Food is a passion in Brussels, which boasts more Michelin-star restaurants per head than Paris. People here regard dining as a fine art and their favorite chef as a grand master. It’s just about impossible to eat badly, no matter what your price range. The city has no fewer than 1,500 restaurants and even if you’re on a tight budget, you should try to set aside the money for at least one big splurge in a fine restaurant—nourishment for both the soul and the stomach.
The Brussels restaurant scene covers the entire city, but there are a couple of culinary pockets you should know about. It has been said that you haven’t truly visited this city unless you’ve dined at least once along rue des Bouchers and its offshoot, Petite rue des Bouchers, both of which are near the Grand-Place. Both streets are lined with an extraordinary array of ethnic eateries, most with a proudly proclaimed specialty, and all with modest prices. Reservations are not usually necessary in these colorful and crowded restaurants; if you cannot be seated at one, you simply stroll on to the next one. Be prepared for barking waiters eager for business as you wander down the streets, but it’s all very good natured.
There’s also the cluster of fine restaurants at the Marché aux Poissons (Fish Market), a short walk from the Grand-Place around place Ste-Catherine. This is where fishermen once unloaded their daily catches from a now-covered canal. Seafood, as you’d expect, is the specialty. A well-spent afternoon’s occupation is to stroll through the area to examine the bills of fare exhibited in windows and make your reservation for the evening meal. Don’t fret if the service is slow: People take their time dining out in Brussels.
Quick Bites in Brussels
In business since 1873, the snack bar Au Suisse, boulevard Anspach 73–75 (tel 02/512-9589; www.ausuisse.be), serves great sandwiches with fresh ingredients and homemade sauces. This is the place to try a raw-herring sandwich (the seafood in general is ace), and you can sip an iced frappé on the sidewalk terrace at lunchtime.
For a tasty breakfast, lunch, or snack, head for the convivial Roi des Belges , rue Jules Van Praet 34 (tel 02/513-5116), on the corner of trendy place St-Géry. The soup of the day or a decent salad won’t set you back more than a few euros, or you can just nurse a coffee while reading the newspaper or chatting with your neighboring diners.
Another seductive invitation is the aroma of fresh Brussels waffles, sold from street stands around the city. Generally thicker than American waffles, they cost about 3€ and are smothered in sugar icing. The stands are all pretty decent and there’s not much reason to try one over another. Should you want to sample an impressive range of toppings and accompaniments, head to the specialist Aux Gaufres de Bruxelles, rue du Marché aux Herbes 113 (tel 02/514-0171; www.belgiumwaffle.com).
You could also do a lot worse than try any of the little Greek, Turkish, Middle Eastern, and Israeli places around the Grand-Place, where you can fill up on moussaka, kebabs, salad, and falafel for as little as 5€. And if you’re after basic fare to fill up on while knocking back the trippel beer, A La Morte Subite has a menu of very simple cheese and salami-type snacks that certainly don’t break the bank.
And don’t forget those frites (fries). Belgians usually eat their favorite snack with mayonnaise rather than ketchup. Prices run from around 2.50€ to 4€ for a cornet (cone); toppings, such as peanut, tartare, samurai (hot!), or curry, cost extra. Brussels is dotted with dozens of fast-food stands serving frites in paper cones. One of the best, Maison Antoine , place Jourdan 1 (tel 02/230-5456; www.maisonantoine.be), in the European District, has been in situ since the 1940s. You’ll have to join the line at peak times, but the wait for its fries, made from fresh-peeled potatoes, is worthwhile.
Lunchtime Bargains in Brussels
Most restaurants serve lunch between noon and 2pm,and reopen for dinner from 7 to 10pm, with brasseries staying open all day. Almost every eatery in Brussels offers a menu du jour at lunchtime, consisting of a fixed menu with a couple of two- or three-course options—often with a glass of table wine thrown in—that are often markedly good value in this expensive city. If you are yearning to try one of the fancier restaurants but can’t face the bill, try them out for lunch and save your money for sampling the beer.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.