Words: Shamim de Brún
Images: George Voronov, Instagram, Ali Dumworth
They’re the discerning eaters’ holy grail. But are ‘hidden gems’ a thing of the pre-internet past, or can you still strike gold off a guide?
What makes a hidden gem in the era of TikTok, where hidden gems become mainstream and excessively popular overnight? For me, it’s something you walk by every day but forgets to go into because you’re so wrapped up in your own bullshit.
The hiding in plain-sightedness of it all is essential to its appeal. Hidden gems aren’t in guidebooks. They aren’t top tanking on Trip Advisor and aren’t popular on Pinterest. They are popular with the locals. Hidden gems have always gone mainstream if they were good enough, at least with people who live in the city. Not so much four tourists before the advent of the internet.
We all covet the feeling of discovering one on a leisurely evening stroll. Hungry and turned around, you’ll stumble across an adorable candlelit fooderie tucked away down a side street seemingly invisible to tourists. The food is phenomenal, the portions lavish, and the prices just the right side of a bargain. The service is warm yet efficient, and at some point, you are serenaded by a handsome musician who does not overstay their welcome and will not attempt an Ed Sheeran cover. Magic.
So to cut the wheat from the chaff, we asked out panel of experts to reveal their favourite hidden gems.
Kakilang is no secret to Ireland’s Bubble tea aficionados, but they have been making their name on the strength of their souffle pancakes. “Leave me be; I’m drinking my tea” is emblazoned in neon on the wall.
It ranked as one of Holly Dalton’s top hidden gems because she never hears people she knows of heading there. She said, “It’s great! But I don’t hear about people going there. I don’t hear about my friends going there. And I’m just like, Go to Kakilang.”
Order: Bubble Tea with Chicken
Location: Bachelors Walk
Opening Hours: From 12:00 Monday to Wednesday and from 10:00 Thursday to Sunday
Servicing a large swathe of the city with everything from Xi’an Burgers, Hong Kong Bubble Waffles, Taiwan Bubble Teas, Tianjin Jianbings and Sichuan Spicy Sour noodles. Oh! My Street Food topped Holly Dalton’s hidden gem list; she told us that it was her “mission in life” to get more people talking about the spot, “their roujiamo and jian bing are next level and need to be recognised as some of the best Chinese food in Dublin. Give this Westmoreland Street restaurant a visit as soon as you can.”
Holly said, “It’s got to be. OhMy Street Food on Westmorland Street. Okay, it’s so good; oh, my gosh. It’s incredible. And it’s so affordable you can sit upstairs, like, watch the world go by, take it, go have it on some steps in town or whatever.”
Order: According to Holly, their burger is a phenom
Location: 4 Westmoreland Street
Opening times: Monday-Sunday, 11:30-21:00. For more information, visit the website.
There is something magical about food cooked in the same spot as a supermarket. Han Sung is all about giant portions and authentic flavours. It hits on the banging side of the budget spectrum. The menu is the length and breadth of quintessential Korean food.
This is our own Aiesha Wong’s favourite lunch spot because she says the portion sizes are everything. It also landed Top of Alex O’Neill of Bahay fame’s list. Alex said, “it’s hands-on Korean, a Korean banquet. You come in, you got your miso soup, but whatever you pick, it’s just kind of go a what you see the person in front of you order, and it’s just deadly. You’re not going to be disappointed. I really like it. And it’s a proper hidden gem. It’s at the back of a supermarket, and you can pick stuff up on the way out.”
Order: Something spicy
Location: Strand Street in the Italian Quarter
Opening times: Monday-Sunday from 11:00
The sandwiches are augmented by Ariosa coffee, cakes, and biscuits that include ‘proper’ coffee cake, courgette buns, homemade custard creams and raspberry Bakewells. Everything is made in-house, and there isn’t a dud among them.
This was a hot tip for Richie Castillo, Patrick, and Russell of The Gastro Gays. We all know McNally’s since they’ve become a signifier for top-quality produce in a restaurant. But knowing they have a cafe where they cook their wares is insider-level “unagi” knowledge.
Richie said he had one of the best sandwiches ever there and that you can really taste the freshness. The cafe is right on the farm, so pretty hidden if you’re in the city centre, but easily accessible in a car. This spot also came in top, with the Gastro Gays calling it their ultimate Hidden Gem.
Order: The Sandwich
Location: McNallys Farm North County Dublin
Opening Hours: Varys by season, so keep an eye on their website
Hen’s Teeth are still hidden to most of the population. Hiding down between Fumbally and Teeling Distillery in the heart of Blackpitts Dublin 8, this spot is a go-to for so many but beyond conception for others.
You can walk in off the street at any time and, without checking their socials, have no idea what you’re walking in on. You could land in the middle of a tasting menu extravaganza, a Holly Dalton pop-up, or even a listening party for a new pop star. Where else would you get such variety if not at a hidden gem?
The Gastro Gays picked this as one of their favourite hidden gems, saying, “What do you call Hens Teeth if not a hidden gem?”
Lee’s Charming Noodles is hard to beat because it’s so, well, charming. It is the Hugh Grant of noodle places without the dogged history. Originally named after the chef who spearheaded the project, The Parnell Street restaurant has been owned by Jie Liu since 2017, but he’s kept its original name. Before Liu came to Ireland in 2001, he trained as a noodle chef in Dalian, his hometown in northeast China.
But what makes this a hidden gem is that people would walk by it literally every day and only think to go in if they are in the know about how good these noodles are. They were, for a time, the only hand-pulled noodles in Dublin, and the Irish Asian community knew all about them.
This spot is favoured by Tara Deery as well as Richie, Alex, myself. However, I don’t really count. Tara said it’s one of her favourite hidden gems because “you can always walk in off the streets and just have a really, really good broth of any kind.”
Location: Parnell Square
Opening hours: Every day from 12:00
Anyone who has been on TikTok since the advent of the Irish TikTok food influencer knows that The White Rabbit is a go-to for anyone seeking authentic Korean street food.
Located in the back of an Asian supermarket on capel street, it has been drawing in crowds with its corndogs and Korean fried chicken. Our own Aiesha Wong loves their classic Chicken burger.
White rabbit came in on Alex and Richie’s list as well as Holly Daltons. Alex summed it up best when she simply said, “White Rabbit in the back, It’s deadly!”
Order: The Korean Fried Chicken
Location: Capel Street
Opening Hours: Every Day from 12:00
Anyone who is a follower of CHAR will know that we play this one as a favourite a lot. It’s close to our office, affordable, and always a taste sensation. So we were beside ourselves when it cropped up on most of our expert’s top hidden gems.
If you get a real rush from being somewhere that feels authentic and out of the way. This is the spot for you. Even though it’s been on capel street for years, people have only started to cotton on to it recently. This cash-only spot has been called the best Pho in Dublin. But it’s their Bahn Mi that would draw you in repeatedly.
Aobaba ranked with Alex Richie and Tara, as well as Holly Dalton. Holly, as ever, was the most effusive, saying, ” Aobaba! Because it’s like the best ever. And Ireland loves it, loves it, loves it. It’s a great place to go on your own. Like a solo diner, experience is probably the best solo diner experience in Dublin.”
Order: The Bahn Mi or the Pho
Location: Capel Street
Opening times: Every day from 12:00
Listen, anywhere that sells a tower of Dublins like ti was afternoon tea is always going to be a gem. This one is tucked away off O’Connell Street. M&L offers Szechuan food at its best. If you’ve never been, you should give up on the menu and stroll around the tables, pointing to what looks good. Which is typically everything.
The top Tip, though, is the green beans. Sounds like a healthy side. It is actually a banging dish worth slurping down every god damn day. Alex and Richie are big M&L fans, as is Tara and Holly. There’s literally no way to go wrong in M&L; even Michelin Chefs eat there.
Order: Literally anything
Location: Just off O’Connell Street
Opening Hours: Every day from 12:00
I have never gotten to eat in Assassination Custard. Not from want of trying, but from never checking if they’re open on the time and day I fancied swinging by. Far from angering me, this has added to the air of mystery that has lured me in and made me a devout follower of their Instagram on my personal time. This mystery is part of what makes Assassination Custard the ultimate Hidden Gem.
It lives in plain sight near DIT and has regular opening times. So don’t be put off by my experience. This sustainability-focused spot is run by a married duo who cooks whatever is in season and available that day. The menu is written on napkins or chip paper. Which adds to its appeal even more.
A quick google of them will tell you that they are almost universally liked. Not a bad review to be found about the food or the people. And it was the same with our experts. Assassination Custard ended up on everyone’s list. Rob from Big Fan said it was an incomparable dining experience, and what more is there to say than that?
Order: Literally anything they suggest
Location: Kevin Street
Opening hours: 12:00 – 14:00, Tuesday to Friday
Elsewhere on CHAR: Dublin’s Ultimate Off The Beaten Trackers