Irish food is not all Guinness stew, coddle and champ, and corned beef and cabbage is not on many menus. That’s an American invention. These traditional Irish favorites are still available. But these days, restaurants and chefs in Ireland are much more inventive and adventurous with their menus.
In Donegal, also known as the coolest place on planet earth according to Nat Geo, restaurants and cafes are showcasing the best of local produce, seafood, cheeses, and beverages.
Donegal is the most northwestern of the Irish counties and its small but mighty population of around 300,000 has a long tradition of eating locally and producing their own foods. From the mighty fishing town of Killybegs to the polytunnels that dot backyards across the County Donegal has a history of fighting to survive.
Donegal’s nickname is “the forgotten county” due to its isolated position physically, culturally and even politically. As Donegaler’s like to say “it’s different up here”.
In recent years, however, Donegal is working towards becoming a great food destination and drawing in tourists from around the world with its outstanding landscapes and the longest coastline in Ireland 1,100 km on the Wild Atlantic Way.
Finding fabulous Irish restaurants and cafes in Donegal is getting easier these days and these locations are some of the best Donegal has to offer.
Notable Restaurants In and Around Donegal
The Lemon Tree – Letterkenny
The Lemon Tree is situated in the heart of Letterkenny, and it concentrates on serving the best local and sustainable produce, meat and fish to be found in the area. Everything is made fresh and including a selection of Donegal brewed beers, whiskey and gin.
Little Mamma’s – Letterkenny & Donegal Town
If you are in the mood for some absolutely to die for gelato and Italian style sorbet, head to Little Mamma’s. The shop is found on the Port Road on your way into Letterkenny as well as in Donegal Town.
Little Mamma’s serves great coffee, crepes as well as waffles with their hand-made sorbets. Flavors include Parma Violet, and Raspberry White Chocolate.
Chandpur – Donegal Town
Chandpur, which is located in Donegal Town, has been the recipient of the Best Indian Restaurant of the Year from Yes Chef and Best World Cuisine for Ulster from The Restaurants Association of Ireland. They also have received another Gold Star from the renowned Lucinda O Sullivan for Great Places to Eat. Chandpur offers its customers award-winning dishes that are prepared using the freshest, local ingredients, fused with spices from Asia.
La Fiesta – Donegal Town
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico is just about as far away from Donegal as it gets but the twin Chefs at La Fiesta in Donegal Town are making their mark on the food scene in Donegal with the finest local ingredients fused with Mexican spices, magnificent Margaritas, and outstanding handmade corn tortillas a rare thing in Ireland.
Lough Eske Castle – Bluestack Mountains
In the Lough Eske Castle hotel, set in the jaw-dropping scenic area of the Bluestack
Mountains, you will find the Cedars Restaurant again serving locally sourced fish, seafood and meats. Dishes such as Salmon and Pine starter with gin cured lox, Duck Bergamot and much more. You can also enjoy the Gallery Bar and its Bistro and even take a High Tea at the Hotel.
Harvey’s Point – Bluestack Mountains
Harvey’s Point Hotel is a Donegal institution and has offered locals the chance to dine out and dine well for many years. Its signature is the Sunday lunch buffet, which is an all you can feast for the taste buds. Serving fresh-caught salmon, prawn starters and desserts that will make you thank your lucky stars you found the place.
Salthill Cabin – Mountcharles
A little local secret is the Salthill Cabin in Mountcharles just outside Donegal Town. Salthill Cabin has incredible views across Donegal Bay and serves up barista-style coffee, specialty teas, home-baked pastries, homemade soup, seafood chowder and glorious local ice-cream from Little Mamas.
There is also an animal petting area with pigmy goats, peacock birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, tortoises and lots more. Sit back with a soup or chowder and enjoy the wonderful views of the Benbulbin Mountains and Donegal Bay. Or, grab a coffee and take a walk along the shore taking in the wonderful panoramic views of the Blue Stack Mountains and Barnesmore Gap.
The Seafood Shack – Killybegs
Further afield if you are driving up to the magnificent Slieve League make a stop in Killybegs. This is where you will spot the small Seafood Shack which is serving not only
fresh seafood but one of the best Seafood chowders in Ireland.
Drive a bit further along the shore of Killybegs and make a stop at the Ahoy Café. This spot is perfect for those who desire some truly local cooking and a brilliant view of the fishing vessels from their lovely terrace.
The Rusty Mackerel – Teelin
If you fancy a pint of the brown stuff on your way up to the Cliffs make sure you take a tiny detour to the Rusty Mackerel in Teelin. The Rusty Mackerel is a traditional Irish pub with live music, a great outdoor patio and some absolutely superb traditional Irish grub like Guinness stew, and coddle.
Nesbitt Arms – Ardara
Everyone wants to stop in Ardara, which is said to be the heart of Ireland’s authentic music scene. While you are there, drop by the Nesbitt Arms. Check into one of their rooms and then enjoy the craic at the Ramblers Bar. Or, enjoy dinner featuring fresh fish from Killybegs along with sumptuous meats from Dunkineely.
Shandon Hotel & Marbles Restaurant – Dunfanghy
Moving further northwards stop in Dunfanghy and stay at the Shandon Hotel with its superb views of the Donegal coast. Enjoy a gourmet dinner at Marbles Restaurant with the freshest food Donegal has to offer. You can also enjoy an afternoon tea with the fire roaring and sublime views of the bay.
Nancy’s Barn – Ballyliffin
Continue on to to the village Ballyliffin, located on the stunning Inishowen Peninsula. This is where you will find Nancy’s Barn. Nancy’s Barn is a quirky and innovative restaurant and bistro housed in an authentic 19th century converted barn.
With their well-deserved reputation for an amazing range of local produce – all organic of course, and their home-baked Irish desserts Nancy’s Barn will delight your taste buds. Oh, and they are also the proud producers of a World Award-winning seafood chowder.
Donegal Food Tours
Why not experience a Donegal Food Tour? Donegal Food Tours aim is to “connect the dots, showcase the best produce in the North West and be part of the movement to revive old Irish culinary traditions and the food of our ancestors”. Tours include Taste the North, Taste the South, and a lovely Gin Trail Tour. Tours can be personalized for groups and the cost of the tours includes transportation.
A Taste of Donegal Food Festival – Donegal Town
If you happen to be in Donegal Town at the end of August try to visit the Taste of Donegal Food Festival, which will be going into its 12th year in 2022. Now one of the largest food festivals in Ireland, this 3 day celebration of all things food and drink in Donegal is a feast for the senses.