Prague Restaurant Reviews
Through the week, reservations are not normally needed, but the situation changes on Friday and Saturday evenings. Likewise, in nice weather you’ll always be better advised to phone ahead if you hope to get an outdoor seat. In our restaurant listings, we’ve noted places where reservations are absolutely essential to getting in the door.
The Czech Republic produces its own wines; most of the better bottles come from southern Moravia in the area around Mikulov. Truth be told, many of these are not as good as varietals from traditional wine-growing countries in Europe, but every year brings a leap in improvement, and domestic vintages are slowly closing the gap. (And a few do hold their own in comparison.)
Casual dress is acceptable nearly everywhere, except in very nice or expensive restaurants. In restaurant listings dress is mentioned only when men are expected to wear a jacket or a jacket and tie, which is seldom the case.
In better restaurants prices are slightly lower but generally comparable to what you would find in North America or Western Europe. In traditional Czech restaurants and hospody, especially outside the city center, price levels are much lower, and can drop to a rock-bottom 90 Kč on the denní lístek (daily menu).
The better restaurants have all but banned smoking indoors in response to customer demand (though technically the law allows for indoor smoking as long as the spaces are separated by a wall). Cheaper restaurants generally allow smoking, but only in segregated spaces. Pubs are a different animal altogether; a few are no-smoking, but the majority are not.
In a more traditional dining venue, such as a Czech restaurace or hospoda, it's possible that the person you ordered from will not be the person who tallies your bill. In that case, you may hear your waiter say kolega, meaning a colleague will bring the bill. This situation is less likely in more modern establishments. In the bulk of low- and mid-price restaurants the waiter or bill person will tally your bill in front of you and stand by while you pull together the money to pay. If you want to do it the Czech way, quickly add on a suitable amount for a tip in your head, and say this new total when you hand over your money. If you need a bit of time, it's best to politely smile and say moment, prosím (one moment, please). Don't panic if you miss the moment; many people don't make the calculation quickly enough and just leave the money on the table. In the places frequented by tourists, particularly in the city center, the waiter (or a colleague) may expect this already and just leave the bill on the table for you.
Prague generally gets high marks for architectural beauty and decidedly lower marks for the quality of the food. But this is an unfair assessment based on impressions from the 1990s, when finding a decent meal really was something of a challenge. Since then, the global slow-food, fresh-food revolution has washed up onto the shores of Bohemia. Everywhere you look, serious restaurants are touting the freshness of their ingredients, and often claiming to source everything locally where possible. Some places are reviving classic Czech recipes that may be more than a century old, while others are liberally borrowing ideas and inspiration from cuisines around the world.
Most restaurants in Prague are open from 11 am to 11 pm. This closing time is very regular with traditional Czech restaurants and hospody (pubs); their kitchens usually shut down by 10 and sometimes earlier if it's a slow night. A small number of restaurants serve the late-night crowd, especially in the city center, but don't put off dinner too long, or you may have trouble finding an open kitchen. Mealtimes hold to the European standard. Lunch runs from noon until 2; dinner starts at 6 and runs until about 8 or 9. Czechs don't generally linger over meals, but you'll rarely feel any pressure from the staff to vacate your table.
Tipping in the Czech Republic has been based traditionally on rounding up the tab to a convenient number rather than calculating a percentage and adding it on, and in the hospody around the city (especially out of the tourist area) this is still how it's done. For example, paying 150 Kč on a bill of 137 Kč would be perfectly acceptable (though locals might stop at 140 Kč). At the better places, a 10% tip is common to recognize good food and service.
Most restaurants post menus outside. Prix-fixe menus are not popular in the evening, but many restaurants offer a denní lístek (daily menu) of three or four items that usually include a soup starter and a simple main course. If you want to try a traditional Czech meal, such as svíčková (beef in cream sauce) or guláš (goulash), you may find it's offered only at lunchtime in most restaurants outside of central Prague.
Traditional Czech food developed over centuries and reflected the fresh fruits, vegetables, and animal products available locally from the land, lakes, and forests. The cuisine’s relatively humble origins can be seen in soups, salads, and side dishes that feature abundant produce like cabbage, potatoes, cucumbers, beets, and onions.
Most of the better restaurants will carry a few Czech labels on the wine list (usually at far lower prices), followed by long lists of French, Italian, and Spanish wines. Often the Czech wines will offer better value, though the waiter or sommelier will do his or her best to talk you into more expensive bottles. A few excellent restaurants, like Mozaika in Vinohrady, specialize in local wine and are good places to try them.
Bars and pubs also serve wine, but usually cheaper, barely drinkable versions of Czech grapes like Müller-Thurgau (white) and Frankovka (red). Some better Czech grapes to look out for include Ryzlink (Riesling) and Sauvignon Blanc (both white) and André or Rulandské červené (Pinot noir), both red.
Watch for a couvert (cover charge), which may appear in smaller print on a menu. Though a bit annoying, it's legitimate and is meant to cover bread, a caddy of condiments, and/or service. Remember that side orders usually have to be ordered separately, and will be tabulated accordingly. Taxes are included with all meal prices listed in the menu.
Prices in the reviews are the average cost of a main course at dinner or, if dinner is not served, at lunch.
Part of the credit for this dining renaissance goes to the Ambiente chain of restaurants, which through its stable (including La Degustation, Lokál, and Pizza Nuova) has greatly raised standards. And it’s done wonders for the Czech national pride that excellent food is now easy to find. Other leading chefs have made their mark: Paul Day at Sansho, Roman Paulus at Alcron, Jiří Stift at Essensia, and Jiří Nosek at Zdenek’s Oyster Bar, among others. And Czechs have responded. A few years ago, it was a given the best restaurants were for visitors and businessmen. Now, many Czechs are discovering for themselves the pleasures of truly good food outside their kitchens.
International trends and fads, of course, have had an impact here, too. Every year seems to bring a new dining mania (and with it some great restaurants). The latest crazes for handcrafted burgers made from locally raised beef and for good Vietnamese cooking have brought the latest crop of contenders. Past years have seen waves of sushi places, steakhouses, and Thai noodle bars. We say, keep it coming.
Alas, what still needs an upgrade is service. English is widely spoken, but service can still be brusque or, worse, incompetent. Restaurateurs spend millions on the food, but don't put the same thought into training their staff. This will be surmounted in time, though, and in general the dining scene continues on the upswing.
Classic Czech fare is best sampled in a hospoda, or pub. These local joints have menus that usually include dishes for which Czech cuisine is justly (in)famous: pork and sauerkraut with bread dumplings; roast duck; beef stew; and, for the vegetarian, fried cheese. In recent years Czech brewers like Staropramen and Pilsner Urquell have opened chains of branded pubs (Potrefená Husa and Pilsner Urquell Original Restaurant, respectively). These chains are to the traditional Czech pub what a new Swiss timepiece is to an old watch—light years ahead in terms of the quality. If you're looking to dip a toe into the waters of Czech cuisine, these pubs are an excellent place to begin.
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