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Restaurants & Bars

Trip report - Prague, Vienna, Budapest-- Part 1 of 3 (Prague)

MagicMarkR | Aug 7, 201501:36 PM    

Well, "wendyrobin" beat me to it, but here is yet another trip report for the same three cities...

In June/July I visited Prague, Vienna and Budapest. I was traveling solo. For Budapest, I had the benefit of advice from a friend who lives there, otherwise CH and other sources helped. So here is part 1 (Prague) of a 3-part report.

A couple of quick impressions across all three cities:
a) Saw lots of beautiful vegetables in several markets, but they must only be prepared in people's homes, 'cause good veggies are still a relative rarity in restaurants.
b) On traveling solo: I never had a problem getting a table/seat, or when I made reservations for one; and I never was treated poorly. However, restaurants never had "bar" seating and I frequently was given the least desirable table --the small, inconveniently-placed one. Sharing tables occasionally helped, but it's not the same as sharing conversation with similarly-situated people at the bar. This also impacted where I went --fewer more formal places than I otherwise might have.

Here's a report on the main places I went in Prague, plus a quick word on some other stops a visitor might enjoy.

Lokal in the Jewish Quarter. I understand that Lokal and the folks who opened it have been rather influential in the recent Prague culinary scene. So, it was not quite what I expected, though I enjoyed myself -- mostly the endlessly supplied mugs of fresh Pilsener Urquell.
The menu is "traditional" (schnitzels and sausages), but I guess I was expecting some sort of modern flair to the food. Really the opposite. I ordered a veal schnitzel which came with a mediocre creamy potato salad. The schnitzel was good if uninteresting. When you enter, you stand before a cavernous space about 50 meters long with walls painted white and wooden picnic tables down both sides. It seems to be generally by-passed by the more obnoxious tourist hoards, at least when I went, which was a big plus, even though it sits on a tourist-crowded street.

Sansho, a commonly written up place for its Asian-inspired tasting menu. The decor needs work. The back room was really drab --not "industrial chic": concrete floor, lights with cords hanging all over the place, and ubiquitous vents around the walls. But hey, the food and service were great! I particularly enjoyed the initial fish/seafood courses: a creative salmon sashimi and a great manila clam dish. The mini soft-shell crab "sliders" on steamed buns were were very good, but could have done with a bit less mayo. The strangest was the last course which consisted of four items served together: a coconut curry, a papaya salad, coconut rice, and lamb tagine. The tagine was delicious, but just didn't belong. The Thai dishes were very good as well: much better than what one usually finds in U.S. and European Thai restaurants.

Pivovar U Tri Ruzi, a micro-brewery and pub/restaurant. It is in the old town about a block or two off of the tourist HELL that is Karlova Street (no more high-season summer trips there for me). But it was great and not at all a dumbed-down rip-off. I went a bit early (~5:30) and sat in the front pub area, but they have an upstairs restaurant. I started with a steak tartare --a nice favorful tartare patty with a side of garlic toast, followed by roast duck with cabbage and dumplings. To drink, I started with their basic lager, but switched to a special darker/red variety (I wish I had written the name down).

TTTM-SAPA marketplace ("Little Hanoi") compound for lunch. (Prague has a substantial number of Vietnamese places, not only in SAPA, which may come as a surprise to many visitors.) After the long metro+bus transit, I walked through a small building with blue "SAPA" lettering and continued down a longish street lined with droopy-looking Vietnamese mini-warehouses, but no sign of food. I briefly contemplated turning back, but then a few little restaurant stalls started to appear. Then it all opened up, in all its run-down glory! There is a big grocery store ("Tamda"), and a few vegetable/food market stands. But really, SAPA is not a "farmers market" or retail food market for Vietnamese specialties,
but rather, mostly wholesale stuff like clothes and toys (lots and lots of crappy toys).

So, lunch at SAPA. Stopped at a small corner pho shop and got a nice bowl of pho bo. I wish I remember the name of super small and out-of-the-way place. Pho was very good --not much different from what I'm used to in Northern CA, except only about $3. Since I had come all this way to eat, it was time for lunch number 2. I went to a different place for Bun Cha. This establishment was much larger and more heavily trafficked; and many of its clientele were non-Vietnamese. There was so much more in SAPA I would have like to try. While I would not recommend a visit to SAPA if you only have a 2-3 days in Prague, if you have longer, it is fun for the adventurous traveler.

Osteria da Clara, a cute Italian restaurant in the Vinohrady neighborhood. I had chicken liver crostini, and pasta with clams. The pasta was great --lots of little Manila clams in the shell. It was better than I expected, I guess, considering Prague is not exactly clam country. There were lots of English-speakers among the customers, but it is well off the tourist circuit, and too small for large parties. So, it felt very (upscale) neighborhoody. If you are strolling the Vinohrady area, also check out the (pricey) bar/coffee shop coffee in the rather swanky Vinohradsky Pavilion --a large hall housing several stylish furniture stores.

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Other food/drink spots visitors may want to consider (many likely found in guide books):

Nase Maso for lunch, a butcher/deli just down the street from Lokal. It definitely caters to a more "foodie" touristy crowd, and seems to be an obligatory stop for walking food tours. Nonetheless, it was nice, and clearly focused on quality meats. I had a roast pork belly in a caramelized onion sauce and beer dispensed from a little spigot on the wall. Tasty!

Letna beer garden just across the river from the Jewish Quarter. Basically, it is a bunch of tables in the park serviced by a beer counter and some great views without the tourists (as it involves actual effort in climbing a hill).

Dobra Cajovna, a tea house near the base of Wenceslas Square. The place
has the sort of hipster/new-agey vibe, and was a great respite from the hoards of tourists and hawkers in the square. They have a large menu of teas, but seemed to out out of lots of them the day I went.

Cafe 22 in Malostransky Namesti for breakfast: great stop before touring the Castle Hill area. I had a lovely croissant with marzipan. They serve larger breakfasts, which looked good, served in a nice atmosphere.

Guide books recommend the cafe at Lobkowicz Palace on Castle Hill. I'd second that. I had a planned to go to Lvi Dvur right next to the castle. Their roast piglet on the on-line pub menu sounded pretty darn good. When I got there, there was no sign of the "pub" menu, only the restaurant menu (much higher-priced). So I went back to Lobkowicz. They were featuring an Eastern Mediterranean lunch special: hummus, olives, roast vegetables, pita, feta, etc. It was very well-prepared, an probably a better choice than roast piglet on a hot afternoon.

Pivovar at the Strahov Monastery (in every guide book). The rain, which had been threatening for the whole trip, decided to let loose, so the two beers became three. There are worse places to be in a rain storm.

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