Since the mid-1990s, Zürich's restaurant trade has boomed. The new establishments, both Swiss and international, tend to favor lighter, leaner meals served in bright spaces that often open out to the street. The traditional cuisine, no longer ubiquitous but still easily found, is called nach Zürcher Art, meaning "cooked in the Zürich style." Think meat, mushrooms, potatoes, butter, cream—an
extremely rich cuisine, perfectly suited to the leaded-glass and burnished-oak guildhalls.
In exploring Zürich's core, you will want to enter at least one of these famous medieval "union clubhouses" scattered along the riverfront neighborhoods; the best way is to dine in one, as all but the Zunfthaus zur Meisen, the Zunfthaus zur Saffran, and the Zunfthaus zur Schmide have restaurants open to the public. On your way to the restroom, sneak a peek into their other dining rooms—they are, for the most part, museum-perfect in their leaded-glass and Gothic-wood detail.
Zürich's signature dish, which you'll encounter throughout both French and German Switzerland, is Geschnetzeltes Kalbfleisch, or in French émincé de veau, bite-size slices of milky veal (and sometimes veal kidneys) sautéed in butter and swimming in a rich brown sauce thick with cream, white wine, shallots, and mushrooms. Its closest cousin is Geschnetzeltes Kalbsleber (calf's liver), served much the same way. You may also find Rösti, a kind of hash-brown potatoes, and Spätzle, egg noodles that are either pressed through a sieve or snipped, gnocchi-style, and served in butter.
Another culinary must is Zürich's favorite portable food, sausage and Bürli (a crunchy roll), eaten separately, two-fisted style. The best are to be had at Bellevue at the Sterne-Grill; Kalbsbratwurst (veal) is mild, the smaller Cervelat (pork) saltier. Join the locals and munch away while waiting for a tram.
Zürichers also have a definite sweet tooth: refined cafés draw crowds for afternoon pastries, and chocolate shops vie for the unofficial honor of making the best chocolate truffles in town.
Restaurants in Zürich have been smoke-free by law since 2010. Some offer smokers lounges; otherwise expect smoking at outdoor tables, where it is still allowed.