Shaken, not stirred after the 5 hour bus ride from Sofia, I pulled into Skopje bus station, headed for an ATM, then grabbed a cab to my airbnb apartment which was located above the main square (photo above). My only mission whilst here was to explore the city, the old town, the fort, the markets, eat some food and find a decent bar. My trip was hampered by an inflamed achilles tendon, so most of my hunting was done in close proximity to the 2 parts of town I was staying in, with a couple of ventures to the old town by taxi when I managed to hobble along.
The city is split into two distinct halves sliced together by the river. One one side you have the old town with it's labyrinth markets, tiny alleways and plenty of character. Near the river banks on both sides you have what can only be described as a mad-man's attempt at building a modern day great European city, but set to resemble an old city. Beguiling, but also fascinating. In my week here I found the people to be friendly and helpful, the city was super safe and interesting, and after discovering another part of town that I stayed some days in, a spot worthy of more tourism. The prices can't be beaten either.
Pelister Restaurant ($$)
My go-to spot both times I was in Skopje. Located just a cheek-kiss away from the main square, off to one side, this posh place serves hundreds of covers a day. The service is as good as you can expect in these parts, but people come here for the food. Almost everything I had was delicious, from the veal, pork with vegetables, pasta, and their famous pizza. The outdoor seating area is vast and offers great views for people watching. You'd be hard pressed to find a better place in town to eat at that price.
Tip: They have Fernet Branca :-)
Trend Restaurant ($$)
Bells the size of the Hindenburg should have gone off at the name alone. Prejudice aside, I found a table affording equal amounts of sun and shade and pored over the menu. First off, every time I wanted the waiter it took 5-10 minutes. The service was insaaaaanely slow. I ordered a veal stew but said if they don't have fresh veal give me a chicken stew. Whatever came out was overcooked and all the meat was shredded and dead. The soup was OK but I had to pour lots of tabasco on it (which I brought myself). The salad was mediocre, a supermarket salad would have afforded more pleasure. The only redeeming fact were the mushrooms, everything else was dry or insipid. It then took 10 minutes to get the cheque.
Anywhere in this region, stretching up to Serbia etc, the local favourite is Cevapi. Whether that comes with bread, blistered chilis, plain stacked high on a metal plate or in a "kebab roll" its basically seasoned meat in small jalapeno sized bullets. Destan does the best in town, and who am I to argue. This was a decent meal in terms of taste, but it's definitely not something I would ever get cravings for since there is no sauce or anything other than meat, some raw onion and a couple of chillis. Worth having as a cultural introduction to the Balkans region, once.
Bistro Bruklinski ($$)
Yes, it's an exhorbitant amount of white cheese to put on penne pasta, but c'est la vie. That's how they serve it, so no complaints. The food at this place is above average, the service is also pretty on point and the spot has this nice bohemian/artistic vibe to it. I heard that they have live music here some days, and the outdoor seating area is great for spring nights.
MAD Kitchen ($)
A charming area around a bicycle spoke-shaped street pattern. Littered in the vicinity are numerous eating and drinking establishments, far from the tourist crowd they retain a more "local" vibe which was a relief to discover. Bistro Bruklinski, Radio Bar, heaps of cafes and the 24hr favourite La Delicious Bakery are all within 200 meters of here. MAD Kitchen does your regular slew of comfort foods, not perhaps the best you'll ever have, but decent enough to forgive.
Peking Garden ($$)
Yes, the photo is shit. Sorry. My achilles was not in the greatest shape and this spot was 10 meters from my Airbnb so I grabbed some take-away and headed home to the balcony. Possibly some of the worst Chinese food i've ever eaten. Absolutely everything was wrong... the food had an acrid taste of raw garlic and far too much vinegar, the chicken was dry and practically tasteless, the rice even had lumps in it. STEER CLEAR!
Mamma Italiana ($)
Unable to barely walk the last day in town, I took it upon myself to research delivery-food options. The highest rated pizza in Skopje was at Mamma Italiana, and they actually had the genius option to order over facebook messenger in case you didn't have a local sim card. I sent my order, then waited outside the door until a man on a scooter came precisely 30 minutes after the order was placed.
Not much to say, but a cripple is happy to get hot food, and this was a perfectly decent pizza for such emergencies!
Long live Skopje! Long live convenience!