(CNN) — Chef Ana Roš has single-handedly elevated Slovenian gastronomy to the world stage, having spent the past 15 years cultivating a culinary treasure inside her family's humble inn and restaurant Hiša Franko. Hidden away in Kobarid, a tiny town in Slovenia's northwest Soca River Valley, the cozy, family-run restaurant has drawn visitors from all over the world -- not to mention attention from the global culinary community. Most notably, Roš was named World's Best Female Chef 2017 by the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards.
It might have something to do with her contemporary approach to Slovenian food.
Slovenian chef Ana Ros was named World's Best Female Chef 2017 by World's 50 Best Restaurants.
Unfamiliar with the country's cuisine?
Sandwiched between Italy to the west and Austria to the north, the Central European country tends to see a mix of Alpine and Mediterranean flavors -- think fresh cottage cheeses, rich olive oil, fresh bread, potatoes, trout, pasta and mutton.
"Slovenia is a melting pot of cultures, history and traditions," Roš tells CNN. "Within 30 miles, you experience high mountains and beautiful beaches. This is exactly what our food looks like, but it's very personal. I try to tell my story, and express how I am evolving, in each dish."
While Hiša Franko tends to sweep up the awards, Roš and her partner, sommelier Valter Kramar, also co-own a restaurant in the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana: Gostilna na Gradu. As a frequent visitor to the storybook-worthy city, she tells CNN about her favorite haunts for intimate dinners, bar bites, cool bistros and unforgettable dining experiences:
For a modern dinner with a side of old-world charm, Roš points to JB Restaurant.
"Every country has 'The Chef.' In Slovenia, this is him. Chef Janez Bratovž is the father of modern Slovenian cuisine," says Roš. "He was the first to manage to enter the San Pellegrino list a few years ago (in 2010) and be ranked among the top 100 restaurants in the world. I like his more classical interpretations because they show off very well the skills of the chef."
Designed by famous Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik, the family-run restaurant sports stylish interiors within a 1920s-heritage building. The cuisine takes its cues from the Mediterranean, with a heavy emphasis on fresh fish, game dishes, Ljubljana cottage cheese -- not to mention a long Slovenian wine list.
JB Restaurant, Janez Bratovž s.p., Miklošičeva 19, SI-1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia; +386 1 430 70 70
Restaurant Strelec is built in a tower of Ljubljana Castle and offers an outside terrace with views over the city and countryside.
For a regal dining experience, this is the place. A circular room, Strelec Restaurant is built into the Ljubljana Castle archer tower and provides 360-degree views of the city. While the decor seems to embrace a medieval theme, it's not kitschy -- picture fur throws, stone walls, wall tapestries and a spiral staircase.
The avant-garde dishes are unconventional as well, designed in collaboration with an ethnologist to trace Slovenia's history.
Chef Igor Jagodic brings Slovenian history to life in his ever-changing tasting menus, which usually (but not always) feature signatures, such as potato with yolk and truffles, frog legs, or Danube salmon with Jerusalem artichokes.
"The menu always changes," says Roš. "One of the most ambitious and skilled Slovenian chefs, the chef is shy in his private life, but very ambitious when it comes to his work."
Gostilna na Gradu
When exploring the leafy grounds of Ljubljana Castle, atop a hill overlooking the city, it's impossible to pass by Gostilna na Gradu. With its alfresco deck and cavern-like interiors, the restaurant looks like the perfect place to sip on crisp Slovenian wine and while away an afternoon.
"This is our restaurant in the capital," says Roš. "My husband, Valter Kramar, and I opened the place in partnership with chef Svetozar Raspopovic-Pope, wanting to create a restaurant where you can taste all of Slovenia in one spot.
"We delegated chef Damjan Fink to helm the kitchen. He used to work for me for some years. One day, he'll take over the place."
On the menu? Fresh and aged Tolmin cheese, Kranjska Gora sausage (from a northwestern Alpine region), comforting nettle-filled ravioli, beef tongue with parsnip and a traditional barley stew.
A casual-cool new bistro on a pretty pedestrian street, Monstera Bistro is helmed by Bine Volčič, a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef. The small dining area feels clean yet industrial -- all white and gray, with exposed piping, concrete and bricks. An open kitchen provides a look at how the sausage is made -- sometimes literally -- and the coffee and wine bar makes it easy to enjoy a quick one.
"It's one of the newest arrivals in the city (opened in 2016). It's young, fresh and reminds me of my favorite Paris bistro, Clamato," says Roš. "The black pudding with langoustines is simply perfect."
The ever-changing set menus follow the seasons, using local ingredients as a rule. While the food might change, biodynamic Slovenian wines and home-brewed Lila MiSa craft beer are always close at hand.
Monstera Bistro, Gosposka ulica 9, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia; +386 40 431 123
Gostilna Skaručna is an energetic, Bohemian place outside Ljubljana.
About 15 minutes into the countryside outside the capital, Gostilna Skaručna has a reputation for its boisterous dinners and eclectic surrounds.
"This is one of the craziest places on Earth that you can imagine," says Roš. "It is a 'one and only' kind of experience. It's run by a crazy father and a crazier son. They have great traditional food, a fantastic organic wine list, and unconventional music."
What's so crazy about it? It comes down to the gregarious owner, Slavko Žagar Jr.
Žagar inherited the restaurant from his mustachioed father about 15 years ago, and still drives the same beat-up Yugoslavian car around the Slovenian countryside to collect his meat and produce -- everything from cottage cheese to pumpkin oil, trout and beef tongue. The eclectic Bohemian decor adds to the anything-goes energy, with vintage typewriters, vinyl records and memorabilia cluttering every inch of the antique furniture.
"You can spend hours at the table here, and then it really starts when the cviček (a light red wine from the southwestern Slovenia) and spirits come out."
Japanese food might not be your top pick when dining out in Slovenia, but it's hard to argue with the menu at Sushimama. In addition to the obvious sushi and sashimi, there's Kobe-style wagyu beef carpaccio, scorpion fish nigiri, shrimp tempura, miso crab soup, Alaskan black cod... see what we mean?
"This is the best sushi in town," says Roš. "The decor is clean and contemporary, and they're in love with good ingredients. The atmosphere is really peaceful and quiet ... until my family enters. My son seemingly holds the restaurant record for the highest number of sushi eaten in one evening."
Sushimama, Wolfova ulica 12, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia; +386 40 702 070
Stelec chef Igor Jagodic's signature dishes include potato with yolk and truffles, frog legs, or Danube salmon with Jerusalem artichokes.
There's really never a night that Pop's Place isn't popping. The enormous pub has several outdoor seating areas -- one in a cobblestone courtyard, the other by the river -- and ample space inside as well.
The specialty here? Burgers and craft beer. Run by a Slovenian who grew up in the United States, the gastropub draws a crowd day and night.
The burgers are made with locally sourced beef which has been blended and aged in house. But if beef isn't your thing, the chicken sandwiches, BBQ ribs and sweet potato fries also come highly recommended.
"I often go here and dine alone, but I never feel alone. It has such a great young, loud atmosphere," says Roš. "The place invites people to relax and leave all their concerns at the door."
Pop's Place, Cankarjevo nabrežje 3, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia; +386 590 42856