Belfast Top 5

The Game of Thrones hype has Nothern Ireland's tourist scene buzzing. And in July, the British Open will be played in Northern Ireland for the first time in decades. I have family and friends coming to visit Royal Portrush golf course during the practice rounds, so I figured I ought to run up to Ulster and check out the scene. My whirlwind tour of Ireland's second largest city yielded some culinary surprises.

1. Mourne Seafood Bar

I had heard that the seafood in Belfast was top notch. But I still blown away by the tradition of quality at Mourne Seafood Bar, a combination fish market and restaurant. The original location in Dundrum is on my "visit soon" list, but the downtown location in Belfast proved to be a lovely place for lunch.

The restaurant serves oysters, mussels and clams from their own beds in the Carlingford and Strangford Loughs. We ordered six Pacific oysters on the half shell in the classic style, and six more Asian-style with ginger and scallions.

We also sampled spicy prawns, scallop cake and the fish and chips. And of course we washed it all down with a pint of stout.

Stellar Asian food? In the stodgy North? Yup.

2. Bia Rebel Ramen:

Hands down the best ramen I've had in Ireland has to be the shoyu ramen with housemade noodles, roasted pork, steamed dumplings and coddled eggs I was served at Bia Rebel Ramen on Ormeau Road.

There a lovely American woman named Jenny Holland and her talented Irish chef husband Brian Donnelly are knocking them dead with their housemade noodles and mild Japanese broths.

Donnelly, who grew up in Northern Ireland, has worked with some of the top chefs in the UK, including Gordon Ramsey and Michel Roux, Jr. He brings all the attention to detail you'd expect from a Michelin star kitchen to the tiny ramen shop with his housemade noodles and mild Japanese broths.

Bia means food in Irish, so the name literally means "food rebel."

3. YUGO:

Meanwhile, just around the corner from City Hall, you'll find YUGO, an Asian fusion spot with some seriously tasty dishes. I sat at the counter facing the kitchen and bantered with the chefs about what to order. Lamb chops in cumin curry was a standout.

4. EDO

I was planning on visiting the upscale steakhouse called Stix & Stones, where top beef cuts and seafood are cooked on hot stones, when I noticed a hipster tapas bar called EDO across the street.

Sitting at a bar ordering tapas and drinking beer sounded more appealing than eating an expensive steak and drinking a bottle of good wine by myself. So I opted for dinner at EDO. I had a lot of fun and ate a half dozen dishes including beans with a fried egg, roasted haddock and a tempura oyster in a shell stuffed with marinated vegetables. I highly recommend the experience.

Something to Drink?

A trip to Belfast wouldn't be complete without a visit to a pub. There are dozens and dozens, but this place is not to be missed.

5. Crown Liquor Saloon

Gin and tonic is the thing to order at this old-fashioned 1840s era gin palace. The stained glass and ornate tile were installed by a team of Italian craftsmen who built churches during the day and worked on the bar after hours. Considered an outstanding example of the Victorian Gin Palace, the Crown Bar as it is known, was purchased by the National Trust and is leased out to the barkeeps.

Bottoms Up!