While abroad, it’s natural to get a bit homesick and start craving the comfort foods we are used to. While we recomended that you dive into the local culture as much as possible, sometimes seeing foreign takes on American classics can be interesting and educational… right? Here’s a list of six fast food places that students on SRAS programs have found comfort in in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.
This guide is part of the much larger SRAS Guide to Living in Bishkek.
Metro Pub – also known by its former name of “The American Bar” – has Bishkek-style American and Mexican food. The place has seen better days, but if you take a place at the bar you’re likely to encounter a few expats. Torro Grill and Bar has good steaks and burgers and real mozzarella sticks. Dinner with a carafe of house wine and appetizers will cost around $15-20. You can also find a number of Italian restaurants and pizza places throughout the center, notably DoDo Pizza, Cyclone, and Dolce Vita.
44 Street Food
Shawarma, sometimes known as a “doner” in English speaking countries remains relatively unknown and exotic to many Americans. It bears close resemblance to a pastor taco, however, and quickly becomes a favorite of American students abroad in SRAS locations, where the shawarma is a popular street food.
On of the best places to try them in Bishkek, Krygyzstan, is at 44 Street Food. Set between 150 and 250 som (about 2 to 3 USD), these delicious wraps are ideal for a casual lunch or dinner. But with dozens of pop-up shops, restaurants, and vendors to choose from, how does one find the best place to eat between classes or pick up a late-night meal? Luckily, there is an easy answer: 44 Street Food.
Though located only a five minute walk north from London School, this tiny restaurant is easy to overlook. Overshadowed by House Burger, a larger fast-food joint right next door, 44 Street Food is comprised of an order-window, a singular plastic table, and two chairs by the door. This shop is truly the definition of a “hole in the wall.” Though not the best place to practice one’s Russian, as it is run by a native Turkish speaker, the vendor does understand the essentials (like “spicy,” “chicken,” and “for here”) in both English and Russian so there shouldn’t be any difficulties when ordering.
A shawarma lavash is 170 som and can be made with either crispy fried chicken pieces or thin strips of beef. If one of the meats is not prepared, just ask for the other one; however, the wait may be upwards of an hour if the meat still needs to be cooked. Assuming that the meats are prepared, the dish usually arrives in about twenty minutes. Though many shawarma shops have quicker service, the higher quality is worth the wait. As well as the tons of chicken or beef, these wraps also include a few vegetables and french fries. The vendor will ask whether to add onions and/or small pickled peppers for an extra kick; I personally would recommend both. Though it is difficult to tell until the last few bites, the shawarma is extremely greasy– use caution not to drip oil on yourself.
The fries are standard fare both in price and in quality, costing about 100 som (slightly more than 1 USD) and tasting comparable to any other thin-cut fry in Bishkek. However, they do come with decent ketchup– something that you’ll learn to value after receiving condiments much more similar to tomato soup or marinara sauce at other shops.
44 Street Food also offers burgers and the chicken sandwich for 120 som is also a solid option. A thick bun loaded with fried chicken, fries, lettuce, tomato, and cucumbers, this sandwich, though a little less filling than the shawarma, still makes for an excellent midday meal.
Though not exactly atmospheric, eating in the shop is plenty comfortable. Think of a Kyrgyz version of a mom-and-pop 50s diner. The room is clean and quiet and, on lucky days, a cat will seat himself on the stoop or even curl up under your chair. Of course there is only room for three or four customers at a time, so if you aren’t the first to arrive you may be out of luck if you are expecting a place to sit or to have immediate service.
44 Street Food has some of the largest and most flavorful shawarma around, and at just over 2 USD per meal, it’s a mistake not to order it.
– Charlotte Sarchet
Chuiskii prospekt, 158
After spending enough time in a place like Kyrgyzstan, one thing I (and perhaps many visitors) begin to miss is a good ol’ AMERICAN burger and fries and Coca-Cola. While many of the fast food places in Bishkek do sell a “гамбургер,” which is often beef or lamb schwarma shavings in a hamburger bun topped with with cabbage, french fries, ketchup, and mayo, nothing comes as close to real American fast food as Begemot. The menu includes the absolute basics of fast food: single/double hamburgers and cheeseburgers, chicken burgers (which, unfortunately, aren’t breaded and deep fried), french fries, and several kinds of soda. The prices are roughly the norm for local fast food places, if not cheaper, and a burger, fries, and a drink will rarely cost more than 150 soms ($3.25).
(Walk South from London School on the West side of the street for about 15 minutes)
My favorite burrito on this planet, in fact, is from a small stand in Bishkek. It’s not too far south of The London School (where SRAS students dorms are and classes are held) on Советская (Sovietskaya) Street. I heard about the guy who ran the place from a few different people, and began to feel like I was in a kung-fu movie where instead of martial arts, it was burritos that he had mastered. “Some say he lived in America and worked in restaurants there;” “Some say he studied abroad in Mexico just to learn their culinary arts.” Some say this, some say that. If the lore surrounding the guy who ran this joint was extensive enough, I figured there had to be some merit to his food.
These burritos sure did knock my socks off. When I came upon the stand, the first thing I noticed was how clean it was – down to the polished windows, microphones, containers for foods and all of the shelves. This place was clean by American and Western European hospital operating room standards. The hypochondriac in me was given carte blanche to stuff his face.
There is a very minimalist quality to this stand. Everything is simple from the menu to the aesthetic of this place. No fluff, no nothing save for the food. I got myself two beef burritos (planning on saving one for later if I liked it, or giving it to someone who would rather have it if I didn’t like it). They have a system not unlike Chipotle type restaurants in the United States, except the hype surrounding this burrito is justified, unlike Chipotle (you hear that New Yorkers????).
The burritos all together were cheap, 180 soms ($3.31), in fact I would stay grossly underpriced for the quality and taste of the food.
By the time I got back to the dorms with my loot, my mouth was watering. What is there to say really that hasn’t already been said? I bit into the burrito and my eyes watered too. It was cathartic almost. It was the first thing I ate in this part of the world, from back home, that didn’t have some Central Asian/Russian spin on it. No offense to dill or anything, but god, they like putting it in everything. It is like an Easter egg of disappointment to be found in every meal.
150a Chui Prospect
At some point during everyone’s time in Bishkek they are going to think to themselves, “Wow I really want American fast food, like maybe a Burger King.” Well, that’s honestly impossible unless you’re willing to drive to Almaty, Kazakhstan. The good news is, however, there are equivalents in Bishkek. Foremost of which is Burger Club, a small Canadian fast food restaurant roughly 10 minutes from the main square. Easily accessible, incredibly cheap (at round $3), and decent enough to satiate a fast-food fix, I’ve visited Burger Club a fair amount during my time here in Bishkek. Nothing about it is particularly remarkable, but it does exactly what it needs to: deliver a cheap, americanesque burger experience. If you go there I recommend the King Burger, which is surprisingly massive considering its price.
71 Kievskaya Street
There comes a time for every American student in Bishkek, when he/she just wants American food again. Having spent quality time exploring every popular expat option available in the city I can help anyone out. Burger House is the closest thing to a Five Guy’s Burger that you can come to. Food prices are around $5, the quality is excellent and it is incredibly fast. They have staples such as hot dogs, milkshakes, and burgers, alongside specialty dishes like a Chili Cheese Dog, which I recommend to everyone. Located near the main square, it is very easy to access and has become a go to option for our entire program. Also there is trivia night in English every Wednesday Night, which is really fun.
101/1 Shopokov Street
Soon after arriving Bishkek my friend and I decided to find the best pizza restaurant in the city. We now have a shortlist, narrowed from the extensive list of pizza venues, of the two best. One is Imperial Pizza. The other is DoDo pizza. Although a Russian chain, DoDo feels like a western pizza place. It resembles a fast food place, but with much higher quality food. The prices are very reasonable, usually around $3 and if you go during lunch time you can get your drinks for free. The options are incredibly varied from your basic Pepperoni to the amazing Ranch Pizza. Speaking of which, I recommend the Ranch Pizza both because it’s delicious, but also because ranch is a very rare flavor in Kyrgyzstan. Anyone living or studying in Bishkek, who happens to love pizza, should definitely go to DoDo pizza.
27/1 Gorky Street
Imperia Pizza is one of the two best pizza places in Bishkek in my personal opinion. (The other is DoDo, see above.) Imperia Pizza also has the advantage of being close to the school (less than a three-minute walk), is very affordable, and offers interesting pizza options. Every pizza costs around $4, but with every two pizzas bought you receive a liter and a half of Coca-Cola for free. Pizza choices are very interesting and range from Pepperoni to Chili to Shashlik, but honestly they are all very good so it’s safe to experiment. If I had to choose one to recommend I’d say go for the Hawaiian pizza, which comes with pineapple (another rare topping in Bishkek). In general, any student at the London School should go to Imperia Pizza since it’s delicious and ridiculously close, just inside the Vefa Shopping Center.
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This guide is part of the much larger SRAS Guide to Living in Bishkek.
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