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Planning Vienna trip... Narrowing choices

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My husband and I are planning a trip to Vienna for three days in late November. It's my first visit and I'm VERY excited to try Viennese cuisine. I am, however, feeling a bit overwhelmed trying to absorb the vocabulary and specialties of an entirely new (to me) culture and city. I've done a lot of research here and am posting now with specific questions. We have 2-3 lunches and 1 dinner slot to fill. I'm also interested in afternoon coffee/cake breaks.

For the dinner, I am looking for classic Viennese food -- I prefer honest, simple fare to fine dining or formal settings. I would love to try wiener schnitzel, gulasch, semmelknödel, clear soup. Here are a few places on my radar for dinner (remember, I can only pick one!):

Rudi's Beisl
Restaurant Sperl
Pfudl
3 Hacken

For lunch, I prefer eating a lighter meal, even if it's on the go. Places on my radar for lunch:
Wurstelstand am at the Hoher Markt
MAK cafe

For coffee/cake breaks, I'm looking for a classic, Viennese, Old World experience, even if it's a little touristy. I'd like to try apfelstrudel, topfenstrudel, and/or sour cherry strudel. And of course, Sacher Torte. Places on my radar:
Digas
Tirolerhof
Mozart
Bräuherhof
Café Sperl

For cocktail hour, I'd love to sample Austrian wine. Places on my radar:
Wein & Co.
Julius Meinl's wine bar
Unger & Klein

Could you help me narrow down my choices, please?

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  1. Of the places you mention I've only been to a couple, but heartily recommend both: Rudi Beisl and Restaurant Sperl. Absolutely fantastic meals at both. If you had to choose one... boy that's tough. Maybe Sperl. The garlic creme suppe haunts me... as do the eiknockerl.

    I don't know if you can fit it in but I also think you should try to go to a heuriger. Wieninger was our favorite but there are so many: http://tastytrix.blogspot.com/2010/04...

    Also, if you're looking for a snack and want something different Vienna has the market tied up on little tiny sandwiches. Duran and Trznievski are practically next door to each other in the Mariahilf although there's a Trznievski in Stephensplatz too. You could just get a couple of the little beauties for fun: http://tastytrix.blogspot.com/2010/03...

    9 Replies
    1. re: kukubura

      Thank you! This is so very helpful -- and how did those tiny sandwiches escape my notice? I loved your blog post and can't wait to check out both places.

      1. re: Cookingthebooks

        It's my wife's blog but obviously I'm heavily involved with it (who wouldn't want to be?!? All that great food!)

        And definitely come back and post your thoughts afterward. Sturmi is a tremendous resource. When we were in Wien we got on CH every morning and were like "Alright Sturmi, what do you think of this?" It was hilarious.

        Incidentally Sperl would make a great lunch if you chose Rudi for dinner. Plus Sperl is very close to the Belvedere in case you want to combine it with some truly stunning art.

        And don't forget the Naschmarkt!

        1. re: kukubura

          Thanks for the flowers !

          Vienna is an exciting playground for chowhounds, since the Viennese really love good food. On the other hand there are also quite a few tourist traps and rippoffs, but even there you might find a trace of the real thing...

          The year 2011 will be great for anybody interested in high-end cuisine, since we will see the opening a bunch of brand new five star hotels, each with a new de luxe restaurant as well. After Palais Coburg, Das Turm and Meinl am Graben went out of business, the high end was dominated by Steiereck (which I never started to appreciate) and some niche players such as Walter Bauer and Mraz&Son. This will definitely change next year....

          1. re: Sturmi

            You're welcome! You are truly a gem. We'll be back in Vienna for sure (my mom is retiring there next year) so maybe we'll toast a glass at Wieninger or Am Reisenberg someday!

            As for the rest of your news, that's all very interesting. One thing we didn't do was any fine dining. Personally we're in love with the variety of more modest, rustic types of establishments you have, but at some point we'll want to splurge on a serious night out. Pretty surprised by Meinl am Graben. Is that big news there? It should be.

            1. re: kukubura

              Well, you know, the "crisis" of 2008 was felt here in Vienna in fact mainly by the high-end restaurants. Business shied away from expensive places, and Meinl V. himself, he is a main figure of a real estate bubble which burst and was felt quite painful by many investors.

              Thus, the Meinl am Graben had to cut down expenses....

              But: We have a few new and interesting places which specialize in inventive variations of Viennese cuisine. One is a new incarnation of Weibel 3, now called "Wein in the City"
              http://www.weibel.at/
              the other is "Martin", a small but well designed new place:
              http://kurier.at/freizeit/genuss/2033...

            2. re: Sturmi

              Just left Vienna and couldnt help but comment on your comment here that Meinl am Graben has gone out of business. Are you talking about the restaurant, surely not the supermarket which has to be right up there as one of the best in the world. Also while I have you all, Cafe Sperl a long time family favourite disappointed with its goulash. I also ordered a simple ham sandwich and had to leave it uneaten so dry and processed did it taste. Cakes however remain supreme. Maybe I just ordered badly. Another tip would have to the wonderful Cafe Korb, bect goulash tasted thus far.

              Midgee

              1. re: midgee

                There was a fancy restaurant on the second floor (I peeked in while heading for the restroom) but apparently it's no longer.

                Hey anyone looking to recreate some classic Heuriger cuisine, my wife has been putting some lovely recipes up on her blog, tastytrix.com.

                1. re: kukubura

                  The restaurant is still there, and it is still expensive. Only, it now offers only the "international cuisine" you will get everywhere, and is no more considered to be one of the best in town.

                  1. re: Sturmi

                    How weird!

      2. Your list is excellent, and you will like Vienna, no question.

        Getting a table at Rudis Beisl is difficult, but no problem at Pfudl, Sperl or at 3 Hacken. So if you want to eat at Rudis Beisl, get a reservation or drop in late, after 2 p.m.

        The Kaffeehaus question is another issue: Digas and Bräunerhof are really unrenovated gems form the past. Mozart and Tirolerhof have seen a little bit of renovation, but are still authentic. Cafe Sperl is class of its own.

        BTW: Please keep in mind that smoking is heavily popular here in the Balkans, and that the larger part of each Kaffeehaus will be the smoking section. So: bring your Havannas and light up...

        ;-)

        The wine bars you mention are my favourites, so there is no question that you will like it there, if you can stand the smoke...

        3 Replies
        1. re: Sturmi

          Thank you, Sturmi! I was hoping you'd weigh in. So, do you have a preference among the restaurants, or do you like all of them? Right now my first choice is Rudi's Beisl, second choice Sperl. I appreciate your excellent advice so much, both here and on so many other threads about Vienna -- you are truly an expert!

          1. re: Cookingthebooks

            All these restaurants on your list are of the same category: good old-fashioned "Beisl".

            Of course there are many others fitting the same category, fortunately all of them are doing brisk business. You might find real gems in hidden corners, such as Restaurant Sperl, or right in the most fashionable parts of Vienna, such as Pfudl and Zu den 3 Hacken.

            I would not name a favorite, since so much depends on the menu of the day. Some dishes might taste spectacular, other might feel only strange, and some might even be disgusting. Taste is so individual and depends so much on your personal history ...

            1. re: Sturmi

              Many thanks! I think I'll try for Rudi's, and barring that go for Sperl. Will write a report upon my return!

        2. My personnel favorite in Wien is the Gösser Bierklinik. They serve excellent Tafelspitz - a Viennese specialty loved by Emperor Franz Josef. And the building is from 1406 according to the history given. Sure looked that old when we were there!

          http://www.goesser-bierklinik.at/

          1. For gulasch, the Gulalashmuseum.

            1. You could add Plachutta to your list for really good local food - locals say it has the best tafelspitz. It's at Wollzeile 38 but there is a branch in Nussdorf, a couple of tram stops from the University.

              1 Reply
              1. re: kerriar

                Ja, Plachutta.

                A chain of overpriced restaurants offering variations of boiled beef. The food is OK, but you can get the same at dozens of small places all over town for half as much.

                For example:
                Zur goldenen Kugel, 1090, Lazarettgasse,
                Zum Reznicek, 1090, Reznicekgasse
                Altwiener Gastwirtschaft Schilling, 1070 Burggasse
                and
                Schreiners Gastwirtschaft, 1070 Westbahnstrasse

                and many more...

              2. Add in Gmoa Keller...

                3 Replies
                1. re: gutsofsteel

                  Gmoakeller is not only an authentic old-fashioned Viennese restaurant, one of the very few left, it also offers a great variation of Viennese classics, especially offal. So if you like to eat not only liver, but also brain, kidney or lung, this is the place to go !!

                  1. re: Sturmi

                    Sturmi would love to know what you think of authentic old places like cafe korb.? We were recommended to this place by Viennese residents as a place Viennese eat, not really for tourists. Honestly the best goulash ever tasted. Also a quirky family run restaurant, the cuckoo restaurant. Surprised that they have not popped up on the chat ...

                    1. re: midgee

                      You are right. The places I am mentioning are just examples of what exists, and there are many other places of the same quality, but i always try not to overwhelm with too many names...

                      Cafe Korb is nothing extraordinary, just another cozy, outmoded, smelly location with excellent food, not too much tourists and a nice outdoor setup if weather permits.

                      The main reason I did not mention Cafe Korb too often is that it is mostly quite crowded inside when the weather is NOT nice, and some people might be bothered by the fact that it has a large smokers section (which is true for almost all Kaffeehäuser).

                      But as I just said: great food, definitely recommended !!

                2. You asked for votes on your list, but I'll complicate things by listing some of my own favorite places.

                  If I had only one meal in Vienna it would be at the Griechenbeisl - not because the cuisine is world-beating, though the traditional Viennese dishes are good enough, but because of the place itself. Among other attractions there's a room whose walls and ceiling are filled with graffiti by patrons going back hundreds of years - Mozart and Beethoven among them.

                  Other traditional Viennese restaurants I like are the Ofenloch and the Gösser Bierklinik (love that name! Someone else has mentioned it too). For schnitzel there's Figlmüller, theirs is not only excellent but big - bigger than your plate!

                  Coffee houses: the one I enjoy most is the Landtmann, which is more like a restaurant. The Griensteidl is right at the entrance to the Hofburg, their coffee and pastries are fine. The greatest historical interest probably attaches to the Central, whose guest list is eye-popping, but it's no longer what it was - literally; not just renovated but moved to a different room in its building.

                  A different kind of cafe, featuring what I think are the world's best pastries: Demel (I think it's the best), Heiner (a friend likes it even better), and if you're determined to have Sachertorte, the Cafe Sacher.

                  Happy eating!

                  1. Thank you again for all your suggestions and help in planning our trip to Vienna! I loved discovering the city, especially the special Christkindlmarkts. I loved the Wurstlestand at the Hohermarkt, which was our first meal, and my husband's favorite. Little sandwiches + a melange at Duran were a wonderful afternoon pick-me-up. On our own, we discovered the wine bar at Zum Schwartzen Kameel, for delicious glasses of Gruner Vertliner and more finger sandwiches. And I fell in love with the old-fashioned atmosphere and apfelstrudel at Demel.

                    Our meal at Restaurant Sperl had highs and lows. I loved the garlic soup and goulash served with a giant dumpling. But the wiener schnitzel seemed dry and tired. We later had some very succulent, hot and fresh wiener schnitzel at an ordinary cafe near the Mariahilf -- perhaps we hit Sperl at a bad moment.

                    We dined at Restaurant Sperl on a Friday evening and it was bustling and crowded with regular folk. I was the recipient of several long stares in the restaurant -- from at least three different people. I'm not sure if it was because we were obviously tourists and the restaurant is off the beaten path? Or because I look different (I'm Asian American)? The staff were all very kind and patient with our lack of German, but I have to admit that after the third diner turned to regard me with an unblinking gaze, I felt quite uncomfortable.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Cookingthebooks

                      I am not a regular at Restaurant Sperl, which AFAIK was recommended mainly because of its location close to the Belvedere and its authentic setup and food. The stares at you are what happens if you enter a place where a tourist usually never appears. And: i guess it was not your Asian looks, it was you language which drew the stares. There are lots of people of asian origin in town, immigrants (speaking the Viennese dialect) and tourists (tourists from China have now outnumbered the Japanese), but none of these speak English with a New Yorker accent !!

                      1. re: Sturmi

                        That makes sense Sturmi! Sometimes the sound of my voice surprises even me. ;)

                        I wish we had tried Rudi's Beisl, but it was booked. Next time. Loved all the places you recommended that we had time to sample!

                        1. re: Cookingthebooks

                          Without getting into the weirdness, since I have no idea what to say, I'm glad you enjoyed what has to be one of the top 5 (no, 3... no 2!) cities in the world. The garlic cream soup at Sperl is nuts, isn't it? And Duran is a serious treat. I wish they'd open a store here!

                          1. re: kukubura

                            Are there any great NEW restaurants (last six months) In Vienna that I should try while I'm there? I don't want Asian or International food but interesting contemporary Austrian cooking.

                            1. re: andaba

                              I'd like to know the answer to this as well because... We're coming back! Sturmi! Get your keyboard warmed up! ;)

                              (Actually, we'll only be in Vienna briefly on a multi-nation trip. More threads to come...)

                              1. re: kukubura

                                Hm... Lets see:
                                There are a few newcomers worth trying, and most of them are not "new" at all:

                                Martin: Located at Gumpendorferstrasse 16, this is the new restaurant by the already well known chef Alexander Mayer. He offers a new insight on the traditional Viennese cuisine and has so far great success.
                                Link: http://www.falter.at/web/wwei/detail....

                                Motto am Fluss: Not only the new meeting point of the chic and trendy, Motto am Fluss offers a restaurant, a bistro and a bar. The food is a mixture of classics, Viennese and International cuisine, and some very interesting new additions. Definitely a must for a tourist, and you might get a table in the bistro quite often without reservation. It sits on a great location on the Donaukanal river, and is not as expensive as the new "Le Loft", the French newcomer on top of the Sofitel hotel across the river.
                                Link: http://www.motto.at/mottoamfluss/

                                Holy Moly: The Donaukanal actually is a new trendy location, and here we also find Christian Petz (!!), the former chef of Palais Coburg, who now offers inexpense but really interesting New Austrian food in the Badeschiff, in a restaurant called "Holy Moly". Unfortunately the food quality depends on the fact whether Petz is present or not...
                                Link: http://www.badeschiff.at/jart/prj3/ba...

                                Another of the former Top chefs has also found a new position: Reinhard Gerer of The Restaurant Korso has now relocated in an old traditional destination, the Magdalenenhof on top of the Bisamberg. There he offers his view of Austrian classics in a very popular setup. Closed till the end of February.
                                Link: http://www.mildeverlag.at/magdalenenhof/

                                And if you liked "Zur schwarzen Katze" in her former - second - life, you will be glad to hear the that cat has now started her - third - life in a new location: http://www.feles.at/
                                Günther Szigeti is a great cook who does not reinvent anything, he just offers traditional Viennese and Austrian classics with a very personal interpretation. Definitely recommended.