But fear not! If you keep these 3 cafés in mind, you’ll be certain to get the choice right.
Tchai-Ovna. Tucked away at the quiet end of Otago Lane, Tchai-Ovna can be a challenge to discover on your own. Yet, once you have, you may find yourself coming back again and again. This café is unlike any other I have ever been in. Not only does it have a very relaxed feel, with the option to sit on sofas, cushions on the floor, or to borrow a hot water bottle and a blanket to warm yourself up in their rustic tea garden, it is also deliciously, almost enticingly, fragrant. The smell of cardamom and other ethnic spices teeming in the warm air is enough to make every visit memorable. Primarily a tearoom, there is an incredibly wide range of teas available from all across the world and a decent selection of food as well.
The food is mostly Middle Eastern and entirely vegetarian. But even as as a meat eater, I found myself tempted by everything on their menu. Eventually, I ordered the Middle Eastern Platter of Delights, which was £11.50 between two. I feel like this is probably the best item on the menu, as it combines a wide range of different foods, such as falafel and humus with olives and vine wraps, which means you can try a variety of different things.
The layout of Tchai-Ovna works well to make you feel snug and cozy. The seating areas, especially the alcove around the corner offer privacy, but without totally making you forget that you’re in a busy café. With mismatched furniture, dimmed lighting and a changing selection of artwork, the café creates a very comfortable and relaxed environment. Warm cup of desi chai in hand, this is the perfect getaway for a cold, gloomy winter afternoon.
Smile Café. This one deserves my recommendation as the most parent-friendly, although, having just won one of the top accreditations in the Beverage Standard Awards in 2013, it is a venue worthy of showing off to anyone. Smile serves a wide range of authentic Italian food, mainly focusing on hot and cold paninis, but also offering other dishes such as antipasto and homemade pizza.
I chose a warm fortino panini, which was made with roast beef, smoked cheese and sautéed mushrooms. I also nibbled on the Sapri and the Ispani from friends, each of which cost just under £5 and was served with Italian salad and crisps. The paninis, which are made in front of you, were not only a delicious combination of flavours, but the perfect sized portion; filling even for a late lunch.
Although there is a selection of hot and cold drinks to go with your meal, the clear champion for me is the thick Italian hot chocolate, reasonably priced at £2.50. However, I would advise ordering this before your meal as the richness may be a bit too much on a full stomach. A sachet to make your own Italian hot chocolate is also for sale alongside other Italian basics, like pasta and sauces and homemade Italian biscuits.
Despite being very small and cozy, the front wall is entirely glass, so the cafe creates a very light and open feeling. The decor, made up of postcards and artwork, continues the authentic Italian theme. Perfect on a bright and sunny day.
Taco Mazama. Don’t let appearances deceive you. Despite the simple and modest design, Taco Mazama is no ordinary takeaway. Conveniently located on Byres Road, this Mexican eatery is becoming increasingly popular with students and the wider public alike. Not only does it offer a steal of a £3.99 lunch deal, but also a gorgeous blend of flavours packed into a hearty portion.
I chose the burrito and was right to not be deterred by the ‘mini’ description, as I ended up quite full before even starting on my tortilla chips. The burrito was warm and comforting, with an excellent range of flavours - starting from spicy bits of beef and chorizo in hot salsa and all the way down to cool, refreshing lettuce. The flavours are really left up to your own taste, as Taco Mazama employ a three stage make-your-own system with a wide selection of ingredients. If you are looking for a little more spice in your life, I would recommend going for the extra hot salsa along with jalapenos.
Good not just for a cheap, quick lunch on the go, but also for sitting in. There is a certain charm to Taco Mazama that I’ve never noticed in any other fast food place. It’s simple and unpretentious, yet wholesome and endearing. Even down to the little red plastic baskets they serve food in. Perfect for a simple yet filling lunch on one of those days when you have no patience for anything too fancy.
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