Whether it’s typical Georgian fare or European-inspired fine dining, every meal you eat in Tbilisi should be savoured.
This quick guide covers my top tips to help you eat like a local in Tbilisi. You’ll find everything you need to know – from how to order, to khinkali etiquette, handling special dietary requirements, through to tipping your waiter.
Essential reading: 35 best restaurants in Tbilisi for Georgian food.
Meal times in Tbilisi
Most restaurants and cafes in Tbilisi are open for lunch and dinner (more on breakfast in a moment). It’s not typical for restaurants to close in the middle of the day – instead, most start service between 11am and midday and stay open throughout the afternoon.
Lunch is typically eaten in Tbilisi between 1pm and 3pm. Dinner is eaten a touch later, from around 8pm onwards.
Office hours in Tbilisi, which are pushed back compared to some other countries, contribute to the later meal times. Many people start work at 10am or 11am and work through until 7pm or 8pm.
Breakfast in Tbilisi
Tbilisi has a growing specialty coffee scene, but it lacks a strong breakfast or brunch culture. Part of the reason for this is that most locals either eat a simple breakfast at home, or skip it altogether.
When it comes to Georgian food, there aren’t many traditional breakfast dishes, either. Kikliko (eggy bread) is a notable exception.
Here is a list of my favourite breakfast cafes, restaurants and bakeries in Tbilisi that open early at or before 10am.
Restaurant opening hours aren’t hard and fast; in practice, many places open later than what’s advertised on their Facebook Page or Google Maps. I’ve found this to be particularly true in the colder months, when there aren’t many tourists around and people are in less of a rush to open for the day.
To avoid disappointment, I always recommend picking a Plan B restaurant in case your first preference isn’t open. Otherwise, you can always call or message ahead – or pick a 24-hour restaurant, of which there are quite a few.
Most restaurants in Tbilisi don’t require a reservation. The exception is fine dining restaurants and anywhere that offers dinner and a show. Ethno Tsiskvili, for example, is known to book out weeks or even months in advance.
If you’re with a large group, it’s courteous to call ahead and make sure there’s a table available. Otherwise, 99% of the time you’re safe to roll up and get a table on the spot.
If restaurants do accept reservations, it’s usually through their Facebook page.
How to order food in Tbilisi
Majority of restaurants and cafes offer table service. Most places have multilingual menus in Georgian, Russian and English. Picture menus are also very common, which is useful if you’re not familiar with Georgian cuisine.
Restaurant menus are often huge multi-page affairs. Most start with soups and starters, then mains and sides, perhaps with a small dessert selection (more on sweets later). It’s not unusual for some items on the menu to be unavailable.
Only up-scale restaurants have daily specials. Prix-fixes and lunch specials are not at all common – I only know of a handful of restaurants that offer them.
To share or not to share?
Communal eating is commonplace and most meals are designed to be served sharing-style. Unless you’re dining alone, your waiter will assume you’re sharing with your companion/s.
When you order soup as a main, they might even ask if you want it divided into individual portions.
The amount of time you spend waiting for a meal in Tbilisi can be excruciating long, so it’s a good idea to include a cold item (salad or eggplant) with your order as this will always come out first (sometimes 10 or 20 minutes ahead of anything that’s cooked to order).
If you order a plate of khinkali, it can take 20-40 minutes to come out of the kitchen. This is a good sign, though – it means they’re probably handmade.
If you’re dining with a group, know that meals don’t always arrive together.
Smoking at indoor cafes and restaurants in Tbilisi has been banned since 2019. Majority of venues enforce the law.
Portion sizes in Tbilisi usually err on the larger side, especially for dishes like stews and khachapuri. Mtsvadi (BBQ meat) is the exception – portion sizes are quite petite. Mtsvadi doesn’t come with any sides.
It’s something of a Georgian tradition to over order, so don’t worry too much about leaving food on your plate.
Every restaurant in Tbilisi (except a couple of touristic restaurants) requires a minimum order of khinkali. Three to 5 pieces of any one variety is standard.
Georgians normally eat khinkali as a stand-alone dish. If you’re ordering other food as well, I wouldn’t order more than 3-6 pieces per person (5 is the most I can manage in one sitting).
There is a particular way to eat khinkali: Grab it by the doughy nob (using your fingers or the tip of a fork), take a small bite to suck out the hot liquid (unless it’s cheese, potato or mushroom – in which case you can skip this step), then eat the rest.
It’s good manners to leave the top knot uneaten on your plate, but not everyone does.
Georgian bread (puri) usually accompanies every meal. Some restaurants offer a complimentary bread basket, but other restaurants add it to the bill at the end. Bread only ever costs a lari or two.
If you don’t want bread, make sure you inform your waiter because otherwise they’ll bring it out by default.
Khinkali is traditionally eaten with beer, but wine is the beverage of choice for most people. Restaurants sell it by the glass or bottle, or sometimes by the decanter (which holds approximately 6 glasses).
Draught house wine (red and white) is available at most restaurants and cafes and is considerably cheaper than bottled wine.
As with breakfast, Georgia doesn’t have a big dessert culture. Most restaurants offer an abridged sweets menu of dried or fresh fruit, ice cream, and maybe baklava or pelamushi (a dessert version of churchkhela).
Taxes & service charge
Two additional charges may be added to your restaurant bill: VAT tax (18%) and a service charge (typically 10% but up to 20% for higher-end restaurants).
Not every restaurant does this though. If additional charges apply, these should be clearly spelled out on the menu – usually printed along the bottom of each page.
Tipping in Tbilisi restaurants
Tipping is not mandatory in Georgia, but it is certainly appreciated – especially in restaurants and cafes where wages are extremely low.
If the service was good and you can afford it, please consider leaving a generous tip for your waiter (10-15% is standard).
Even if a restaurant adds a separate service charge to your bill, it’s safe to assume that money probably won’t make it into the hands of wait staff. I recommend leaving an additional tip in this case.
You can either leave the tip with the receipt inside the check presenter, or preferrably hand it directly to your waiter. Cafes with counter service usually have a tip jar near the register.
Card or cash?
Majority (95%) of restaurants and cafes in Tbilisi now accept credit card. Flash your plastic when you ask for the bill and your waiter will return with a portable Eftpos machine. Otherwise, you can pay in local currency (lari).
If your bill totals an odd amount, it’s not unusual for staff to leave some coins out of your change.
Vegan and vegetarian in Tbilisi
Georgian food is incredibly vegetarian friendly, with many meals meat-free by default. Most restaurants also offer a fasting menu for Lent, which is completely free of animal products.
There are many specialty veg/vegan cafes in Tbilisi. Majority of Georgian restaurants have at least one or two vegetarian options on the menu.
Gluten-free in Tbilisi
Bread and dough, Georgian cuisine isn’t terribly celiac-friendly. Corn products (chvishtari cornbread, for example) often use cornstarch as a binder rather than wheat flour. This may be an option, but it’s prudent to double check with your waiter before ordering.