Cosmos: Hipster dining in Sofia, Bulgaria

Fancy cocktails with a local flair at Cosmos in Sofia
Fancy cocktails with a local flair at Cosmos in Sofia

One of the biggest challenges with my annual January European junket is that the trip is too short. I cram too much in to a quick weekend trip. Yes, it is completely voluntary and I do it on purpose, but it creates a different travel experience than I normally seek out. I cannot settle in and pick a coffee shop or café to relax in all afternoon, sharing a more traditional, local experience. At least not if I also want to be a “good tourist” and see some of the main sights of the cities I’m visiting. With roughly 18 hours on the ground in Sofia, Bulgaria I chose the tourist path and still managed to barely scratch the surface of what is available.

Hipster Dining

I wanted a traditional pub-style dinner for my first meal in Sofia. My heart was set on stewed meats and a local beer or three. Some planning might’ve helped on that front, but I rolled in to this trip more casually. That cost me my beer on night one, but I still ended up with a great meal.

A quick search online had me walking the 10 minutes from the Sofia Hotel Balkan to Halbite (Бирария Халбите) a/k/a  “The Beer Mug” where I figured I’d grab a seat in the corner and relax for an hour before collapsing in an exhausted, jet-lagged and beer-fueled slump. I was denied. The restaurant was full, or at least that’s what I was able to suss out from my non-existent Bulgarian and the hostess’s limited English. The place looked perfect inside but it was not to be for me on this random January evening.

As I wandered back towards the hotel while searching for other restaurants on my phone I happened upon Cosmos (Космос). It was bright and modern, with high ceilings and tons of space inside. And, pertinent to my immediate needs, had plenty of seats open at the bar. I stepped inside, hesitantly asked if they could handle an English-speaking customer, and then settled in to a seat knowing precisely nil about what I was about to eat. Turns out it was a pretty good choice.

Fancy cocktails with a local flair at Cosmos in Sofia
Fancy cocktails with a local flair at Cosmos in Sofia

No local beer here, at least not on tap. But the cocktail list was rich with localized takes on classics. The bartender was friendly and explained that they make many of the syrups and such in-house, adding to the local twist. My “daiquiri” drink (I generally prefer rum or vodka, not whiskey, and this was the ideal choice from the menu in that context) was the perfect balance of flavors but also slightly Balkanized. The glass was dusted with Samardala salt, an endemic herb to the region. I’m not entirely sure that was make or break on the overall drink flavor, but it was a nice touch in the preparation.

Yes, my salad had foam involved. It was still delicious
Yes, my salad had foam involved. It was still delicious

My salad was a take on the traditional Mediterranean style, with tomatoes, cucumbers and a firm, crumbly cheese. But it was hipstered up with foams. It also happened to be delicious, though the photo doesn’t show it off too well.

A delicious roast pork entree
A delicious roast pork entree

As a main course I chose a roast pork option. Rather than a chunk of pig I was presented with a beautifully plated mix of cuts from across the animal. Cosmos takes the various bits and repackages them almost like a casserole, but without anything extra added in beyond the pork. The result is a great mix of the different cuts of meat, offering some variety of flavor and texture. And, of course, the crispy skin on top.

The meal would have been at home in a modern restaurant anywhere in the world. Yes, it was more expensive (~$30) than I’d expected to pay for a quick Bulgarian dinner, but it was also a much more involved version of that quick dinner than I expected to eat. And absolutely delicious, even with the foams and jellies and such.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. A week and a half ago we were in Sofia, staying at the same hotel, and went to Cosmos. It was easily our best dinner of our whole European trip (Alsace, France…and dined in a 2 Mich * in Colmar; hHeidelberg, Germany…and I’ll be happy to never eat sausage and sauerkraut again; and Sofia). Work trip for hubby, but I got to tag along. We also went to Aubergine in the other direction and had a great dinner there, too, but Cosmos was the highlight. We also ate at the bar and had a great time with the bartenders. I didn’t see any drink I liked on the menu, so I told them the flavors I liked and they made me this wicked fantastic drink on the spot. We also had the same yummy salad, and my hubby had the same pork dish. Both were wonderful! I thought the moving lights were so cool, too. Oh, the cheese is called “white cheese”…seriously…and the yellow cheese is called, yup, “yellow cheese.” We had gone on a food tour while we were there…which we do in every new city to us…a great way to get to know the city and it’s culture through food. (We also go on bike tours, but it was too cold for that this trip).

    Also stayed at Sofia Balkan Hotel. Very pleasant staff, but probably wouldn’t stay there again. We got a bigger room as SPG Plat, they called it a Deluxe, I’d say it boardered on JR Suite…really large room with sofa, table, chairs on one side and bed on the other facing them. Desk in between on side wall. It just seemed run down. Lots of peeling paint and wood scratches, etc. Bathroom did have tub, which we like for relaxation after a day of touring. A bit too small for 2 people, though. Definitely needs renovating. Hubby probably has to go back once a year, so we will try the Senses hotel (I think it is a Design or Tribute hotel?) next time we go.

  2. The salad of tomatoes cucumbers and cheese is called Shopksa Salata and you typically have that before dinner with a drink. In the countryside that would be Rakia which is something like Grappa. The white cheese is actually called Sirini and it is usually sheep milk cheese. Usually less dry than feta but definitely in the same family. Yellow cheese in bulgaria is usually Kashkaval. Again it is sheep milk. A little tangy not very creamy and does not melt very well. Great for Meze

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