I can’t believe it’s been 8 years since Dan and I were last here. We spent only 4 days in Prague the first time and immediately we were hooked. We finally made it back but a lot has changed since then. Prague was a city still well-off the tourist radar, very few Czech people spoke English when we visited in 2007, and the country had not yet learned how to deal with foreigners (like charging us a “tourist tax” on restaurant bills).
One thing relatively unchanged though is Czech food. It’s still as deliciously hearty and home-style as we remember it. We’ve been living in Prague for a month now, food-hopping from the Old Town to the New Town and the local neighbourhoods in between. We’re rediscovering all the traditional Czech foods we really missed but also finding new ones we never knew about.
What You Didn’t Know about Czech Food
Many Czechs don’t like Czech food unless it’s prepared at home (much like us Italians). It’s hard to find better cooking than home-cooked dishes whipped by their mother or grandmother (I can attest to that, my Italian nonna is a better chef than any restaurant!)
So, while Prague is known for many things, a culinary destination is not one of them (yet). Some of their best (and oldest) recipes were born out of struggle, occupation and communist rule and became “poor man’s food” because it was created from accessible and inexpensive ingredients at the time. Czech food then, is not the most sophisticated or refined compared to, say French cuisine. If you’re expecting gourmet or presentation, you’ll be disappointed. It is simple, delicious, and rustic which is exactly the food I love. When Czech people do eat out, they only go to good places with big portions and known for good food.
Here is a list of our most favourite local dishes in Prague and where you can get them.
Guláš may be a Hungarian mish-mash of ingredients thrown in a pot and slowly cooked as a soup or stew but the Czechs have come up with their own twist. Czech beef guláš is all about the meat – no vegetables, no potatoes – and served with slices of bread dumplings. Knedliky is the Czech word for bread – exactly what you need for dipping.
Tip: Guláš and beef guláš on a menu are not the same. One is a beef-based soup (usually appetizer), the other is a thick stew with chunks of meat in it and eaten as a main dish.
Where to try it: Any typical menu will have guláš. I loved the guláš at the Prague Beer Museum, Americká 43 Praha 2 made in beer (150 Kč). Despite its cheesy name, it’s a pub not a museum with good Czech food, large portions, and lots of cheap beer. We went back at least once a week. Don’t go to the one in Praha 1.
It’s traditional to start every meal with a soup like fazolova, thick bean soup served in a big clay bowl with smoked meat and cheese.
Where to try it: Bredovsky Dvur, Politickych Veznu 13 for the best bean soup (75 Kč) I ever tasted. Bredovsky is in a backstreet away from the tourist chaos of Wenceslas Square. Lots of locals go here for lunch and cheap beer. Or $2 Prosecco.
Also Polevkarna, Sokolovská 97 a tiny soup kitchen in residential Karlin for all kinds of soups.
Edam cheese coated in egg, flour then fried is one of the most typical pub foods you’ll hear about but locals tell me good fried cheese is hard to find.
Where to try it: Lokal, Dlouhá 33 for authentic fried cheese or U Pinkasu, Jungmannovo nám. 16 both in Praha 1.
We’re always on the lookout for good street food when we couldn’t eat enough of spicy, deep red Pražská klobása (Prague sausage) made with paprika. Párek v rohlíku is also a Czech twist on the world renowned hot dog. Czechs put sausage in a special kind of bread called rohlík.
We ate a lot of sausage.
Where to try it: The best klobásy are at a good beer garden like Riegrovy sady near our hood or Letná Park.
Also, Euro Dog stands by Metro Anděl or Florenc tram stop and at the bottom of Wenceslas Square (if you need a quickie).
Pulled Pork Dog
We really loved the Street Food Jam in the summertime, hosted every second weekend beginning in July with pop-up food trucks and local vendors serving tasty street meat like Brazilian burgers, Caribbean jerk chicken and pulled pork from the Dirty Dog food truck.
Where to try it: Dirty Dog food truck
Mia’s Bramborák Stand
Bramborák is another street food – a pan-fried potato pancake I discovered from Mia, a lovely lady at our local market on the way back from the gym. I looked and pointed at her bramborák that I wanted to try. I walked away, had a bite and went back to tell her how delicious it was. She knew only enough English to tell me her name and smiled at me when I told her I was from Canada. She suddenly started speaking to me gleefully (in Czech) and I wished more than ever I knew enough words to converse back.
When you visit Prague go to Mia for the sweetest encounter.
Where to try it: Mia’s stand in the tiny farmer’s market. Metro I.P Pavlova (red line).
It’s not a food but a place which my local Czech friend Petra recommended. If you want a really unique experience this cafeteria takes you back to what it was like during communism when food was often rationed and where workers stopped for lunch. Except unlike communist times, it’s cheap, tasty and no rationing. You actually get heaps of portions for about $6-8 bucks a dish. The Czech Kitchen is typical Czech food (think hearty meat stews and comfort soups you might find if a local invited you over for dinner). It looks like a home converted into a dining room. Also no menu, no prices, and no English, you just look and point in the food line and wait for the counter lady to scribble something on your tally sheet.
Tip: Don’t lose your tally sheet.
Where to try it: in front of Havelská market in Staré Město/Old Town (Praha 1).
Typical Czech pubs are called “hospodas” but today in Prague be on the lookout for tankovna (tank) pubs which use tanks instead of regular kegs. Tank pubs receive their beer from the brewery within six hours of it leaving the front gate – it’s literally straight from the cellars and into the tanks so your pint is actually fresher than keg beer.
Where to try it: U Pinkasu, U Medvidku, U Fleků just to name a few.
Palačinky (pala-chinky) are Central and Eastern Europe’s answer to French crêpes. Rolled up pancakes are filled with ice cream, jam or fruits then topped with whipped cream, almonds, or sugar.
Where to try it: Old Prague Czech Restaurant in the food court of Palladium mall (metro Náměstí Republiky). We found this spot in passing, starving and looking for something cheap and not a tourist a trap. So glad we did. The entire menu is under $10.
This Czech biscuit is another traditional staple shaped like a coffin. Petra says it was the treat she looked forward to as a child and most Czech kids still do. It has a hard outer shell, but tastes sweet and melts in your mouth.
Where to try it: U Bílé kuželky by Lokál, Míšeňská 12 Praha 1. They have other locations but this one across the bridge is less touristy, very rustic (in a stone wine cellar) and recommended to us by a local.
Pleskavica is a Balkan dish made with different ground meats like lamb, pork, beef or veal then shaped into a burger. It’s the national dish of Serbia but it’s crossing borders to other central and eastern cities.
Where to try it: At the beer garden in Vysehrad, which is not traditionally Czech. It serves mostly Serbian and Balkan style street food. Well worth the hike up castle hill.
Other Places to Try:
Puro Gelato. I’ve seen how the real stuff is made (see my gelato-making video or read the eating gelato guide) so I am very picky when it comes to where I buy and eat gelato. This tiny gelato shop on Na Hrobci makes it perfectly though – naturally and fresh, and produced in small batches every day. It serves up traditional kinds like vanilla and chocolate and non-traditional ones like blueberry with sour cream or cucumber (which are also surprisingly good!) Grab it to-go for walk along the river.
Johnny’s Pizza. One of our neighbours was a Czech man named Johnny who happens to make the best pizza we’ve ever tasted. Exactly the kind you find in Italy – hard to resist when his shop is right by our flat and smells so good every time we walk by. It’s also conveniently open at 12am when you’re starving and kind of tipsy. We found Johnny always smiley behind his pizza counter and happy to make a custom flavour for us on the spot.
We really didn’t eat enough here.
If you’re in Prague I hope you drop in to taste one of his delicious slices (Koubkova 16). They are soo good!
Places You Should Avoid:
Dish. Delicious burger joint in Prague 2 but not worth the hefty price tag. Just because a burger was voted #5 in all of Europe doesn’t mean it’s good. Sure they come on toasted brioche bun and different toppings but the burgers are expensive (about $10), every condiment like ketchup (a tiny ramekin for $1) is charged for, and a side of fries sold separately (which you need because their burgers are not large or filling enough). We spent $30 for two which is more than double what it should cost to eat in Prague. Food can taste great but when it’s not worth the pricey bill it’s such a turn off.
Las Adelitas. Also a popular spot listed in every “best of” guide, Las Adelitas in Prague 2 is supposedly known for Mexican tacos and quesadillas. We were really excited about this one because we heard it was the best Mexican in town. The tacos were good but my mind wasn’t blown. Everything was bite size including the side of rice and again, the bill was more than the platter was worth.
Read Part II of my Ultimate Food Guide to Eating in Prague