If I could snap my fingers and ensure that all of my travel-dining experiences would be as delicious and delightful as the one I happened upon at Prague’s Restaurant U Sádlů on my first evening in the Czech Republic, I would be an eternally happy traveler.
On that warm night, a plateful of creamy wild-mushroom risotto, a cold mug of Budvar Dark beer, a cozy ambience, and a friendly proprietor all added up to a big travel win just when I needed it.
Of course, travel doesn’t always work out that way. When it comes to eating on the road, you win some, you lose some, and sometimes you make do. Example: The paprika-flavored potato chips that served as lunch and dinner on my train ride from Prague to Berlin were anything but perfect. And the supermarket bread and cheese that I stashed in my Ostrava hotel room for breakfast? Filling, but not very tasty. Sometimes, convenience and availability override everything else.
But if you’re lucky, your travels will include a few spectacular meals, along with some surprisingly tasty snacks, and a refreshing beer or two.
That was my experience in the Czech Republic, where I was a happy diner most of the time. From the tender-crispy chicken schnitzel, to the sweet/sour braised red cabbage with roasted duck and dumplings, to the ice cream in a rainbow of colors, the food was consistently big on flavor, and deeply satisfying.
It got me thinking about my perfect day of Czech meals.
Mind you, my perfect day of dining didn’t happen in the course of a single day. Good thing, too, because the calorie count that day would have been astronomical! But throw in a bit of poetic license, and my trip through Prague, Štramberk, Ostrava, Jihlava, Třebíč, Telč, and the St. Kateřina Resort served up enough delicious encounters to yield a host of perfect days. Here are some of my favorites:
I’m not a big eggs/bacon/pancakes-type person in the morning, and, in my opinion, the Czech Republic gets breakfast just right: Plenty of choices of breads, cheeses, meats, coffees, and fruits and vegetables. My favorite was the morning buffet at St. Kateřina Resort near Počátky. Combine the sumptuous spread with the outdoor seating in the resort’s stunning setting, and it qualifies as the perfect morning meal.
Italian-themed restaurants are everywhere in the Czech Republic, and I decided to give one a try as I explored the streets of Ostrava. The super-fresh Caprese salad won me over at the Pizzeria Da Claudio.
After a hike through the towering pine trees and distinctive rock formations of the Vysočina Geopark, my group stopped for lunch at a roadside bistro. The chicken schnitzel with herbed potatoes and cucumber-and-tomato side salad was my favorite of the numerous schnitzel versions I tried.
I’ll admit – I’m using the term “snack” loosely here. During a walking tour through Prague’s Staré Město, I took in the magnificent Municipal House. The concert venue’s Kavárna Obecní dům cafe looked so inviting on that sweltering afternoon that I decided to sit down for a refreshing break. The decadence of the jug of mint-infused iced tea and apple tart served with both ice cream and whipped cream was outdone only by the elegant Art Nouveau setting.
I had seen roasted duck entrees being served at restaurants all over Prague, but I’m so glad I waited until my stay at Hotel Gustav Mahler (named for the famous composer, Jhilava’s native son) to try it. Set off by a slightly sweet braised red cabbage and fluffy dumplings and fried onions, the traditional meal at the hotel restaurant struck all the right notes.
While wandering the streets of Prague on my jet-lagged first evening in the Czech Republic, I was on the lookout for a low-key spot for dinner. As a solo traveler, I like to find restaurants that are busy, but not super-crowded, with a casual atmosphere. Restaurant U Sádlů in Old Town fit all my requirements, and it turned out to be the perfect spot for my first Czech meal. I wasn’t interested in some of the meatier entrees, and the helpful proprietor steered me to the risotto, which was just right.
Ice cream all the way! At every tourist spot and around every corner, it seemed, there was an ice cream shop serving up cones of lusciously creative flavors. I didn’t always know what flavor I was ordering, but none of them disappointed. I didn’t stop at EVERY ice cream shop I saw in the Czech Republic, but I did hit a few.
Beer is the quintessential Czech beverage, but there are plenty of other options available. Traditional Czech plum brandy makes a great nightcap, and for the truly adventurous, there is always absinthe – legal and readily available all over the Czech Republic.
It’s a bit macabre, but the sweet snack of choice in the small Moravian town of Štramberk is a soft gingerbread cookie in the shape of an ear. Legend has it that the origin of the “Štramberk ears” dates back to a 1241 invasion by the Tartars. After flooding out the Tartar’s camp, the victorious villagers found among the ruins bags of human ears that had been cut off by the Tartars to prove the number of slain locals. Ever since then, the people of Štramberk have celebrated their victory with cookie ears. The cone-shaped sweets are available for sale all over the village.
They don’t call the Czech Republic the “land of stories” for nothing!
For the most part, my focus wasn’t on high-end or trendy restaurants while in the Czech Republic. I know plenty of those eateries exist, and I’m sure they’re wonderful. Rather, I was looking for traditional meals in everyday spots, and the Czech food scene more than delivered.
(Disclaimer: During portions of my trip in the Czech Republic, I was a guest of Czech Tourism. But my opinions are my own, and my post reflects my personal views).