Cluj-Napoca, Romania, is home to world-class food and a growing community of artists and entrepreneurs.
Let’s Coffee is a small, minimalist space, with black walls brightened by white script and a bicycle on display. On a Saturday morning its wooden bar and bench are clustered with locals, most of whom, upon entry, say hello to proprietor Vasile Lupsac. Lupsac, wearing spectacles and a baseball cap, looks up from the La Marzocco Strada that churns out the café’s top-notch espresso, and greets them back. It’s an organic rhythm that continues all afternoon. Come evening, some of these guests will dine at VIA, which many consider the city’s finest restaurant, situated in an 18th-century house. More rustic than formal, it’s where salmon tartare paves the way for Thai beef risotto and a slab of carrot cake. Later, maybe, there will be a nightcap at Joben. The bistro’s meticulous steampunk décor—gears, metal tubes, booze bottles tucked inside a vintage television set—is enough of a reason to visit, but the smoked Old Fashioned truly encourages settling in. This is a day in Cluj-Napoca (often referred to Cluj), the unofficial capital of Transylvania and one of Eastern Europe’s most vibrant small cities—a reputation earned without the assistance of the fairy tales shrouding the region.