Food is a serious undertaking in Brussels, with waffles, fries, chocolates, snails, mussels, and beer all mainstays of Belgian cuisine. And over the holidays, the city turns into a magical holiday scene, with twinkling lights everywhere and a traditional annual Christmas market complete with faux-snow-topped wooden stalls that sell sweet gifts, local crafts, ornaments, decorations, and seasonal snacks like gluwhein or vin chaud. The city is beautiful in every season, though, with snow-y sidewalks in the winter and green parks in the summer that draw visitors from near and far.
Breakfast: Karsmakers is incredibly welcoming and cozy, with big armchairs and a crackling fireplace. The space has an airy feel from the floor-to-ceiling windows that look onto the back courtyard, and the menu is filled with freshly baked sweets, strong coffee, fresh fruit juices, and bagels shipped directly from New York City.
Lunch: Sit inside the intimate (read: tiny) Arcadi to sample some of the city’s best quiches and cakes. It’s a charming room with wooden accents and small chandeliers hanging above the long line of people waiting to order some delicious pasta dish (the lasagna is well liked), the day’s fresh quiche, a lemon meringue, strawberry shortcake, or a small fruit tart.
Dinner: Brussels isn’t a place that really requires splurging to find fantastic food, but one night should be spent having dinner at La Manufacture. It’s sleek and urban, with a menu of updated and mouthwatering Belgian cuisine. Of course, this is the place to find mussels, which are served with a Kaffir lemon and saffron emulsion. The feast continues with stuffed swordfish pave with artichokes and chanterelles, and fillet of pheasant hen with cognac and pink pepper.
Afternoon Snack: If there was ever a place to save room for an afternoon snack, it’s Brussels; the city’s best road-side eats are fries, waffles, and chocolates. If you only eat one, go for the fries.
Some say the best fries are found at Maison Antoine, while others heatedly defend the authentic fritkots at St. Josse’s Martin. Regardless of which stand serves the best, take a peek at the menu of sauces available. The traditional topping is mayo, but different stands will offer everything from ketchup with pineapple to mayo with onions, chervil, and parsley. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/su-lin)
Or if waffles seem like the more important choice, then Le Funambule is the first and last stop. It’s been in business since 1867 and they make waffles to order with all combinations of toppings, from whipped cream and strawberries to Nutella or speculoos spread (made from Dutch cinnamon and gingerbread cookies).
Drinks: Chic and laid-back, Gecko is the place to find a beer or cocktail at the end of the day. The beers are Belgian and the cocktails are classics like margaritas and mojitos. It’s just near the main strip of watering holes of St. Gery, but has a cooler vibe, with sidewalk tables (in good weather), chalkboard menus, and exposed brick walls inside.