Six months in Zurich: a full food report
I just spent 6 months in Switzerland, working in Zurich and traveling around the country. Here are my recommendations—hope they're helpful!
- Get a Wurstwegen from the Panini place in the Hauptbahnhof (main train station). These are yummy, light (airy) sausages encased in a flaky pastry. They sometimes don't have them out on display – you have to ask for them. There’s also a bakery on Birmendorferstrasse near the Schmiede Wiedikon tram stop that makes excellent Wurstwegen, but they're usually not available until 11 a.m. (If you get off at Schmiede Wiedikon, continue walking in the direction of the tram tracks in the direction of Triemli, and the bakery will be on the right side. If you hit Coop (grocery store) you've gone too far.
- Chaschucheli from Sprungli – these are savory cheese tarts. My favorite are the ones that have tomato in them. The plain cheese ones are a little too intense, and the bacon in the Lorraine version is a little too salty.
- Hinterer Sterne at Bellevue: This is a very well known outdoor kiosk, widely believed to have the best sausages in Zurich. I first noticed it in the dead of winter, because despite the fact everyone eats the sausage at tables outside, there was a very long line. I would say that 19 out of 20 people order the Bratwurst (a whitish, less dense sausage), but I prefer the Cervelat (a reddish, dense sausage). They also have ½ rotisserie chickens that are very good. When you get in the line, you order what you want, and take a roll of bread directly from the large receptacle. (This threw me the first time—in the US, you wouldn't be allowed to reach your hand directly into the community bread supply!) They also have small containers of a mustard—great mustard, but be forewarned—it's very sharp! If you get the chicken, make sure to get the sauce that comes with it – just ask if they forget to give it to you. Then you choose a table and order your drinks from a waiter who will come around to take your order. WARNING: one friend of mine told me that the server there didn't give her the proper change until she asked for it. I then had the same experience with a waiter who was serving me drinks. He took my money, then walked away…I had to call him back to tell him I needed my change. So, I really do think they're trying to take advantage of tourists. Go anyway, but know how much change you're supposed to get back, and get it!
- Sprungli: Mais Pouletbrust sandwich: these are simple, but very good. This is a chicken sandwich on a corn-bread roll. The chicken must be marinated in a spice—it's very tasty. The bread is not a typical American corn bread.
- Pretzels filled with stuff: You can get these in the Hauptbahnhof, or at Bretzelkonig. They split the pretzels in the middle, butter the inside and fill them with cheese or meat. My favorites are at the Hauptbahnhof. If I just want a buttered pretzel, I get a small one from the kiosk that faces tracks 7 – 8 or so. For a filled pretzel, my favorite is the plain cheese, and that's best at the Panini place – facing tracks 4-5. By the way, do NOT get a pretzel at Sprungli. They're surprisingly bad.
- Nordsee: Nice chain serving fish inside the Hauptbahnhof. The deep fried shrimp are better than standard issue. The fries are decent, too. The fish and chips – there’s something about the fish that didn’t grab me, but maybe I’m jut not a fan of cod. The meals are also delicious – the fish tastes great, and the sides are very good. Lines are always long, and the prices are decent. Worth a try, but not essentially Zurich eating.
- Outdoor summer grill on Lake Zurich – go south of the Arboretum on Mythenquai and try their version of a burger. Very nicely spiced, served on a half baguette – with cole slaw directly on the baguette! These are called hacktascheli (or something like that.)
- Luxemburgerli from Sprungli: A must in Zurich are Luxemburgerli, which are like French macaroons, but smaller and more airy and light. My favorites are the ones that have some citrus in them, because I think the sweet ones are too sweet. Passionfruit and Apricot are my favorites, but Himbeer (raspberry) is also good. Even Citron (lemon) is a little sweet. They occasionally have Caramel with sea salt – definitely give that a go. Each month, they have a special flavor – this month (June 2009) is strawberry rhubarb. Yummy. They're meant to be eaten the day you buy them. They're still fine a few days later, but definitely taste best on day one.
- Café Felix: This is a lovely typical European-style café near Bellevue. (Look for the red awnings.) They have my favorite version of the Engadiner Nusstortli (a shortbread torte filled with liquidy caramel and walnuts.) Other places have it, but the caramel isn't as liquidy, and so I don't think they're as good elsewhere. (Café Felix also has a great cherry strudel, and their coffee is on the money. Note, though, that Café Felix will run you about CHF 20 per person for coffee and dessert.)
- Chocolate: My favorite chocolate in Switzerland is Masako Nama chocolate, which actually isn't available in Zurich. This is a milk chocolate square with a cocoa dusting. It is REALLY creamy—it's almost like fondue in your mouth. This is available at some Casagrande Shops. Casagrande carries it in Grindelwald and Meringen, but NOT in Lucerne.
- Champagne truffles: In Zurich, I like champagne truffles made by Laderach, which you can buy in the Merkur store on Bahnhofstrasse, right near the main train station. These are not overly Champagne-y (and I LOVE Champagne), and have a good blend of outside coating to inside filling. I've also had Teuscher's champagne truffles, which are well-known, but I don't think they are as good as Laderach—Teuscher seems to pay more attention to the the outside coating than the delicious filling. Sprungli's champagne truffles are good, but I only bother getting them when they are their fresh truffle of the day. Steiner (available at the airport and sometimes at the Jelmoli department store) are also good. Globus' aren't bad.
- Sardegnatorte. Very good, but just buy a piece at Coop (grocery store). This is a light (sponge?) cake filled with a LOT of delicious cream. It’s covered in marzipan, but the marzipan is lighter and less cloyingly sweet than usual. We bought one at Stocker (bakery) for my bday, but it turns out that the individual pieces you can get a Coop are even better. (You can get a whole cake there, too.)
A word on prices and tipping
Prices here are high. A simple pizza dinner with a salad and two glasses of wine runs CHF 50 (about US $45). The good news is that the service is included in the bill. I usually just round the bill up a few Francs if service is good.
- Zeughauskeller – This is reasonably priced, especially for Zurich. It's full of tourists, but locals also go here. Sausage is the specialty. Strangely, I also find the pasta in gorgonzola tomato sauce to be outstanding. Stay away from the Wienerschnitzel, and Rosti (very popular in Switzerland, like a hash brown) here are subpar. They have two show stoppers…a 3-meter long platter of sausage, and a sword wrapped in steaks that looks interesting.
- Vorderer Sterne: Their Weinerschnitzel is absolutely perfect--moist, tender, and delicious with the horseradish cranberry sauce they serve on the side. Rosti is very good here. Zurich Geschnatzlets is very good (sliced veal in a cream sauce with mushrooms). I also had a friend get spatzle with cheese and a sunny side-up egg on top, and she loved that.
- Blue Monkey (Thai) is exceptional. I have only eaten in the bar downstairs. I read the food is the same upstairs and down, but cheaper downstairs. Price still wasn’t cheap—200 CHF for two included wine and two beers. Appetizer sampler was good: the corn fritters and the chicken wrapped in banana leaves were both excellent. Their fish cakes and chicken satay are decent. Their wings are useless. Spring rolls (regular and salmon) are both very good. Red curry with lamb was exceptional. Crispy fish in chili sauce also very good.
- Lily’s Stomach Supply. (Asian) Solid, and a little less expensive than Blue Monkey, but would recommend spending the extra money and going to Blue Monkey. Samosas and Papaya salad were just ok. Red curry with duck very good. Indian dish with braised lamb and daal was good, not great.
- Donquioxte: great veal with a gorgonzola sauce
- Roter Kamm – specializes in small spring chickens, which they do perfectly. Worth a trip, and get the chickens (called Mitzkraetzerli). Check out the 24-hour “honor system” florist across the street. There’s a little refrigerated booth next to the street from which you can select a bouquet and leave cash in a box. I have no faith that this would work in the US!
- Emilios – also has those great Mitzkraetzerli.
- Lasalle. This is in Zurich West, the hip section of Zurich. It’s built inside an old ship building house (Schiffbauhaus). The Schiffbauhaus now also holds a theater and a jazz bar. The food is just spot-on fantastic. I had a truffle pasta dish and a salad. Both tremendous. Really nice wine list. My husband had rabbit in a wine sauce that was also excellent. There are quite a few specials each night – they tend to outnumber the dishes on the standard menu. The dishes just really felt like somebody in that kitchen really cared about what they were doing. I take the major list of specials to also mean that the chef has so much creativity that s/he doesn’t want to stick to the tried and true, but keeps experimenting. Maybe I’m projecting, but I really liked everything about this place.
- Gisserei – we went for brunch. Cool use of old industrial building, worth seeing. Brunch was lackluster. I’d try this again, but not for brunch.
- Rusterei – excellent macaroni with Bolognese sauce. Nice restaurant. Check out the lamps made of kitchen utensils.
- Brasserie Lipp – love their lentil soup and their salad with pumpkin seeds. Mussels are cooked properly, but sauce has relatively little taste. Fries were decent. Soup de poisson is decent, not great.
- Rive Gauche – very good, kind of worth the money. Perfect salad. Very good scallops. Decent veal. Dessert sampler was hit and miss.
- Wagamama – not anywhere as good as in London. Not spicy enough. Wouldn’t go back. Too expensive.
- McDonalds – (My friends refer to this jokingly as "The Scottish restaurant" or "The US Embassy".) Here's the sad fact. For some reason, McDonalds in Switzerland is much better than the US. The burgers are much tastier and fresh tasting, and the fries are always perfect. If you cave and go there, I wouldn't hold it against you.
- Need cheap? In the Coop (grocery store), there is often a restaurant. The food is on the level of a solid diner at home.
- Globus and Jelmoli (department stores) – these have beautiful, upscale grocery stores in their basement level. They also have a nice selection of pre-made food. The vitello tonato (you have to take it home and heat it) at Globus is exceptional. I also picked up a lot of pre-made fish (shrimp, lobster), and it's good.
- Buscion – very limited menu of Ticinese dishes, all excellent. Sausage with lentils was phenomenal, as was their polenta.
- Khan's – excellent Indian food. Get the appetizer sampler. The Naan is also fantastic.
- Taos – high end Asian fusion, very good. Beautiful outdoor patio.
- Seerose – lovely outdoor patio overlooking Lake Zurich. I went with four people; coincidentally, we all chose a different fish dish. All four were perfect!
Notes on some Swiss dishes
- Alpermagrone: this is mac and cheese with bacon , frizzled onions, potatoes and sometimes cubed ham. I had this in Grindelwald, and it was just ridiculously good. I never had it in Zurich, with the exception of a pre-made version from Migros (grocery store), and that was solid. Give it a go….it's delicious.
- Fleischkaese – this is a meat that is best compared to a thick bologna. This is actually worth a try if you can find it heated and ¼ inch thick or better. I'm not wild about it cold and sliced thin.
- Pinte Vaudois: Least expensive, creamy, excellent
- Best: The aged version at Adler Swiss Chuchi. (Note the lamb served with their lamb raclette dish is also outstanding.) Also note that my calling their fondue the best is very much a personal opinion – I am a huge cheese lover, and tend to prefer strong cheeses. If you don't like strong cheese, get a different version….such as the one with plum liquor and bacon!
- Le Dezaley: Good, but very smoky restaurant with spotty service
- Walliser Keller: Good, and the meat fondue is good there, too
- Chasalp: An experience. I like the tomato fondue. This is a cute little chalet-ish looking restaurant, and they have a big coop of adorable bunnies outside. No one believes me that rabbit fondue is on the menu until they go and see it themselves.
- Hands-down best pizza in Zurich: Santa Lucia. My favorite pizza is the Michelangelo, which has a little mascarpone in the middle, halved cherry tomatoes, small mozzarella balls, proscuitto and rocket lettuce (kind of like arugula). I also like the one with sliced veal, onions, and hot pepper…I think that's called Padrone. Also, the gorgonzola pizza is pitch perfect. Ask for the Mason jar of pepperoncinis (little chilis). You'll never put dried red pepper on your pizza again. Note that Santa Lucia is a chain. I've been to the one in Niederdorf and Wiedikon, and both have non-smoking sections.
- Miracle in Seefeld is also well known, and has decent pizza, but is a smoky mess. It's also not as good as Santa Lucia.
- Note that I found a funny taste to pizzas in other places . I can’t put my finger on the taste, but it's some strange mix of herbs (and normally I'm a big fan of herbs….) In any case, I found this odd taste on the pizzas at Molina, Taverna , Strozzi, and Donquixote.
- Yooji’s Sushi, Seefeld. We just weren’t impressed. We like sashimi, but prefer spicy rolls. The rolls just didn’t grab us. One roll was an “Italian roll” which consisted of packaged tuna fish rolled in rice, then sprinkled with dried oregano. The chef should be imprisoned for that travesty.
- Alpenrose – they give the attention Alice Waters gives to sourcing ingredients, but lack the attention Alice Waters gives to tastiness! I wouldn't go back.
- Jules Verne – gimmick is it’s the highest bar in Zurich. You take an elevator from within Brasserie Lipp. Weren’t that excited by the view, were less excited by the mixed drinks.
- James Joyce – worth a look. Apparently a bar in Ireland that James Joyce frequented or wrote about was dismantled and reassembled in Zurich.
- Rive Gauche at the Hotel Baur au Lac is phenomenal. Try the red hot chili pepper, the crème brulee (both drinks, in case that wasn't clear!). I also hear that there is an outdoor "Terrasse" bar at the hotel that is outstanding….hope to try it before I leave.
- I've also heard that the bar at Kronenhalle is excellent. Monocle magazine listed it among their favorite bars in the world.
Cheese – one of the few bargains in Zurich!
Cheese is so cheap in Zurich. It's about CHF 3 for 100 g of cheese.
- Go to the cheese counter in the basement of Jelmoli. Here are the cheeses to try:
- Everyone will like Gruyere, Emmentaler, Sbrinz. (Sbrinz is like Parmigiano Reggiano)
- Runny and smelly, delicious, but not for everyone: Vacherin Mont d'Or. Note this is also made in France….get the Swiss one since you're in Switzerland!)
- Only if you love all cheeses: Appenzeller. (There are 4 varieties)
- If you are a true cheese aficionado, go to Globus and get anything that's from Rolf Beeler, the famous affineur. His Gruyere is amazing---have it with a good Merlot and onion chutney if you can find it. Note that his Gruyere is far stronger than an average Gruyere. So while it's a fabulous cheese, don't taste it and assume its representative of a typical Gruyere.
- Chas Vreneli near Fraumunster is also very good. They have the best Birnenbrot (a pear bread). Their truffled brie is also fabulous. The people at the counter are very nice and helpful.
- The big white wine here is Chasselas. I haven’t found one that wasn’t good. Try it with fondue.
- One white that’s available everywhere and reliably good is Aigle des Murailes.
- The best red I found is from Ticino: Guido Brivio Merlot Riflessi d'Epoca. It's on a lot of wine lists at restaurants. This one is big and meaty--not thin in the way that some Merlots strike me. Gamey. Pepper. Enough tannin, but feels like a "drink now".
- There’s a slightly sweet wine called Malvoisie (Pinot Gris in the style of Alsace) that I liked with Fondue.
- Coop is loaded with WW items, none of which you can get in the US. (And vice versa—you can’t get WW US foods here.) Believe it or not, the single serving WW fondue is really good. Skip the bread and have it with pickled onions and cornichons.
What a wonderful report. Thanks for adding so many detail just about eating; not just dining. Sounds like you had a lot of fun savoring all these delights and shows what adventures can await the curious and seeking mind every day in a new place just following your eyes and nose around.
Agree, the stuffed soft pretzels often found quick to grab at the train stations are one of the best "fast food" treats around. My favorites were in Basel from Sutter - and just stuffed with plain whipped butter were heaven on earth.
Wow! This list is truly fantastic. I have also spent a good deal of time in Zurich and want to say that while I may disagree with a few things-- I LOVE the teuscher Champagne truffles- and was only so-so about the Laderach-- you have complied a superb list of the best of Zurich, including a few I have yet to try. I would also mention the Vollenwieder Chocolatier near the Operahaus tramstop. It also make Luxenburgli that are more squishy than Sprungli and while I am undecided on which I prefer, I love the dilemma it presents. The chocolates are good too.
Thanks for compiling such a great list!