If you had told me 20 years ago that one day I would be recommending Prague as a culinary hot spot, I would have replied that your mind was addled by overconsumption of pork and bread dumplings. For many years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Prague’s dining options consisted of beer pubs, former dining halls for the proletariat and a handful of upscale French and Italian venues. Nowadays, local food blogs opine about the merits of the new gourmet Vietnamese spot, who has the best brunch, and if the newcomer with the Asian-Nordic-Czech tasting menu is really worth it. (It is.)
Prague has only two Michelin-starred restaurants, which indicates timidity on the part of the inspectors more than a lack of star quality. We dined magnificently during our visit; only a couple of the hotel restaurants were disappointing. Even some places aimed squarely at the tourist trade served superlative meals.
Most restaurants now have at least a few Czech wines by the glass, usually from the southern Moravia region. Wines from the Czech Republic have almost no international presence, but their quality has radically improved in recent years. Don’t miss the opportunity to try them.
Under the same ownership as the Alchymist Prague Castle Suites, this friendly and casual pub is hidden on a dead-end lane in Malá Strana. It recently emerged from a refurbishment, but it retains its traditional character. I very much enjoyed my hearty meal of tender wild boar saddle in a sweet-sour rosehip sauce with Carlsbad dumplings (cubed bread bound with egg). Some pleasingly dry and bitter Malastrana Original Pils was an ideal accompaniment. For dessert, we split the “Old Bohemian Kaiserschmarrn,” an Austro-Hungarian-era dish of thick pancakes topped with a crunchy layer of poppyseeds, chunks of plum and a dollop of whipped cream. This restaurant draws more tourists than locals, but the atmosphere is charming, the service friendly and the food soulful. In summer, it’s possible to dine in the beer garden. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Tržiště 23. Tel. (420) 257-286-083
Lokál has several locations in Prague, as well as outposts in Plzeň and Brno. Prague residents tried to steer me away from this branch, with its setting near major attractions, because it tends to be crowded. But we had a reservation and no trouble securing a table amid the mixed crowd of tourists and locals. The immense restaurant runs the length of a block, and even so, it was almost full when we arrived at 1:30 p.m. Lokál Dlouhááá may not be a secret, but it merits attention for its satisfying and inexpensive food served in a space hearkening back to pre-Velvet Revolution Prague. I started with a bowl of tangy kulajda soup, a mushroom-free version of the traditional recipe, based on cream, dill and potatoes. To follow, I chose the Moravský vrabec, a slow-cooked pork stew with braised white cabbage. To soak up the sauce, I ordered a side of all-you-can-eat bacon dumplings, mosaics of bread cubes and bacon bits held together with egg and bacon drippings. All-you-can-eat bacon dumplings! What a country.
Dlouhá 33. Tel. (420) 734-283-874
I had a delicious dinner in this atmospheric Malá Strana restaurant years ago, and I was curious to see if its standards remain high now that it appears in seemingly every guidebook. We sat in the vaulted front dining room, a romantic candlelit space that we had almost entirely to ourselves. The staff served us with professionalism and good cheer. “At the Blue Duck” has a five-course all-duck tasting menu, but that sounded like a bit much. To start, I opted for a terrine of duck, accompanied by pears poached in honey, wine and saffron, which lightened what would otherwise have been a heavy dish. And I couldn’t resist the crispy-skinned roast duck leg with walnut stuffing, braised white cabbage, caraway-spiked gravy and addictive potato dumplings spiraled with bacon. A glass of Czech Svatovavřinecké, a velvety red wine also known as St. Laurent, was a fine pairing. U Modré Kachničky disproves the notion that because a restaurant is “touristy,” it isn’t worthwhile. Note that there is a second branch in Staré Město across the river.
U Modré Kachničky
Nebovidská 6. Tel. (420) 257-320-308
Zvonice has the most unique location of any restaurant on this list: the top of a bell tower not far from Wenceslas Square. The original structure dates from the 15th century, but after a late 19th-century fire, it was substantially rebuilt in a neo-gothic style. The restaurant occupies three of the top floors, and some of the tables have views, albeit partially obstructed by window slats, of the Prague skyline.
The cozy dining rooms have great character, with candlelit tables, exposed beams and well-worn wood floors. Our table was squeezed between a gothic window and the support structure of a 16th-century bell. The menu is not inexpensive, but the food is classic and tasty. I started with a bowl of flavorful river crayfish bisque, with chunks of sweet crayfish tail and some toast on the side. Even better was my wild game ragout in red wine sauce accompanied by creamy potato puffs and bacon dumplings. It was an ideal stick-to-your-ribs winter meal.
Jindřišská Tower, Jindřišská Ulice. Tel. (420) 224-220-009
Before opening this industrial-chic restaurant in the Holešovice neighborhood in 2018, Pavel Býček was the head chef of award-winning Alcron. His new venture feels much more casual, but the food deserves serious attention. I started with red beet curls and green apple slivers atop marinated golden beets and creamy whipped sheep cheese. This was followed by a delicate main course of trout with fregola (pasta pearls), Jerusalem artichoke purée and trout velouté. Although most of the clientele appeared to be locals, our waiter spoke excellent English and helped me select a pairing of Sekt Jan Petrák Cuvée Rosé Zero Dosage sparkling wine, which gained additional fruitiness with the beets and helped cut through the creaminess of the trout. This restaurant is an ideal choice for lunch either before or after visiting the nearby DOX Centre for Contemporary Art. Closed Sunday, Monday and Saturday lunch.
U Uranie 18. Tel. (420) 603-945-236
I didn’t spot a single Czech patron in this restaurant, located in Frank Gehry’s iconic “Dancing House” on the Vltava River. But that didn’t bother me much. The circular dining room has memorable views and the Italian-inflected food, although pricey, was tasty. We managed to secure a table next to a window, the mirrored well of which expanded the panoramic view even farther. I started with tender scallops accompanied by celeriac purée, apple cubes, dried apple chips and — what really elevated the dish — some rich black pudding. My main course was even better: homemade tagliatelle with savory duck meatballs and a sauce of tomato, mascarpone, pecorino and rosemary. After a week of almost exclusively Czech cuisine, the pasta was a welcome change. This restaurant isn’t especially adventurous, but the food is good, the architecture is unique, and the views are impressive.
Ginger & Fred
Jiráskovo Náměstí. Tel. (420) 221-984-160
With its location near the Charles Bridge, I felt skeptical that this restaurant would live up to the plaudits it has received. But Mlýnec was full of surprises. We walked through the door in its narrow, neo-Romanesque façade to discover a large contemporary space. Near the entrance, an abstract tree trunk grows up toward a ceiling festooned with waves of gunmetal-gray fabric. We continued past a wall of plants to our table, set next to floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Charles Bridge.
Rather than choosing the six-course “Most Popular” tasting menu or the seasonal menu, I opted for the four-course Czech tasting menu, which changes less frequently. The salad, a composition of goat cheese topped with mixed greens, hazelnuts, figs and black currants was suspiciously similar to a salad we’d eaten at nearby Bellevue in the Smetana Hotel (a sister restaurant). Afterward, I enjoyed beef tongue served atop French toast and enriched with a dark beer reduction. But the delectable duck confit, with crisp, almost crunchy skin, was the real star. I cannot think of a better version of duck confit that I’ve had anywhere in the world. The traditional accompaniment of red cabbage came as purée, foam and slices, and veal jus added yet more depth to the dish. Czech wine pairings all rose to the occasion, notably a late-harvest Gewürztraminer paired with a dulce de leche-topped cream puff. Mlýnec may be geared toward tourists, but that doesn’t stop it from being one of Prague’s best restaurants.
Novotného Lávka 9. Tel. (420) 277-000-777
Despite being expensive, this tasting menu-only restaurant draws a local clientele to an out-of-the-way location east of the Vinohrady neighborhood. This stylish spot opened in 2018 and has just 10 seats. All guests dine together simultaneously at a single counter, starting at either 5:30 or 8 p.m. (don’t be late). We sat next to a production supervisor for a television show shooting in Prague who was the only other non-Czech speaker in the restaurant (a chef explained each of the 10 courses to us in English). The food made use of local, seasonal ingredients, as in a rich dish of Jerusalem artichoke braised in dark beer brewed around the corner, with pickled onion and a chicken-beer jus.
Other standout courses included flaky sturgeon with powerful burnt cauliflower purée and tangy beurre blanc; duck breast and a duck confit croquette with red cabbage purée (a riff on a Czech standard); and a refreshing and unusual dessert of parsnip semifreddo topped with bay leaf espuma, thyme meringue chunks and chamomile oil. The food sounds fussy, but the flavors had depth and complexity. And the wine pairings proved worthwhile and reasonably priced. The communal counter seating won’t suit everyone, but I enjoyed the dinner-party-like experience immensely. Closed Sunday-Tuesday.
Norska 14. Tel. (420) 774-141-432
One of Prague’s two Michelin-starred restaurants, Field occupies an airy room with Scandinavian-modern furnishings and farm implements displayed in the windows like sculptures. I worried that the food might be pretentious, but my fears were baseless. The shorter lunchtime tasting menu was sensational, and I enjoyed the creative nonalcoholic beverage pairings immensely. (Wine pairings are also available.) A drink of cucumber, grape and dill was a refreshing accompaniment to trout topped with buttermilk, briny trout roe, radish and lovage and beet oils. The server presented the dish with a flourish, pouring camphor-apple fragrance over it with a mist of dry ice. I also liked the tannic juice of chokeberry, cherry and fresh herbs accompanied by with beef brisket confit. The beef came served atop a purée of watercress mixed with whole fava beans and brightened by pickled shallots and pickled mustard seed. And an unusual juice of apple, coffee and macadamia nut syrup worked wonderfully with a dessert of hazelnut crumble topped with rich nougat, tangy and frothy yogurt espuma and caramelly brown-butter ice cream. Some publications classify Field’s cuisine as “international,” but it has obvious roots in Czech traditions.
U Milosrdných 12. Tel. (420) 222-316-999
We have long recommended this gourmet restaurant, a Michelin star holder since 2012. But it changed its concept recently, serving just one tasting menu instead of two. That was all the pretext I needed to return. We sat within view of the open kitchen, beneath a crystal chandelier made to look like transparent animal bones. Czech tradition suffused the eight-course menu, and yet its exquisite presentations felt thoroughly contemporary. The four vegetarian courses packed as much flavor as did the meat- and fish-based dishes. I particularly enjoyed some silky potato cream infused with Prague ham and poppyseeds, served with a rich potato crisp. I also loved the venison saddle with venison-juniper jus, topped with a translucent sheet of lard and a dollop of gingerbread purée. To drink, La Degustation offers creative and satisfying nonalcoholic pairings as well as high-end wines. Whatever doubts you may have entertained about the potential of Czech cuisine, this restaurant will put them to rest. Closed Monday.
La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise
Haštalská 18. Tel. (420) 222-311-234
Right now, chic Levitate is taking the most culinary risks of any restaurant in Prague — and this boundary-pushing invariably pays off. Chef Christian Chu’s tasting menus take inspiration from his Asian heritage, as well as local and seasonal ingredients, creating a unique fusion cuisine. The menu follows a rhythm, with four sets of three courses each — a vegetarian dish, a seafood dish and a meat dish — for a total of 12 courses. This pattern holds even when it comes to dessert! For the “seafood” dessert course, for example, ground dried salmon dusted a quenelle of pumpkin-buttermilk-honey ice cream atop crunchy ground pumpkin seeds and butter sauce. It worked startlingly well, with the salmon adding complexity but not overt fishiness. The more usual seafood dishes also delighted, such as chargrilled Czech catfish topped with wasabi cream, briny caviar and savory leek foam.
A standout meat course was the wagyu veal tongue with fermented mustard seeds poached in red wine, topped with grated cured egg yolk. The mustard seeds burst in the mouth like caviar, cutting the richness of the veal. And vegetable courses were just as delicious. I especially liked an amuse-bouche of stewed red beets in a sauce of mead, local vinegar, lovage oil and homemade sour cream. Our waiter had a formal manner as well as a sense of humor, a rare and charming combination, and he made excellent wine recommendations. Dinner and two glasses of superlative wine cost about $200 per person, including tip. It’s expensive, but an excellent value nonetheless. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Štěpánská 14. Tel. (420) 724-516-996
After spending a few days in a city, I love to take a break and get a little fresh air. Salabka provides the perfect excuse to do so. This winery restaurant is in a villa-filled northern suburb of Prague, just 15 minutes by taxi from the city center. Vineyards extend from the main building, giving it the feel of a country retreat. We sat down at a table overlooking the vineyards in the stylish wood-beamed restaurant. While the Salabka wines paired with our lunch were good, but not great, the food was exquisite. We chose a four-course meal (three- or five-course options are also available), and each dish was both beautiful and delicious.
After a rich amuse-bouche of “Grand Moravian Espuma” — deeply flavored mushroom broth topped with mushroom foam and mushroom dust — came a plate with dollops of Jerusalem artichoke purée adorned with caviar and gold flakes, arrayed on a disk of Jerusalem artichoke panna cotta. The dish felt at once simple and luxurious. I also loved the rare roe deer, full of flavor but not gamey, served with a purée of parsnip and beet and a jus of Neronet wine and blackberry. After some refreshing sea buckthorn sorbet with mint oil, I indulged in a dessert of semolina “porridge” — more like a thick and sticky froth — leavened with plum, cinnamon, chocolate crumble and white chocolate dust. Closed Sunday-Tuesday.
K Bohnicím 2. Tel. (420) 778-019-002