Amsterdam: 5 easy ways to save on dining

La Perla pizza Amsterdam
La Perla bakes affordable pizzas in their wood-fired ovens. Photo: Nick Sherman

Culturally, going out to eat in Holland is always due to a special occasion and isn’t simply an every day activity. That means that dining in Amsterdam can be pricey compared to North America’s restaurant culture.

Here are five ways to still eat out in Amsterdam without getting caught in pricey pancake pad, or worse, a tortellini tourist trap.

1. Sign up for Groupon’s Amsterdam deals.

The coupons that you’ll find in your welcome brochures from this or that travel company won’t offer the best restaurant deals. It’s more likely that they get a bit of commission off anyone who dines with the flyer they handed you. The spot probably won’t be a local’s pick, and perhaps not even a cuisine worth trying.

Instead of touristy coupons, sign up for Groupon — the coupon website that offers discounts on everything from dining to shopping in Amsterdam. Sign up ahead of your trip for daily email offers, and Google Translate the offer. Daily dinner deals get up to 70% off three- and five-course meals in city center restaurants. From fondue to steak and all-around Dutch meals, the variety guarantees scoring a half-price meal for groups of two or more.

2. Splurge at lunch.

Lunchtime menu prices can be 30% cheaper or more than dinner, and just as tasty. Try a smorgasbord of Dutch sandwiches, or a mixed plate of hapjes (snacks), which can vary from fresh olives to fried bitterballen with mustard. Other cafes will even host a few hot plate specials, like burgers, soups, and deluxe salad plates.

Simply put, eat a grand lunch and go light on dinner to avoid getting taken for a ride.

3. Stay away from the big squares.

Dam Square, Rembrandtplein, Red Light District, Leidseplein and Spui are overflowing with restaurants that serve average meals at inflated tourist prices. (It’s a no-brainer to skip the spots where someone stands on the streets to lure you in.) “Off the beaten path” is always better for local food and atmosphere.

Need some suggestions? My favorite food spots are:

• The cafes at Nieuwmarkt like Café Fonteyn.

• The Thai places on Zeedijk like Thai Bird.

• The narrow alleys in the Jordaan have some great eateries, like La Perla and their wood oven pizza, as will cafes off the Albert Cuypstraat market in De Pijp like Bazar.

• I love a lot of places in the Plantage and Tropenmuseum area for their “student friendly” prices, like Burgermeester and Kriterion.

4. Go ethnic, but be accurate.

Pass on the Italian, Greek, Argentinean and American restaurants. You won’t find high quality plates from these countries unless you actually go to the country itself. I say this because I’m fooled into Mexican restaurants constantly. And I’m always disappointed. The truth is that it’s nearly impossible to get the authentic ingredients, especially for cheap.

If ethnic food is what you’re looking for, think “colonial Dutch.” The Netherlands has a long history with Surinamese and Indonesian spices and trade, and when done right it’s a spicy satisfaction. Turkish and Moroccan restaurants are good picks as well due to the large population in Amsterdam.

5. Take Away? Throw Away!

The simple truth is take away shops in Amsterdam are catered to people with the munchies. The bakeries with Belgian chocolate waffles are not freshly made by the guy selling them. And the giant pizza slices have been made ready-to-bake. It’s all eye candy. Even many French fries stands have giant sacs of frozen potatoes peeled and sliced.

What to do? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. There’s no escaping them come nighttime, but some quality take-away spots are always open for lunch.

My advice is to hit the Albert Hein grocery store and stock up on small stuff that can fit into your bag. Belgian chocolate, gouda cheese cubes, tasty crackers and flavorful tapenade spreads are just as yummy for snacking.

About the author

About the author: Audrey Sykes hopped across the pond from the US eight years ago for a Masters degree in global journalism. Since then, she’s lived all over Europe, reporting and editing for music sites, snowboard mags, and travel media. She’s also the Amsterdam author for Party Earth, a guide to nightlife across Europe.
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