Even without bars and clubs in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the capital city of Tehran still has its hip haunts – mostly restaurants and cafes, which stand in for other nightlife hangouts.
At a time when Iran is the focus of potential new sanctions and attention over its nuclear program, Tehran's social life doesn't seem to be suffering a slowdown. While Iranians are known for their all-out house parties, some with contraband cocktails, Iranians are increasingly drawn out to Tehran's budding eateries and hot spots.
Some are traditional while others look like they could be in Paris, New York or Tokyo – fitting for Iran's youth bulge (by one estimate the country has 20 million people under the age of 20).
In part because no alcohol is served, eating out is an affordable affair for most out-of-town visitors. Below is an introduction to some of Tehran's classic and contemporary locales.
At Dizi there's only one thing on the menu: dizi. The traditional Iranian stew involves broth, potatoes, meat, and chick peas. The soup is cooked all together, then separated so that the broth is eaten separately from the chickpeas, meat, and potatoes. The only beverage on offer is doogh, a traditional yogurt drink. On the walls hang folkloric paintings from Iran's over-4,000 year history. Only lunch is served and costs roughly $10 per person.
Dizi Restaurant is at #16 Mousa Kalantari St, at Iranshahre Shomali-Karimkhan St.
Telephone: +98 21 88810008
The artists, students, and intellectuals who frequent Shouka Café in Gandi district come for three constants: quiet refuge, great coffee, and owner/playwrite Yarali Moghadam. A cappuccino will set you back 2500 tomans (less than $3) and can be enjoyed for hours alongside a good book.
Shouka Café is at Gandi Shopping Center, 1st Floor.
Telephone: +98 21 88792036
Less bohemian than its neighbor Shouka Café, El Café is a taste of Havana – that other revolutionary capital – in the heart of Tehran. The cappuccino, at just over $3, is a delicious house specialty. The pastries aren't bad, with a cheesecake that could easily pass at a New York City diner.
El Café is at Gandi Shopping Center, 1st Floor
Telephone: +98 21 88792926.
Easily one of the most sophisticated and upscale new restaurants in Tehran, Boulevard serves everything from tuna tartare to a refined hamburger with portabello mushrooms. The food is outstanding, right down to the ketchup, which tastes like fresh tomatoes. Well-heeled professionals and Tehrani hipsters abound. Dinner for two including appetizers: $60.
Boulevard is at 3 Nahid Blvd, off Valiasr St.
Telephone: +98 21 22051947
Armenian Club Restaurant
Walking into the Armenian Club is like stepping into 1930s Tehran, in part for its antique furniture and design but also because women customers are allowed to go without a headscarf, which is otherwise required in public. Run by Tehran's prominent Christian minority, the restaurant is off limits to Iranian Muslims. At the nearly hundred-year-old establishment, foreigners and non-Muslims can take in kabobs, rice and international cuisine. The fish kabobs are especially good.
The Armenian Club is at 100 Nofel Loshato St, at Khark St.
Telephone: +98 21 66700521