I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in Prague (Praha) in the Czech Republic. Whenever I visit a city, I am immediately drawn to the food culture. You can learn so much about the history of a people by exploring their cuisine. As you venture away from the classic tourist areas, the restaurant menus reveal tidbits about the people, their history, and their cherished traditions. Below are four of my favorite spots around Prague to eat traditional Czech cuisine and delve into the world of the city’s culinary explosion.
The restaurants are listed in no particular order, each one has its own unique and sensational dishes. My suggestion, stay in Prague for several days and try each establishment, you will be enhanced with the city and it’s foodie culture.
Eat In Prague Like A Local
My favorite places to eat traditional Czech food in Prague were discovered when I met Markéta Podrabská and allowed her to lead me around her beautiful city. It is abundantly clear she loves her job.
“We love to show our guests how the food scene in Prague has improved over the years, to tell more about the transition from communism to modern democratic society,” she said. “Prague is a very vibrant city that we love and we want to share all the amazing new openings, pop-ups, groups oriented towards high quality and perfect delivery both in the food and liquid department as well. We love to show different neighborhoods, off the beaten path places and general vibe of the city because we believe Prague doesn’t have only the looks and great beer, but so many more layers and spending a few hours with the locals can show you at least a little bit about what’s behind the curtain.”
Markéta is an amazing tour guide with Taste of Prague. She is charming and funny, loves her city, adores the cultural cuisine, and is dedicated to foodie explorers she serves. From the moment our group met on a quiet back street on the edges of Old Town where she sent us off to our varied hotels like a mother hen sending her chicks off to bed, our tour of Prague was more than a random eating excursion, it was deeply personal. We were completely under her spell, ready to taste and explore all the gourmet goodies showcased in the various neighborhoods that make up this fascinating city.
Their Prague Foodie Map is one of the most comprehensive restaurant guides you will find on the planet. It is a must for visitors outlining restaurants, pubs, cafes, and more. Use it in conjunction with one of their foodie tours and you will be well fed.
A Brief History Of Traditional Czech Food
The history of traditional Czech food has an inauspicious background steeped in the “sameness” that typifies a Communist government. According to Radio Prague International, the Czech working-class families typically ate only once each day. This meant their meals needed to be large and calorie dense. Filled with legumes, mashed potatoes, and dumplings and flavored with classic Czech spices like marjoram and lovage, dinner was satisfying but uneventful. In 1990, the Czech Republic emerged from Communist rule which kept the food culture in a state of bland sustenance where every household and pub only had access to a limited variety of food options.
As the political realm developed into a republic and restrictions were loosened or erased, new generations were free to explore the world. This exploration led to a food revolution of sorts. Young Czech chefs began experiencing the global food culture with gusto. They returned to their homeland and began the task of elevating traditional Czech cuisine. This food revolution has spawned a burgeoning dining culture in Prague.
Visitors to Prague need to step out of the beautiful, but touristy area of Old Town Square and explore the wonderful culinary gifts Prague chefs have to offer.
In the suburb of Karlin, Eska is the place to dine. This restaurant/bakery/cafe is completely at home in its urban chic, renovated factory. The name of the game is gorgeous baked bread all day long. When you have fresh local ingredients, foraged goodies, and intriguing fermentation, you have an intriguing menu of inspired Czech dishes.
Foodies searching for those unique dishes that make your tastebuds sing with joy will love Eska’s offerings. Its potatoes in ash with smoked carp, dried egg yolk, and kefir is a feast for the eyes and the belly. The subtle smoky flavor pairs beautifully with the silky kefir; it is a must-order dish.
Bread 66 is a sourdough loaf made with 66 percent rye flour for a sturdy bread with a beautifully crispy crust. Eska adds roasted cumin for a wonderful smoky back note. It is perfect with creamy butter or your favorite cheese spread. No matter what you order, plan to have it served with bread, it is divine.
The house made tonic water with a sharp juniper note makes a super flavorful gin and tonic, perfectly refreshing on a hot summer night. You will find a few Czech Republic wines on the menu next to offerings from Germany, Italy, and Austria to complement your dinner.
Dessert is amazing, this is a bakery after all. The chocolate cake, Likérová špička, vanilka, is an elevated twist on the traditional Czech likérová špička. It is divine, sweet, and a perfect ending to your dinner.
Prague’s subway is user friendly, you can easily hop over to the Karlin suburb on the Yellow Line for a delicious meal at Eska. The neighborhood is lively and will show you a local side of Prague you won’t see in Old Town.
Čestr in the city center area is a beautifully designed, upscale steakhouse near the horse-riding statue of Saint Wenceslas. It focuses on Czech heritage breeds including Fleckvieh (Čestr) cattle and Přeštík pig. The restaurant is a masterpiece of contemporary decor and modern cuisine. The hip urban design with an open kitchen gives diners the feeling of being guests in a friend’s chic, uptown flat.
OK, the potato puree served with the smoked tri-tip and mushroom gravy is heavenly. It is like grandma’s best traditional Czech dish elevated to a higher calling. The braised beef is succulent and cooked to absolute perfection. I’m not entirely sure how they prepared the potato puree, but it is the best potato puree I have ever tasted. The chanterelle mushroom gravy was the crowning glory of the dish and we were all fighting over who would get the very last drop.
The brioche dumplings and the ragout with cumin paired perfectly with their dark draft beer, nefiltrovaný Kozel (unfiltered Kozel), for a smoky, salty, unctuous bite. Each absolutely delicious dish is delivered on its beautiful house china as the waitstaff details the highlights of the offerings.
Čestr’s extensive wine list pairs beautifully with the expertly prepared dishes. You will adore eating at Čestr. This restaurant needs to be on your menu when you visit Prague.
Sometimes you just want to get out of the house and enjoy a nosh with some friends. Lokal is a chain of neighborhood pubs located throughout the city. It offers guests great Pilsner Urquell, easy to share small plates, and a lively spot to gather. The classic Czech bar food often served at beer halls is exactly what you crave when you are out for the evening with great friends. The Lokal’s version of traditional pub grub is delicious and satisfying, just what you want when planning for a night out of pint lifting.
Ham served with whipped horseradish, the classic frankfurter sausages with mustard, fried cheese (oh, yeah), and soused carp with onions are perfect accompaniments to the classic Czech beer, Pilsner Urquell. These traditional dishes are served up simply letting the beer and conversation take center stage.
When you are visiting Prague, a stop at one of the Lokal pubs is a definite must. If you visit in the afternoon, it will be quiet and you should be able to get a table quickly. If you choose to visit later in the evening, be prepared to wait, the tables aren’t turned around at the same rate as they are here in the states. When locals go to the pub, they are planning on staying for the evening.
Kantýna, the Canteen, is not only the best butcher shop in Prague, it is the prime spot for upscale gatherings and plate sharing dinners. Located in a converted bank, Kantýna is a popular hip spot that is all about the meat. You can order your steak as you enter, then have it expertly prepared while you enjoy a lovely glass of regional wine and an appetizer. The Beef Tartar from dry-aged beef on crusty toast smeared with glorious garlic was the freshest and most flavorful nibble of tartar ever. Add the Sweet and Sour Veggies as a side to cut through the rich beef and you have an absolutely delicious starter.
Kantýna’s wonderful dishes to explore include the minced pork schnitzel, the succulent pork belly, and, of course, a fabulous ribeye steak. Sharing a meal with old friends or new acquaintances is the best way to enjoy the delicious food you will find in this converted bank. There is a charming coziness that you don’t expect when surrounded by all the marble and stainless steel. It must be the constant conversation buzz of the happy patrons enjoying gorgeous plates that give Kantýna its desirable cachet.
Pro Tip: When you travel to a new city, seek out a highly rated food tour, preferably a walking tour so you can work off all the amazing food. You will learn about the area’s culinary traditions, get an impromptu tour of the area, meet some wonderful fellow foodies, and enjoy a variety of dishes instead of having to choose just one dish for your lunch or dinner.
When you are in Prague, and you want to explore its traditional Czech cuisine dished up in a modern presentation, check out one or more of these fabulous restaurants. Prague is a charming city that is easy to explore; visit our Prague destination guide to plan out your visit.
Some other things to consider before you visit Prague: