Many Georgians believe that the best meat-wrapped-and-boiled-in-a-dough-sack is made in Georgia. The local Georgian version of dumplings is known as khinkali and originates in the mountainous regions of Eastern Georgia: Pshavi, Khevi, Khevsureti, and Tusheti. As a rule, it is a mixed-meat dish with beef and pork, though there are cottage cheese, potato, potato plus cheese, and mushroom variations. Recently, a city version has emerged, known as kalakuri khinkali, which includes additional fresh herbs. Meatless khinkali options became especially popular in town in the 1990s, following a new religious wave after the collapse of the Soviet Union. During fasting periods, khinkali joints and traditional Georgian restaurants—which enjoy a steady clientele even today—started serving “fasting dishes”, forming a special vegetarian section of restaurant menus.
Every type of khinkali has its own signature detail, for example, mokhevuri is made with cumin, while mtiuluri is not. Tusheti-style khinkali dumplings, on the other hand, include a touch of lamb. Traditionally, khinkali dough— small, dark, and thin—is kneaded. Nowadays, however, many restaurants use special devices to knead and leaven the dough, something that some customers prefer, which creates a smooth white dough. Sadly, the true fans of original khinkali rarely find the real stuff—traditionally kneaded and boiled khinkali dumplings—in restaurants.
Eating khinkali dumplings with a knife and fork is considered bad manners, especially as the tastiest bit is considered to be the meat juice that will spill out if not eaten by hand.
Though western Georgia boasts myriad khinkali diners, we advise against Western Georgian khinkali—your expectations may be dashed. Khinkali is often paired by chacha or beer. Wine is out of the picture here. Khinkali dumplings are often eaten hungover, to get the edge off.
Amo Rame (on Saturdays)
Tbilisi, 4 P. Ingorokva Str., Tbilisi / Call: 593 39 40 15 / Reservations in advance are advised.
This small Old Tbilisi home houses a cafe with a peculiar type of design: tables covered with floral calico tablecloths, quaint windows and old-fashioned lampshades, a grand piano, and a small yet cozy comfortable space. The walls are adorned with framed paintings, and there is also an establishment called Artists’ Café, which frequently hosts various events. On regular weekdays people come here to drink a cup of coffee, listen to light music, and socialize with friends later in the evening. Saturday is a special day here—many in town know that a chef comes here from Mtianeti on this day to knead authentic Mtianeti-style khinkali dumplings, smaller, thinner, with a dark dough, and without green herbs and spices.
Kolkheti in Okrokana
Kojori Highway 7 km, Tbilisi / Call: 599 20 90 80 / Serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, and drinks
Kolkheti is a quintessential big Georgian restaurant with two branches and a pub, one in Tbilisi near Gudauta Street on the left Mtkvari riverbank, and the other on the 7th kilometer of the Kojori Highway, near the Mtatsminda Park exit.
Though all the Georgian dishes offered in Kolkheti are of high quality, the restaurant’s khinkali dumplings are something else! Several varieties of khinkali are served here, of which especially yummy is the type kneaded manually with a flat dough. The stuffing includes dried barberries to give it a special flavor. Because everything is made to order and by hand here, please keep in mind that it may take 30 minutes or even an hour to serve your khinkali order. The restaurant has well arranged, appealing open terraces offering gripping views of Tbilisi. In the evening, live music is performed in Kolkheti, namely several guitarists playing traditional Tbilisi melodies.
Shemomechama near Round Garden
8 Mtskheta Str., Tbilisi / Call: 558 55 71 00 / Serves lunch, dinner and drinks.
This restaurant is located on the crossroads of two colorful Tbilisi neighborhoods, Vera and Vake. The dividing line passes through the Round Garden, and the road marking this line, Mtskheta Street, swerves to the right and up between prestigious Soviet- and Post-Soviet-era residential buildings, with Shemomechama Restaurant occupying the first floor of one such building. The establishment has a plain, austere interior, an intentional marketing move to mimic typical diners, with matching furniture and accessories—all subliminally to hint at Soviet diners with napkins in thin, tall glasses. Indeed, the restaurant reminds many of the diners characteristic of the Soviet past. Retro-style plates are used to serve the delicious food, which include mouthwatering mixed pickles, soft sulguni cheese dripping with milk, and even ground beef kebab. Depending on the season, you can enjoy a variety of exciting Georgian dishes, including the chakapuli lamb or mushroom, tarragon, and sour plum stew in spring. Desserts—again, remind. us of Soviet-era Tbilisi—include mamalo candies to lick and lick and lick…
Many guests, however, come here for khinkali dumplings atypical for a regular restaurant in that it has a thick—not smooth and thin—dough, and yummy stuffing. Where can I get good khinkali? Shemomechama frequently appears in replies to this question. By the way, the word “shemomechama” in the Georgian language means “eating everything unintentionally,” that is, “I wasn’t really planning on eating but somehow gobbled everything up”. I am sure that this is what will happen to you with the khinkali dumplings at Shemomechama. You may plan to go easy on khinkali, but eventually you will wind up going way beyond eating your fill.
2 Lagidze Str., Tbilisi / Call: 599 35 98 93 / Good for Groups
Near the Opera House, turn right off tourist-laden Rustaveli Avenue, and after going down a few stairs, you will find yourself in a restaurant mirroring the concept of the Old Tbilisi type “duqani” tavern with simple yet delicious food and a slightly showy interior—apparently, the designer was attempting to capture the spirit of Old Tbilisi. Both tantalizing fish and standard Georgian dishes are served here. Still, the response to the question about where to eat the best khinkali is often Duqani Lagidze. Yes, good khinkali here stands for a thick dough, manually kneaded and flattened. Word has it that it is Pasanauri-style khinkali, not the urbanized version, but rather the kind you can enjoy in the village Pasanauri. The place is easy to find, and it displays a gripping interior. If you are on a marathon khinkali quest, it is certainly worth coming here.
This restaurant is located under Dry Bridge. For quite some time, it was reputed as the best khinkali place in town. Khinkali is traditionally made here by hand. And most importantly, the menu offers an amazing variety of these dumplings: with lamb, mtiuluri or Khevsuruli-style with mushroom, potatoes, cheese, or khacho cottage cheese. You can try five of each, and then compare them.
This restaurant runs two branches, one on Griboedov Street and the other on Leonidze Street. The establishment offers a full menu consisting of traditional Georgian dishes. Still, people mostly come here for khinkali dumplings, which certainly deserve to be part of our Tbilisi khinkali marathon.
Sofia Melnikova’s Fantastic Douqan
8 Chanturia Street
This restaurant occupying a vast outdoor area is in a courtyard just off the passageway to the Museum of Literature. In the summer, it is literally packed, with people flocking to refresh and have fun. Many are aware that the cooks at Sofia Melnikova’s Fantastic Douqan make authentic mtiuluri khinkali. The restaurant has maintained to this day the status of being one of the best khinkali joints in Tbilisi. In the summer, however, there are many other reasons why you might want to visit the restaurant.
1 Shio Chitadze Str., Tbilisi / Call: 555 41 19 91
A sea of recommendations and advertising compelled me to visit Klike’s Khinkali Diner. My assessment is based on three criteria: environment, taste, and service.
The restaurant has one dining hall, small and cozy, though windowless and therefore muggy. The tables are too close to one another which, at first glance, seems pretty, but is quite uncomfortable in reality. The hipster interior targets young patrons, something I would not associate with a khinkali diner. Eventually, however, I came to liking it.
I enjoyed a potato and cheese mix khinkali, then with only potatoes an only meat separately. My vegetarian khinkali dumplings turned out to be undercooked. The meat khinkali was good, not too big and not overly small either. The service was all right, though I could not find anything resembling the widespread repute of the restaurant’s unrivaled flavor or unrepeatable khinkali. Still, there is one more thing I would recommend. Make sure you visit the restaurant and try the nadughi cottage cheese-filled khinkali dumplings.
23 Shota Rustaveli Ave. / Call: 595 24 90 09 / 12:00 PM – 10:30 PM
I ended up at this place thanks to my Facebook friends, who raved about Daphna and thanks to my younger son who regards himself to be the emerging khinkali expert. I invited 8 year-old Toma to taste Daphna’s khinkali and tell me what he liked about it. He chose to have Mtiuluri khinkali. I hopped in with the selection of fried eggplants with walnut paste and “Gio’s mchadi”. “Very, very delicious,” said Toma, explaining that he likes the texture of the sauteed onions and the feeling of the tenderness of the minced meat, the soft touches of black peppers and the absence of parsley, which he does not like. I also took a bite and decided that Daphna’s khinkali has exceptionally good dough. Even by looking at it, one can tell that it is a hand-pressed dough, with natural hard wheat flour. One thing that it lacked though was the liquid. I love sipping the inner liquids of khinkali after the first bite, but this one didn’t have enough for a good, generous sip.
Gio turned out to be just the ‘friend of the cafe owners’, as the waitress told me, and he bakes great organic mchadi (the corn-bread) with sunflower seeds, chopped walnuts and other nuts. I guess he uses not only corn flour, but some other flour too, because the dough has a strange flavor, but strange in a positive way. It’s very thin and, because of the nuts, crunchy too. Ask the waitress to warm it up for you and that way you will feel the flavors more intensely.
Eggplants with a walnut paste is a Georgian gastronomic classic, a standard for every restaurant menu, but not everybody can make it well. Daphna’s version is the most simple one, yet very delicious, it remineded me the taste of all the perfect walnut paste I’ve ever had with fried eggplants.
Another positive surprise: our beverages were brought with metal straws, which is quite a new thing for the Georgian restaurant scene.
The interior is very simple, just one room, yet everything is decorated with tastefully beautiful design elements—all suited well with the sunshine coming from the windows and evening shadows that the sun creates.
Daphna is a surprisingly simple, tasteful, and cozy place away from the touristic noise of the main avenue of the city.
Extra recommendation: Do try Dambalkhacho khinkali. One portion includes 4 khinkalis and it is the best way to try this unique variety of mountainous cheese that travelled down to Tbilisi civilization from Pshavi and the Mtiuleti Mountains.
Tela near Saguramo
Saguramo, Dusheti / Call: 595 02 55 33
People often ask us: Where can we find good khinkali diners in Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Georgia? Generally, we do not recommend eating khinkali in Mtskheta. Instead, we can name one ordinary restaurant on the road to Saguramo, ten minutes from the town. The restaurant has indoor dining halls and tables and patskha gazebos outdoors. The establishment serves meat, potato, and mushroom khinkali dumplings with quality ingredients, using a traditional kneading method. The restaurant also has a tone bakery and offers authentic Georgian bread. Khachapuri cheese bread and mtsvadi shish kebob are a must here, they’re so delicious! You can also try muzhuzhi hardboiled pig feet in garlic sauce.
Zodiaqo in the Zuzumbo Neighborhood
Open: Every day 11:00 AM – 12:00 AM / Call: 035 023 04 05
Zuzumbo is one of the highest neighborhoods in Telavi, where you find Zodiaqo Café-Bar, near Telavi State University, in the corner of the Georgian University and Bakhtrioni Street, on a long road leading way up. The ascent may seem tiresome, but it is certainly worth it, because, looking back, you will enjoy a fantastic panoramic view of Telavi in its entirety, with the Alazani Valley, and the Caucasus Mountains lined up beyond.
At first glance, Zodiaqo comes across as an ordinary diner with no fancy furniture or internet access. Instead, the restaurant, for decades, has maintained its fame as the best khinkali place in all of Kakheti, which is why it is always crowded regardless of the season, so you may have to wait for an unoccupied table.
Zodiaqo khinkali dumplings are medium-sized, without green herbs, and with hand-kneaded dough. Make sure you try khacho cottage cheese khinkali with delicate and moderately juicy stuffing. This type of dumpling goes well with sour cream and erbo ghee—all you need to do is ask your waiter to bring both.
There is no menu as such in this restaurant. You should just ask your waiter to describe to you the various dishes served at the moment.
Just a few months ago, Zodiaqo opened a branch in Tbilisi, right off Rustaveli Avenue, at 6 Gia Chanturia Street. Here you can order Telavi-style khinkali. The Tbilisi branch has a menu and several tables outside in the street.
Tsanareti in the village of Arsha
Open: 10:00 AM – 11:00 PM / Serves lunch, dinner and drinks
The village of Arsha is located right off the road, only 2-3 kilometers short of Stepantsminda. On the right side, you will find the restaurant Tsanareti with a beautiful garden and limestone huts. You can sit inside or outside. In good weather, nothing compares to dining in the garden with a view of the Kazbegi mountains.
For the most part, Tsanareti’s menu consists of dishes characteristic of mountainous cuisine known for its filling properties. But no reason to worry—city-food is also served here, Caesar salad, for one. Still, if you are looking for authentic local flavors, we recommend trying meat soup with savory nadughi cottage cheese in saltwater (boiled potatoes with nadughi sauce and dill), mkhlovana double-crust pie (a variety of khachapuri cheese bread with, depending on the season, nettles, spinach, or other greens), and also khabizgina double-crust pie (Ossetian khachapuri pie with potato and cheese stuffing). You can also order mokhevuri kada pastry, a filling and tasty authentic dessert. Many customers come here for genuine mokhevuri khinkali. The dumplings here are perfectly shaped with unusually numerous top pleats (sometimes 18 or more per small piece of dough), poised to attract you even visually. Caraway seeds are added to the stuffing here, the dough is hand-kneaded and flattened. Besides meat khinkali, you absolutely must try cheese and potato dumplings with melted erbo ghee. These dumplings are slightly elongated and kneaded and pleated to perfection.
Tsolis Tsremlebi Gazebos in the village of Arsha
Call: 595 366 440
On the left side of the Barisakho-Shatili-bound road, shortly before the Chargali exit, in the middle of the Aragvi Meadow—a gorgeous place with mammoth poplar trees—you will find the Tsolis Tsremlebi Gazebos serving authentic Pshavi-style khinkali dumplings and mtsvadi shish-kebab. Google Maps can lead you to this place by searching for “Khinkali Place”. Depending on the season, you can enjoy dambalkhacho, a Pshavi dish made from the buttermilk cottage cheese generated as a result of the butter churning process. The cottage cheese is mixed with salt and rolled into balls. The balls are dried in a special wickerwork known locally as dzobani. This container is often hung above a smoky fireplace in the middle of a room. Once dried, the balls are placed in a hermetic clay pot, which may even be buried in the ground. The balls undergo softening and soaking for 1.5-2 months, during which the cottage cheese acquires an edible mold, both tasty and beneficial. The mold inside the balls softens the cottage cheese, which gradually turns gold. Dambalkhacho is recognized in Georgia as a monument of intangible heritage. In case dambalkhacho is not being served at the moment, coming here is still worth it for the sake of their khinkali dumplings. At Tsolis Tsremlebi, you can watch the entire process of boiling khinkali in vats over the fire, in a wicker gazebo-type summer hut, known in Georgian as patskha, in the middle of the yard.
Locals tell of how a fox used to visit Tsolis Tsremlebi from 6 to 8 P.M. every day for several months. The fox would enjoy the khinkali and mtsvadi, then go along its merry way.
Korbuda in Pasanauri, Mtiuleti
Call: 551 55 67 31
After you pass the Pasanauri Settlement on the Tbilisi-Gudauri-Kazbegi highway, on your left you will find a small diner nestled near the foot of a mountain on the Aragvi riverbank. Korbuda is a family-run establishment, and everyone remembers the name of its first chef, Grandpa Otar. Needless to say, Korbuda serves khinkali dumplings with meat stuffing including finely chopped onions and ground red pepper, without greens. Khinkali dumplings here are boiled in a copper vat over the fire. Equally delicious are the restaurant’s mtsvadi shish-kebab and uniquely baked crispy khachapuri cheese bread.