for separate bills before ordering food). However, if the other party provided you free services (e.g. drove you around) it is polite to pay for their meals/drinks. The locals may offer to cover your bill as hosts, but you should decline once or twice. Local men may offer to pay for visiting women's meals/drinks but accepting may make them believe this was a date.

Smoking is not allowed inside the restaurants.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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