Holiday In Ljubljana, Slovenia? Damn Right. Here's 8 Places To Eat Really Well.

Counter to what your instincts might say, December is a great time to visit Ljubljana, the charming if difficult-to-pronounce capital of Slovenia. (For the record, it's "Lyoob-lee-yana.") This town of 300,000 has the feel of a smaller, less-touristy Prague, and like many European cities it really shines during the holidays: Lights twinkle throughout its compact center; there's a big Christmas market by the river; musicians pop up in squares all over town; and the air wafts with the smoke of roasting chestnuts.

Slovenia, once part of the former Yugoslavia, sits to the east of Italy and south of Austria, and its cuisine reflects the influences of these better-known neighbors — you're as apt to encounter fresh seafood and handmade pasta as you are sausage and sauerkraut (which makes Slovenia a desirable destination in summer as well). As you'd expect, the country has culinary regions with different traditions, but you'll find a sampling of them all in the capital. Of course, as a modern town whose residents like to chow down, Ljubljana is as subject to food crazes as anywhere else. (When I visited this fall, a vogue for "raw cakes," vegan, uncooked concoctions made of agave, coconut and other natural ingredients had swept the city.) Even if you skip the date-and-cacao tarts, below are some gastronomic pit stops you shouldn't miss.

1. Nobel Burek

A 24-hour institution among students, partiers and carb lovers, this street-side window near the train and bus station hawks big, fluffy, comforting phyllo pastries — straight from the oven if you're lucky. The friendly counterman will tell you that the spinach is the best kind they offer (there are also meat and cheese versions), and he's right. Plus, a burek will run you less than 3 euros ($4.15 U.S.) and it's bigger than a slice of pizza, making this one of the best meal bargains in town. Miklosiceva cesta 30

2. Kranjska Klobasarna

If you're carbed out, another popular street-food option is sausage, which is served fast-casual-style at this takeout shop in the center of town. Astute types will notice that "klobasa" sounds like "kielbasa," and that's what you'll get here: hearty pork sausage, helpfully sliced up and served with mustard, horseradish and a roll — shove the meat and condiments inside the bread for a DIY sandwich if you're on the run. Klobasarna, Ciril-Metodov trg 15,

3. Dvorni Bar

In recent years, vino nerds have gotten excited — and rightly so — about Slovenian wines. If you're a neophyte, this wine bar is one of the best places in town to see what the fuss is. Sadly, Dvorni is not really set up for offering tastes (though it does have formal tastings sometimes — check the website for details). But plenty of great pours are available by the glass, divided up by the country's wine regions. Try a white from Podravje in the northeast: The mineral-rich soils produce crisp wines similar to Austrian Rieslings, so clean and tasty you'll forgive this place its circa-2000s red-and-black décor. Dvorni trg 2,

4. Marley & Me

Despite the English name (and its apparent pop culture reference), this cafe is popular with both tourists and locals — and it's a great spot to experience one of the better dining deals in Ljubljana: the set lunch. At restaurants all over town, you'll find multi-course midday meals for less than 10 euros ($13.75 U.S.), and here it gets as cheap as 6.70 euros ($9.20 U.S.) for mushroom fettuccine and unlimited helpings from the soup-and-salad bar. The small dining room is cozy, service is friendly and unhurried, and house wine runs just 1.70 euros ($2.35 U.S.) a glass; there's a reason this place is nicknamed "lunch cafe." Stari trg 9,

5. Gujzina

This warm little bistro is a great place to enjoy the heartier end of Slovenian cooking — the restaurant is known for its goulash. Gujzina is also a proponent of local products like traditional pumpkin-seed oil, nutty and rich served over greens, which is for sale by the bottle along with a few other products at the front of the room. You can dig into a large plate of Slovenian charcuterie to start if you have the appetite for it (portions run big), and don't miss the turnip stew, a sour and spicy wake-you-up bowl dotted with crunchy turnip slices — like hot and sour heads to Eastern Europe. Mestni trg 19,

6. Strelec Restaurant

Generally, restaurants inside tourist hot spots are nothing but tourist traps, but that's not the case at the Ljubljana Castle, which houses a couple of worthy dining destinations. Na Gradu offers traditional, pan-regional Slovenian fare prepared by a couple of well-respected chefs, but the newest addition, year-old Strelec, is a real jewel: The dining room sits in the round "Archer's Tower," hand-painted with folkloric designs and with windows looking out over the city (in warm months, you can sit on a narrow stone terrace atop the castle wall). Word from local food bloggers and press is that the contemporary Slovenian food is as impressive as the setting. Grajska Planota 1,

7. Snopc o'tecca

In Slovenia, it's popular to make brandies and liqueurs out of anything that's at hand: fruits, honey, even pine needles. This less-than-a-year-old shop run by a crew of enthusiastic young guys is the first in town to specialize in these homegrown liquors — more than 80 kinds of them, both a house brand and varieties sourced from rural, artisanal producers. The store also sells other top-quality Slovenian products like honey, sea salt and Slovenian vodka: perfect for souvenirs and gifts. Miklosiceva 2,

8. Kavarna Zvezda

For a taste of the country's cake culture, head to this cafe outpost of the Zvezda mini-chain (which also includes a bistro and deli). Slip into a booth in the comfortable, sprawling space for a slice of traditional cream cake, something with fruit or chocolate or even a vegan or diabetic option (that wasn't a joke). Wolfova ulica 14,

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