Irish Pub Foods Ranked From Worst To Best
Potatoes, cabbage, and beer may be the ingredients that are typically associated with Irish cuisine, and they certainly do feature heavily in many Irish recipes. Still, they’re hardly the only Irish staples. Indeed, even when these staples are featured in Irish dishes, they’re often used in creative and surprising ways, which is why there are a surprising number of iconic Irish foods you need to try before you die. And this means Irish pub menus can be longer than expected, too.
Whether you’re celebrating a holiday, wondering what Irish people really eat on St. Patrick’s Day, or are just stopping by for a pint and need something to soak up the suds, you may not be clear on exactly what’s in every dish or which ones are worth ordering. But with just a little bit of information and the luck of the Irish, you’ll be ordering the best Irish food, whether you find yourself in the Emerald Isle, the United States, or elsewhere.
13. Corned beef and cabbage
We know what you’re thinking: How could this absolutely quintessential St. Patrick’s Day dish be the worst possible Irish pub order? It’s primarily because corned beef and cabbage isn’t even a real Irish dish. It’s not just that this dish was created in America: It also hasn’t been adopted in Ireland at all. If the Irish are rejecting it, then why waste your Irish pub order on it yourself? There are definitely better choices on the menu, and we encourage you to embrace them.
If you insist on sticking with American tradition and ordering this plate for a holiday dinner, at least do a little research to find out which Irish pubs near you are going to offer the best version. Corned beef and cabbage can get a bad reputation for being particularly bland, but that’s usually thanks to lazy (or cheap) preparation, particularly in terms of the manner in which the meat is boiled.
Corned beef boiled in water is, unsurprisingly, going to taste like boiled meat, which has very little flavor. Corned beef that is boiled in Guinness or another dark stout will take on an exciting flavor that’s worth sampling. But it takes more money and attention to boil corned beef in something flavorful and reactive like beer, which may lead to some pubs taking the easy way out, especially on busy days. That’s why it’s so important to know before you go.
12. Irish potato bread
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First of all, there’s a definite difference between the sliced potato sandwich bread you’ll find in a supermarket and authentic Irish potato bread. We do recommend sampling Irish potato bread at some point, but it’s relatively easy to make yourself. Irish potato bread has less yeast as compared to other types of bread, which means you don’t have to wait for the dough to rise. For this reason, potato bread is easy and quick to make on your own, so don’t fill up on it at the Irish pub.
In true Irish fashion, potato is the primary ingredient in this bread, and the final result isn’t a light fluffy loaf but a denser, flatter bread that is traditionally formed into a round and quartered into triangular serving pieces (they may be called farls when served this way). Because potato bread is heartier than other airy forms of bread, it’s great for accompanying breakfast foods.
It’s almost unfair to call this a form of bread since the base is made of mashed potato. However, suffice it to say there are better ways to fill your belly at the Irish pub than through these heavy little accompaniments unless you’re well into your celebrating and are craving a snackable bite on the heavier side. Plus, there are better bread choices on Irish menus.
Boxty is another item that makes fun use of the ubiquitous potato that is found on many Irish pub menus: This dish offers tasty ways to cook potatoes you never thought of before. Indeed, you might not quite know what to expect when you order boxty. Additionally, ordering boxty may present you with the Irish potato bread farls instead, depending on your pub’s interpretation of the dish and the recipe.
Other forms of this dish may offer a thinner presentation, and it may even surround other ingredients, similar to a crepe or a wrap. Boxty is not incredibly common in Ireland any longer, but there’s a good chance you’ll find it on a pub menu at some point. However you encounter this dish, it won’t appear or taste too different from a potato pancake because that’s essentially what it is.
Since boxty is very close to the potato bread above (when it’s not precisely the potato bread above), we don’t recommend this as your best choice if you find it alone on the menu. If it’s offered as part of a larger dish or stuffed with more substantial ingredients, that may be an exception, but in that case, it’s the larger dish you’re really after and not the boxty itself.
10. Cottage pie
You may not think you know what cottage pie is, but you do. If you’re American, you may refer to this dish as shepherd’s pie, but they’re not the same, though they’re admittedly quite similar. Both pies tend to feature ground meat and some chopped vegetables with a topping of baked mashed potato, and neither has a crust (despite the pie moniker), but it’s the type of meat that sets these two savory dishes apart.
Cottage pie is prepared with ground beef, while shepherd’s pie uses ground lamb. Once you consider that shepherds tend sheep, you’ll hopefully stop confusing these two dishes, though you may be hard-pressed to convince your American friends to do the same.
Cottage pie is, indeed, an authentic Irish dish and was associated with the working classes (the ones who lived in cottages). It has been prepared and adapted widely since then, but we still encourage you to seek out better pub menu options if you can. It’s not that we don’t love cottage pie, it’s just that you’ve already had this plenty of times under that other name, and if you have the opportunity to opt for that other dish instead, you should.
9. Dublin coddle
If you feel that nothing is more delicious than leftovers, a Dublin coddle is your primo order. While your Irish pub is hopefully not creating its own coddle with actual leftovers, the dish was reportedly invented to use up whatever leftovers were on hand during the first Irish famine of the 18th century.
Because of the ingredients that were commonly available at the time, a traditional Dublin coddle does have a fairly specific set of typical ingredients (potato, onion, sausage, and bacon rashers), but it truly was meant to use up leftovers, so plenty of other vegetables have found their way into coddle over the centuries, and your pub may employ its own signature touches.
Like much Irish cuisine, the Dublin coddle is a humble comfort food that’s especially ideal for cold nights, so there’s admittedly nothing spectacular or revolutionary about it. We recommend giving it a shot if you’re curious or if you particularly love sausage, as that’s primarily what you’ll get from this dish.
However, there are certainly more interesting dishes to try on most Irish pub menus, so consider a better option unless your pub adds a really intriguing signature ingredient or two. Oh, and if you’re wondering about the "Dublin" in the title, this dish just happened to gain more popularity in the city than in the countryside in its early days, and the association seems to have stuck.
8. Irish soda bread
If you’re looking for a type of bread that’s really worth ordering, here it is: Yes, Irish soda bread is common, and you can find it outside of Irish pubs, even in the U.S., but it’s a standard aspect of any Irish meal of the day. This bread complements so many other dishes that we encourage you to snag an order with whatever else you’re having.
The simple recipe (which uses baking soda, not a carbonated beverage) is so likable that one New York City pub sold $1 million worth of soda bread shortly after an Instagram post drew attention to it.
The traditional Irish soda bread recipe calls for just four ingredients: Flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk. Like potato bread, the dough for Irish soda bread doesn’t need to rest while the yeast causes it to rise.
Today, you’re likely to find raisins, caraway seeds, or both in the soda bread found at most Irish pubs in the United States, but this is an Irish-American rendition that isn’t typically found in the homeland so don’t be surprised to find your soda bread less adorned if you’re actually in Ireland.
7. Cream of potato soup
If you’ve just snagged some Irish soda bread and are looking for the perfect accompaniment, then order a bowl of cream of potato soup and dip the bread to your heart’s content. This thick and creamy soup clings beautifully to a well-made soda bread, which shouldn’t be too crumbly or weak for gentle dipping.
If your Irish pub is going completely traditional then the soup will contain just potato and onion blended with stock, cream, and butter seasoned with simple salt and pepper. This classic Irish dish is composed only of the ingredients most widely available to the historical working class, so there’s nothing too fancy going into the pot here. However, that doesn’t make it any less scrumptious, so don’t shy away from a traditional cream of potato soup.
You’re more likely to find some more colorful and flavorful toppings added to this recipe today, though. Look for edible garnishes such as bacon crumbles, chives, shredded cheese, and other herbs to spice up more modern cream of potato soups, and don’t be afraid to toss in a few chunks of your soda bread (eat them quickly, though).
6. Irish stew
If you merely glanced at a bowl of Irish stew, you couldn’t be blamed for assuming it was beef stew, but you’d be wrong. They’re strikingly similar, but the real difference between beef stew and Irish stew is twofold. The first point of difference has probably become obvious by now: Beef stew is made with beef, and Irish stew is made with lamb.
But there’s more: While beef stew is typically thickened with a roux, an Irish stew will most often be thickened by the use of mashed potato, which has the added benefit of eliminating the clumps that a flour or cornstarch thickener can leave behind. There’s also a third stew that may complicate your understanding and ordering process, and it involves Guinness. If your pub claims to use Guinness in its stew, it’s likely Guinness stew, which is made with beef and the famous Irish stout.
It’s definitely not an Irish stew because of the beef, and it’s not a traditional beef stew because of the beer. All three are good choices, but you aren’t likely to find a Guinness-free beef stew at a real Irish pub, and between the remaining two, we’d recommend going with the Irish stew for the most authentic experience.
5. Steamed mussels
Ireland is an island, so seafood has long been plentiful there. Some of the best Irish pub dishes you’ll find will be seafood-focused, making these an excellent ordering option. Lest you think of mussels as a fancy dish that belongs on the tables of white cloth Italian and French restaurants, consider that they’re not actually difficult to prepare and serve in abundance, so they’re actually a perfect peasant food. We’re not saying all Irish cuisine is peasant food, but most traditional dishes are.
And that’s why we love them. Irish mussels take on a particularly every-person quality because they’re not cooked in a rich butter or elegant wine sauce; rather, they’re often swimming in alcohol, which is why you may see them listed as drunken mussels on many Irish pub menus. Most commonly, you’ll find them served in something along the lines of an Irish cider, but ales, and of course, Guinness, are not out of the question either. As long as the mussels are swimming in something a bit boozy, they should make for an excellent order.
4. Fish and chips
You may associate fish and chips with England, and that’s reasonable. The dish did originate there, and the British are famously fond of their baskets of these fried comfort foods, but the Irish are equally avid fish and chippers. You may hear this dish referred to as "one and one" in Ireland, but it should still appear as fish and chips on your pub menu.
Ordering a basket of fish and chips with your pint is an authentic Irish move that’s equally worthwhile as a meal or a hearty snack, making it one of the best options you can order. Of course, there’s a caveat: Make sure your Irish pub batters its own fish.
A pre-battered fish pales in comparison to fresh, house-battered fish that is often based on a signature recipe. They should always be battered in beer and, as if you couldn’t have guessed, Guinness is the top choice. Don’t be afraid to ask about the batter before ordering, though any good Irish pub menu will specify that the fish is battered in-house.
Colcannon isn’t a meal in itself, but make sure you get your hands on some whenever you pop into an Irish pub. You won’t always find this classic Irish side dish listed individually on a menu, as it may just be served alongside other entrées, but you can always ask for some by itself if you don’t see it listed as an individual dish. So, what is colcannon? It’s essentially mashed potatoes, but it packs a bit more of a nutritional punch than traditional mashed potatoes.
At its core, colcannon is a combination of mashed potatoes and greens: Traditionally, the mashed potatoes are mixed with cooked cabbage. While the greens do give this dish some nutritional value, colcannon is a creamy and buttery dish, so it is by no means light on the stomach.
It’s pure comfort food, and that’s why it’s so delicious. There are some regional variations you may find in Ireland or even in American Irish pubs attempting to fancify the colcannon recipes, and these are all equally worth exploring. Just as mashed potatoes often benefit from the introduction of fun ingredients like bacon or cheese, it’s equally easy to spruce up colcannon with added flavors.
2. Seafood chowder
While most Irish stews, pies, and soups have a surprisingly finite list of traditional ingredients, seafood chowder is an exception. As you may have guessed from the lack of specificity in the name, Irish seafood chowder can contain just about any combination of fish and shellfish, and these ingredients can even be prepared in various ways first, such as smoking the fish beforehand. Of course, this is an Irish dish, so potatoes should feature heavily in any seafood chowder at an Irish pub, but a heap of seafood is the star of the show.
Where Irish seafood chowder really differs from other seafood chowders you may think of, like New England clam chowder, is in terms of the broth density. Other chowders tend to present thick, especially creamy bases, but an Irish seafood chowder is easily identified by its thin, milky broth. Ordering a big bowl of Irish seafood chowder is also another great excuse for snagging a hunk of Irish bread or even some colcannon.
1. Shepherd’s pie
Shepherd’s pie typically contains a filling combination of ground lamb and vegetables in a savory sauce topped with baked mashed potatoes. The dish is an absolute stomach and soul pleaser any time of year, but especially in cooler weather. It’s particularly ideal for St. Patrick’s Day. And unlike corned beef and cabbage, it’s an authentic Irish dish.
We wholeheartedly recommend ordering shepherd’s pie over cottage pie when you find yourself at an Irish pub. As it turns out, we recommend you order it over any other dish on the menu, provided you eat meat.
It’s a true Irish delight that’s equally as ideal for holidays as well as other days, and it certainly pairs well with a pint (or whiskey). You can also combine it with many of the other Irish sides and starters, as it complements just about any of them, making it the true star of the Irish pub menu.