Detailed report: Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest
My husband and I just spent two weeks in Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest. Chowhound was 100% responsible for our culinary success, so I thought I would post a summary of where we went, what we ate, and what we thought. We are non-fancy 32 year olds who live in Boston, and our ultimate goal is to find the most well-prepared food possible for the lowest price possible. We are serious bargain hunters with big appetites. With that in mind...
Dinner was at U Medvídků (www.umedvidku.cz). We started out with garlic soup, which was delicious. It was a clear broth with croutons, ham, and cheese right in the soup. I had (super-tender) roast beef in gravy with sour cream, cranberries, and dumplings (svíčková). My husband had veal schnitzel with potato salad. We came out about even on this meal - he thinks he won, I thought I won. We'll call it even.
We slept through lunch because of the time difference. Totally not on purpose. Dinner was at Hajnovka in Vinohrady (www.restauracehajnovka.cz). It was in a nice quiet neighborhood, and we sat outside on a porch that faced a quiet street. I had pork stuffed with sausage (yes, you did read that correctly!), with gravy, two kinds of cabbage, and potato dumplings (even heavier than regular dumplings!). So heavy, but worth it. My husband had svíčková (the dish I had the night before). I think I won.
Lunch: We wanted something lighter for lunch, since we had been eating such heavy food, so we went for pizza at Kmotra (www.kmotra.cz). It was good, nothing spectacular, but inexpensive, and the whole downstairs is non-smoking.
Dinner was at Cafe Savoy in Mala Strana, right next to the Legion Bridge (www.ambi.cz). I had the Prague Ham, and my husband had goulash. His was good, but I *definitely* won. The Prague Ham was to die for - salty, tender, and oh-so porky. It was served with a French sauce, which was interesting. Cafe Savoy is owned by the same group as La Degustation. A good choice if you don't want to spend the La Degustation money, but still want a nice meal of "updated" Czech cuisine.
Lunch: We hit the food stands in Wenceslas Square and each had a smažený sýr (fried cheese sandwich), and then we split a klobasa. Mmmmmm.
Dinner was at Mozaika in Vinohrady (www.restaurantmozaika.cz), and we both had the duck. It was tender and nicely prepared. We ordered the cheese plate for dessert, and it was amazing! Both cheeses were perfectly ripe and served at the proper temperature. It was a good ending to our meal. We had been drinking beer with every meal thus far, but enjoyed a rose with our dinner at Mozaika. We got the same thing, so we both won that night.
Lunch was at Pivnice Pálava. I did not eat because they did not know what to do with my food allergies. My husband had schnitzel. I had slips of paper clearly describing my allergies (beans, peas, nuts, soy), but they served me peas anyway. To be fair, they did not speak any English at all, and I could not communicate that it would not solve the problem to simply push the peas off of the plate (my allergies are severe - even small amounts can make my throat close!). But it was still a bummer. My husband clearly won that one.
Dinner: We tried to go to Pegas for dinner, because we heard such great things about it from my friend who went to college in Brno, but after they took a look at my allergy description, they told me they couldn't serve me. So we just drank beer. It was late at this point, so we just hit up the stands and ate smažený sýr again!! Nothing wrong with fried cheese when you've been drinking beer on an empty stomach!
Lunch: I got a käsekrainer (klobasa laced with cheese!), and my husband got a bratwurst from Würstelstand am Hoher Markt. It's worth walking out of your way for. Tip: if you want your sausage to come on a bun, instead of sliced on a plate, order it as a "hot dog." We both won.
Dinner was at Immervoll. We walked right in without a reservation on a Thursday night, and it was fine. We started out with a beef broth with a semolina dumpling, and it was awesome. I got wiener schnitzel with potato salad, and my husband got a roasted pork. He definitely won. My schnitzel was good, but his pork was transcendent. It had so much pork flavor, and was so tender you didn't need a knife.
Day 7 (our fifth anniversary!
)Lunch: We really had two lunches. We split 8 sandwiches at Trzesniewski (www.trzesniewski.at), which were interesting and yummy. A few hours later we revisited Würstelstand am Hoher Markt and got two bratwurst hot dogs.
Dinner was in the lovely beer garden at Glacis Beisl (www.glacisbeisl.at). It was such an awesome evening sitting outside in the beautiful (but still casual) garden. I had the suckling pig, which was really tasty, but a little hard to eat because there was a large amount of fat that I had to cut away. He had the boiled beef, which was fantastic in its own right, but which also came with this glorious crispy, buttery hash brown (really more like a giant bowl of gigantic hash brown), and with horseradish sauce and applesauce. He definitely won. It was delicious. We got the cheese plate for dessert, and it wasn't all that great. Cheeses were pretty bland.
Lunch: Bratwurst hot dog from a random wurstelstand. It was honestly not as good as the brats from Würstelstand am Hoher Markt.
Dinner was at Beim Czaak. We sat outside, which was nice. We started out with beef broth with pancakes instead of semolina dumplings (the semolina dumplings were better). I had the boiled beef, since my husband's dinner the previous night was so great. It was definitely tasty, but the potatoes were not quite as glorious as the ones at Glacis Beisl (how could they be?). Still a very good though. My husband had the haus schnitzel (schnitzel + ham, cheese, mushrooms, and onions), and that was artery-clogging yummy heaven. It was a close call, but he probably edged me out. We got the cheese plate for dessert, and though it was better than Glacis Beisl, it still wasn't all that great.
Lunch was at Slovak Pub (www.slovakpub.sk). We both ate bryndzové halušky. What's not to like about dumplings, sheep cheese, and bacon? Definitely a fun place.
Dinner was at Al Dente. I was still feeling a little sick-ish from our extra-rich lunch, so I thought that a pasta break might be a good idea. We found the place, and it was strange because we were quite literally the only ones there. We started out with a big bowl of corn, red peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes, with no dressing. It was awesome! We hadn't had real vegetables in over a week! He ordered a pasta with salmon and zucchini, and I ordered a pasta bolognese. He definitely won. His was actually quite nice. My sauce was way too sweet for me, though.
Dinner was at Traja Mušketieri (www.trajamusketieri.sk). Once we placed our order, they actually tied bibs around our necks. Turned out that I needed it. Then they brought us what was probably the single most wonderful thing we ate on our entire trip - bread with bryndza garlic spread. I know it doesn't sound particularly special, but it was mind-blowing. I can't explain it. The cheese was so creamy, and the garlic was so intense - I don't know how they got that much garlic flavor into the cheese. I think the garlic must have been roasted, because it was smooth, and not biting at all. They must have made a true garlic puree, because the spread was completely smooth (not even tiny little chunks of garlic). Unbelievable. Then we had a potato leek soup with bits of smoked salmon (the "Princess's Delight"). The first few bites were unusual, but then we really got into it. The smoked salmon in the soup was surprising and delicious. We also had another big bowl of raw vegetables, which was a good thing. For dinner, I had the "Milady de Winter," pork tenderloin with pears, red onion, and pear brandy. I was afraid it would be too sweet, but it was really nice. He had the "Cardinal's Scroll," a turkey breast stuffed with foie gras and bacon. I'm allergic to turkey, so I didn't try it, but he said it sounded better than it actually tasted. Apparently, I won. The menu is too funny - all of the dishes have these crazy names and insane little stories that go with them. Even if you're not going to Bratislava, pull up the menu and read it just for kicks. Love it.
Lunch was at Chez David (www.chezdavid.sk). We started out with the chicken liver pâté, and we both had the yarden (boneless chicken drumstick) on the waiter's recommendation. Everything was fine, but not spectacular. I don't totally understand how they did the chicken - I think they may have quite literally taken a drumstick and sliced away the meat all in one piece.
Dinner was at Plzeňský Prazdroj (locally referred to as the "Pilsner Restaurant"). We split a creamy garlic soup in a bread bowl, and it was life-changing! Mmmm! I had halušky (dumpling) with roasted pork and pork gravy. It was superb. He had some sort of pork creation, in which the pork was rolled up or stuffed with cheese and peppers. Both were fantastic. I think it was pretty much even. And so beyond cheap!
Lunch: We ate at the stands on the second floor of the Great Market. I had a kolbász hot dog, and he had a dry-rubbed, roasted paprika chicken. We shared a lángos (fried dough) with sour cream and cheese afterward. We both won.
Dinner was at Klassz (www.klassz.eu/index.php?action=elerhetoseg), and it was awesome! I can't believe we had such great food for so little money! I had the pullet (it was a bone-in chicken breast that was encrusted with corn flakes - incredibly flavorful and tender!), and he had the roasted mangalica (type of hairy pig) with paprika. His was really good, but mine was better. It's rare that chicken is truly memorable, but this was.
Lunch: Ruben Étterem (www.rubenrestaurant.hu). We split two appetizers, pancakes filled with goat cheese and a chicken paprika stew, and a grilled sheep cheese with eggplant and spinach in a pepper sauce. Both were good, but the sheep cheese one was awesome. I had veal paprika stew with dumplings, and he had a perch with a mushroom, paprika, and sour cream sauce, also with dumplings. Both dishes were good, but I think I won. We watched the St. Stephen's Day fireworks and were not ready for dinner until really late. So we just got a caprese salad at our hotel for dinner.
Lunch was at Kádár Étkezde, which is a small place that is open only for lunch. The main menu is in English, but the daily specials are only in Hungarian. The guy sitting by the door seems to be grumpy at first glance, but he was so nice and helpful and volunteered to translate all of the daily specials once he noticed that we spoke English to each other. We both ordered paprika chicken, and it was amazing (especially considering the price). It was served with dumplings, and the chicken was flavorful and tender. They had big bottles of seltzer on the table, so there was water free of charge!
Somehow we managed to find room for another lángos as a snack, this time with powdered sugar.
Dinner was at Csalogany 26 in Buda (www.csalogany26.hu). Since this was our last night, this was our most expensive meal (still not crazy expensive - two appetizers, two entrees, and a bottle of wine for $70 including generous tip. Mozaika and Traja Musketieri were the only other meals we had that even remotely approached this price). We both started out with the sausage soup, which I liked, but my husband didn't like so much. I had the veal tenderloin with spinach spätzle, and he had lamb cutlets with polenta. I didn't try his, but he liked it a lot. My veal was fantastic, but the spätzle were a little mushy (but with a lot of great spinach flavor).
Yes, this was our first trip to all of those places. I hope we will have the opportunity to go back. We honestly planned where we would go on vacation based on the food. We spent several afternoons sitting in the bookstore reading the "food" sections of travel books, and chose our destinations almost exclusively based on how yummy the food sounded!
Once we were there, we relied primarily on Chowhound to choose specific restaurants, because we've found it to be the most trustworthy source time and time again. A few exceptions, though - we went to the Pilsner Restaurant in Bratislava based on the recommendation of the bell hop in our hotel. He looked like he had put away a few dumplings in his day, so we asked him for a recommendation. And we tried the Würstelstand am Hoher Markt in Vienna based on our travel book's recommendation. Otherwise, everything was gleaned from Chowhound, at least indirectly (for example, Cafe Savoy wasn't a direct Chowhound recommendation, but many people on the board raved about La Degustation, and so we picked Cafe Savoy because it was a more casual option in the same restaurant group).
Many thanks to all of the Chowhound folks who gave us such great advice!
Just wanted to let you know that we went to Klassz in Budapest last week based on your recommendation! It was our 9th and final night of our Prague/Vienna/Budapest Austrian Air package. We had a fabulous there, so thanks so much for putting us on to it. We were 4 - 2 had the really interesting and tasty beet tartar salad, husband had pea soup and I had Basil Massel (mussel?) soup. All were wonderful. Entrees were 2 pork mangalicas, 1 duck breast, and lamb with potatoes. Our waiter was terrific as well - very helpful, knowledgeable and straight up. Good with wine as well. Recommended a red, poured ALL of us a taste and made it clear that he wanted us to change if we weren't pleased. We all really enjoyed Klassz. Went there on Friday night early (6 ish ) without a reservation. It filled up rather quickly after we got there.
Klassz, Kádár and Csalogany 26 would definitely feature in my recommendations for Budapest. Though having said that they've had the same items on the menu for years! Oh and by the way at Kádár I don't think the water is free - usually you tell the guy how many pieces of bread or glasses of water you've had, but I don't think they're very strict about this.
Olimpia is another place to try, with tasting menus, and now Costes, though that's pricier (since it's just recently got a Michelin star). Culinaris is a nice place for brunch/lunch.
This is also a Thai place on Szobi utca which is pretty good (or good to someone who's starved of good Asian!).