Article featured image
Because of its past, Malta's dining scene is diverse.

Before you ask what to eat, you might be asking….where? Malta, a collection of three islands in the middle of the Mediterranean, is the smallest country in the EU and a popular vacation jaunt from colder parts of the continent, particularly Great Britain. Malta’s prime location between Europe and Africa (it’s 50 miles south of Sicily and 200 miles north of Libya), has made it a strategic stronghold for different civilizations over the centuries — and that’s left a mark on the food. The Romans, Moors and British have all claimed the islands.

Ubiquitous pastizzi — stuffed savory pastries — recall British meat pies while seafood abounds, obviously. And thanks to Italy’s proximity, there’s a strong influence from that country (especially Sicily) as well. You’ll even find some Indian-leaning spices from Malta’s days as a spice route stop-off. Intrigued? Here are eight places you need to check out.

1. Legliglin
Though this gem in Malta’s capital of Valletta bills itself as a wine bar, you’d be remiss not to opt in for dinner here: There’s likely no better food deal on the islands than the 20 Euro “tasting menu.” Often carrying pots straight from the kitchen, your server will dish out bite-size courses, beginning with lighter fare like freshly cured local seafood and moving on to things like hearty meatballs, rabbit — a signature Maltese offering — and even curry chicken (remember that spice trade influence?) until you cry uncle. It feels not unlike dining at the table of some friendly local intended on stuffing you silly, and that’s essentially what it is. A local who happens to have nice and fairly priced collection of wines to pour along with dinner, of course. 119 Saint Lucia Street, Valletta, 356 2122 1699

2. Maxokk Bakery
This diminutive pizza specialist is all oven — only a few feet are reserved for placing orders, which take a worth-it half hour. Pies here are characterized by their thin and crispy crust; for an authentic taste, opt for anchovies or Maltese sausage on yours. Also, be sure to try the ftira, a pie made on the same pizza dough with a layer of thinly sliced potatoes beneath the toppings. Grab some beers from one of the bars around the town square in the tiny, charming village of Nadur (on Gozo, the middle-sized of Malta’s three main islands) and take the whole package down to nearby Ramla Bay for a seaside picnic. Saint James Street, Nadur, Gozo, 356 2155 0014

3. Wigi’s Kitchen
This second-floor haunt in nightlife-centric St. Julian’s is popular with both locals and tourists for its superb meat dishes and fresh fish. (Your server will come by bearing a plate with they day’s catch for the choosing.) Dishes like gnocchi or veal medallions reflect an Italian influence; wash them down with a wine list that includes local selections and a classy lineup of imported bottles. Main Street (Triq il-Kbira), Saint Julian’s, 356 2137 7504

4. Soul Food
Newcomer Soul Food is home to a lively scene at night that spills into the street in front of the tiny shop. The spot offers fresh, healthy fare including salads, piadina sandwiches, handmade pastas and heartier dishes at very reasonable prices. The young Italian owner trained as a winemaker, so there’s a good vino list as well. And during the day, this is your best bet for a smoothie or expertly made espresso. 76 Merchants Street, Valletta, 356 2123 4311

5. Aaron’s Kitchen
Malta’s best-known celebrity chef has a restaurant in Valletta that’s a good place to get a feel for Maltese food, including widow’s soup laced with vegetables and molten chunks of a local cheese. You’ll find more upscale options, too, including lobster pastas, with an excellent wine selection to accompany. 107 Archbishop’s Street, Valletta, 356 2123 0636

6. Angelica
The shabby chic interior somewhat resembles an English tea shop — and the service is just as warm. During the day, coffee and sweets are popular; but at night, the real action at this cafe is out front in the alfresco dining area: There you might hear strains of classical music floating from down the block (a member of the national orchestra likes to set up there). Food leans homey and hearty: if it’s available, get the moussaka, prepared Maltese-style by stuffing the beef, cheese, and tomatoes into half an eggplant; if you’re into tubers, the house potatoes pair nicely. 134 Archbishop’s Street, Valletta, 356 7927 5727

7. Charles Grech Cafe
For an elegant tipple, to stay or to go, head to this chic bar whose downstairs liquor store (a Malta-wide mini-chain) has the best selection in town, in case you simply have to find a bottle of, say, bourbon in the middle of the Mediterranean. The upstairs watering hole features well-dressed types drinking and mingling inside or nibbling alfresco on the stone street outside. 10 Republic Street, Valletta, 356 2122 8848

8. Tico Tico
While St. Julian’s Paceville area boasts the liveliest nightlife scene, the bars there tend to run together. A more memorable option is this quirky Valletta haunt decorated with old photos and an improbable chandelier inside, and whose seating consists mostly of cushy sofas and chairs arranged in the narrow, alley outside its doors. Cocktails are well-priced and cheekily named (like the sangria concoction Sangre de Tico). No wonder this place attracts a crowd of raucous (in a good way) locals on the weekends. 61 Strait Street, Valletta, 356 9949 0451

Read more about traveling for great things to eat on Food Republic: