Address: 7 Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd, next to the Central Military Club
Tel: 986 32 00, 088 839 30 77
Open: 24 hours, seven days a week
Victoria has the best pizza in Bulgaria.
Is that too much of a blatant statement? Whatever the case, particularly when talking about the pizzeria's whole-wheat crusts and wood-burning brick pizza ovens, Victoria wins hands down.
And for a chain restaurant with seven outlets in Sofia and the vicinity and one cafe, quality remains very high, service kind and atmosphere inviting.
The one on Tsar Osvoboditel was not the first to be opened - that honour goes to the location in Dragalevtsi in 1997 - but is one of the more visible branches. In the summer, it has a large, quiet (considering its city-centre placement) covered patio out back, looking onto the historic Turkish jail and Alexander Nevski Square.
Staff are consistently respectful and pleasant, with suggesting places to sit most appropriate to the guests, not rushing customers to order, and not making them feel like idiots when they cannot decide, apologising when all the seats in the non-smoking area are full. The employees, particularly at this location, speak English, and English-language menus are available. And they know to ask your preference when you arrive.
It's a modern, stylish, multi-purpose restaurant, with prices ranging on the upper side of normal, but in keeping with the higher quality of the food.
The decor is nothing special - warm hews, brick, stone, dark-stained wooden tables and paper placemats - but does not lack class.
As said, the pizza is very good. Ordered as is, it comes with kashkaval (an aged white cheese), but mozzarella is available instead for an extra charge (1.80, 2.60 and five leva, for small, large and family-sized pizzas, respectively). I've never had the mozzarella substitution, but know people who go only to Victoria because it has this option.
The variety of toppings is in keeping with the Bulgarian norm: chicken fillet, pickles, corn, and why not some hot dogs or fresh onion to add to the mix. Personally, I'm a fan of the Selvadjo (Selvaggio, 6.50, leva for a small, 8.50 leva for a large, and 17.80 leva for a family-sized). It comes with tomatoes, kashkaval, corn, carrots, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mozzarella, green olives, olive oil and oregano. With the hearty, crisp, thin (but not too) whole-wheat crust (called dietichno testo in Bulgarian, literally dietetic dough) and carrying the aroma of toasted bread, thanks to the heat of the wood-burning oven, it is ideal.
Often, though, I just stick with the margarita (3.90/4.90/9.80 leva), and have mushrooms added, preferring the cleanness of taste. Unlike some pizza places, simplicity does not equate with dullness here.
A note about the kashkaval + olive oil combination: kashkaval on its own is an oily cheese when melted. If adding olive oil to the mix, it can be a bit over the top.
Sizes are more than sufficient - one small pizza for one normal eater is enough - and too much for me to finish, particularly if salad is involved.
The freshness of the salads stands out, along with the selection that is not often seen in this country: a number of them contain parmesan and/or arugola. A few of the salads - the more traditional Bulgarian ones like shopska, ovcharska, cabbage and carrots, roasted red peppers with garlic, green salad with egg or blue cheese - are available in two sizes. If going just for a salad for a meal, I'd recommend the larger size, as the small ones are small.
But if you're getting a salad and a pizza and some beer - Kamenitza, Zagorka (both are available on draught), Stella Artois, Amstel, Beck's, Corona and more, prices from about 2.50 leva to 6.50 leva - small is fine.
Or if pizza is not your thing, there are pasta dishes like spaghetti carbonara (8.50 leva), which I've been told is very nice, tortellini filled with spinach in a ham-vodka sauce (9.20 leva), or just plain vegetarian lasagna (five leva).
In addition, for those who just can't get enough of Bulgarian kitchen, there is the grill: kebapche, pork fillet, some Serbian-influenced items, and even grilled goose liver (a la fois gras?).
But I like the pizza.
While lunches, particularly weekdays, are hopping, and particularly with business clientele, there always seems to be a table free. In the evenings, though, I'd recommend reservations.