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hen it comes to eating out, Astana is the kind of city that one needs to discover. Foreign visitors face a minor handicap, one that is quickly overcome, once you start to understand the lay of the land. The first handicap is that unlike Western Europe and the United States, restaurants here are not obvious to the newcomer, so you need to look around, but you will be pleasantly surprised at what you will find.

The restaurant scene in Astana is a young industry that, in its relatively short existence, has undergone an amazing transformation. This is not “poetic exaggeration” or some cleverly put together advertizing slogan; in Astana this is reality. When Astana was designated as Kazakhstan’s new capital, replacing the trendier Almaty, in 1997, the new center of government had little to offer in terms of culinary attraction.

There is a common anecdote among locals in Astana describing the service they were getting in its early days. Soon after the capital’s relocation, two newly made Astanians from Almaty went to a restaurant. They looked through a very elaborate menu, only to find out that the only thing the restaurant had to offer was pyelmeni (traditional Russian boiled dumplings). They ordered two orders and saw the waiter put on a heavy winter coat and set off for somewhere. Fifteen minutes later he returned, panting, with a package of pre-made pyelmeni from a small shop nearby. The chef then boiled the pyelmeni and the waiter served them. The patrons then called the waiter over to order two beers to go with the food. To which he replied, “Guys, could you order everything you want at the same time so that I don’t have to run to the shop several times?”

Most of the restaurants in the city were Kazakh. But with the diplomatic community moving to Astana, the situation had to change. And it did. Today the city offers some excellent international cuisine that rivals many other cosmopolitan centers.

Soon enough entrepreneurs in the restaurant industry jumped onto the Café Star Astana bandwagon, grabbing at the opportunity to improve the quality and the variety of dining experiences in Astana. They had, after all, legions of government officials and foreign diplomats and the inevitable army of business people that new markets always attract. The latter arrived equipped with generous company expense accounts and in need of places to wine and dine and entertain. It wasn’t long before chefs from all culinary corners of the world began arriving in Astana to place the city on the world map of good cooking.

Chefs from Italy, France, Ukraine, and other countries were enticed to come to Astana and create exciting new menus. Thanks to their talents, in just a few years, dining in Astana has become worthy of a capital city, such as the world famous Regine’s, an exact replica of the original on the Cote d’Azur in southern France, a favorite of the French Riviera’s who’s who.

Some restaurants like to cater to a variety of different tastes, offering different dining rooms under the same roof, as does Fusion, a trendy place often packed on weekends. Make sure you call ahead to reserve. Fusion, as its name indicates, allows you to choose between Italian, American, French and Japanese cuisine, including some excellent sushi and a well-stocked bar, all under the same roof. After dinner simply walk around the corner (in the same building) to dance the rest of the night away at The Fashion Club.

Some dining establishments will give you the choice of a simpler meal in a café type environment, a slightly more upscale experience in a more formal dining room or even a games room with billiards. This permits patrons to enjoy an entire evening outdoors without having to drive around; they simply move on to the next room. This might not sound like much but it becomes most convenient come January when the mercury begins dipping well below the zero (centigrade) mark.

A number of restaurants offer VIP rooms to groups looking for quality service, as well as the possibility to sing, chat and relax without drawing the attention of other patrons. The rooms usually include a large screen TV, and some are set up with karaoke systems.

The newest and more upscale restaurants are situated on the Left Bank of the Ishim (Esil) river, where nearly a dozen fine dining establishments line up on one side of the avenue. Restaurant alley on Turan Avenue has several very good restaurants, including Uzbek, Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian and Italian, among others.

Around the government buildings are also a number of good eating spots on Kabanbai Batyr Avenue and in the round complex, fondly referred to by locals as “the ashtray,” located at the foot of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications building, locally known as “the lighter.”

The restaurants on the Right Bank are somewhat older. “Older” in Astana usually means more than six years old, reflecting the relative youth of the city. There is also a concentration of good restaurants along the embankment, a neighborhood often referred to by residents of Astana as “Horse,” in reference to the equestrian statue of Khan Kenessary.

For the somewhat more adventurous diners, while in Astana, do not miss the traditional Kazakh dish Beshbarmak. (The name means “five fingers” because of the way it was traditionally eaten.) The dish consists of boiled horse meat—prepared in different ways, including thick and thin sausages (kazy and shuzhuk)—and a dough prepared in thin layers, almost like lasagna pasta, and boiled in the broth of the horse meat. The dough is cut into pieces. The meat goes on top and is covered with an onion sauce. A modern variation adds boiled potatoes and carrots.

And finally, those who are more daring in giving their taste buds new experiences may want to try the traditional drink, kumys, made from fermented mare’s milk. Kazakhs consider it to be an energy drink with curative qualities. You can find it freshly made in traditional Kazakh restaurants, and a bottled version is available in stores.

 

 


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(Please note: the telephone numbers listed here are for dialing in Astana from a cell phone. For more information on making telephone calls, please see the “Practical Information When in Kazakhstan” section.)

Arbalet
If you have a taste for the Dark Ages and the Arctic North, this is the place for you. The Arbalet is decorated in a Viking theme with traditional tall, heavy chairs, stone walls, swords and axes on the walls. It is extremely accessible and convenient, staying open 24 hours a day. Arbalet is not cheap, but the ambiance is wonderfully romantic and the food is consistently good.
Cuisine: European
Address: 16 Beibitshilik Avenue
Phone: 8 (7172) 32 40 60
Price: $$$

Arystan Restaurant
Most European-style restaurants in Astana are relatively expensive. This one is not. Recommended for backpackers, Asia on $50 a day students, and many others.
Cuisine: European
Address: 2 Aykayryn Street
Phone: 8 (7172) 29 20 36
Price range: $

Assorti
This is a popular chain restaurant, with a surprisingly impressive range in cuisine served at reasonable prices. The décor and atmosphere are only routine, but you can consistently count on good food and good service, with an amazing amount of variety in the menu. A buffet is offered during the day.
Cuisine: Russian, Italian, Japanese
Address: 9 Dostyk Street (TEC Mega)
Phone: 8 (7172) 79 53 97
Price range: $$

Astana Nury
When you have something to celebrate, this is the place to come. It is easily one of the best restaurants in town with excellent service, a sophisticated atmosphere and a splendid range of shish kebab. The musical accompaniment alone is worth the price. It is a slice of sophisticated Cole Porter Paris in the 1920s effortlessly transported to the heart of Central Asia. The restaurant is located on the new embankment of the Ishim (Esil) River with a spectacular view of one of the great cityscapes of Asia.
Cuisine: Caucasian, European
Address: 3/2 Respublika Avenue
Phone: 8 (7172) 43 93 38/39
Price range: $$$
Website: www.a-n.kz

Bagrationi
When you yearn for the pasta of your dreams, come here. One of the best (and more expensive) Italian cuisine restaurants in Central Asia, it is located in Astana’s already-famous restaurant alley. The Bagrationi is the place to hold wedding celebrations. It has one of the largest private banquet halls in Astana upstairs, which can seat about 300 people.
Cuisine: Italian
Address: 25 Turan Avenue
Phone: 8 (7172) 40 21 49
Price range: $$$

Bochonok Brewery
For German and Mitteleuropa visItors seeking gemutlechkeit cuisine, or American and Russian engineers thirsty for solid fare and good beer, we recommend the Bochonok. Styled after an old European brewery, this restaurant offers a wide variety of beers and has solid and large menu.
Cuisine: European, mixed
Address: 75 Kenessary Street
Phone: 8 (7172) 37 16 66
Price range:
Website: www.bochonok.kz

Capital Music and Pub Restaurant
For middle-aged swingers in search of a good time, you can’t do better than the Capital. Located in Astana’s spectacular new Left Bank, not far from the Baiterek Tower, it has live music featuring popular Russian and international songs. There is karaoke in the VIP room. However, the VIP room gets booked early on weekends, so call if you want to sing with your friends.
Cuisine: European, Kazakh
Address: 14 Tauelydzyk Street
Phone: 8 (7172) 24 46 71
Price range: $$

Chilli Peppers
No local atmosphere here! This is as Western frenetic as they come, which makes it a very popular pizza place for young people. The low prices and good value for portions don’t hurt either. It’s conveniently located close to the Baiterek Tower.
Cuisine: Pizza, European, Italian
Address: 33 Sarayshik Street
Phone: 8 (7172) 50 37 73
Price range: $

East West
A fascinating mix of 21st century sophistication in the cuisine and 20th century caution in its décor, East West offers both general international and excellent Indian cuisine. The interior still retains a pre-independence style. A must see, if you are interested in Soviet décor.
Cuisine: Indian, International
Address: 2/2 Kabanbay Batyr Avenue
Phone: 8 (7172) 24 40 34
Price range: $$

Egorkino Derevnya
Located in the city’s restaurant alley, this is a part of a hotel with the same name. It’s not cheap, but here you can try good Russian food, usually to a much higher quality than you would find in many parts of Russia. Throughout its existence this restaurant has maintained a high standard of cuisine.
Cuisine: Russian
Address: 33 Turan Avenue
Phone: 8 (7172) 40 21 81
Price range: $$$


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