Confession: we’re not generally fond of writing posts about “cheap eats”. But hey, we were young and needed the clicks, right? We don’t like writing “Prague cheap eats” posts because: (1) it reinforces the assumption that you should expect cheap when you visit Prague. Look, we don’t like to see ourselves as primarily “cheap” and genuinely want visitors to spend money here, okay? And (2) we get lots of slack from the locals who want us to rate EUR 4 lunch specials. It ain’t happening, locals. Our bodies are a temple, capiche?
That said, we understand that some visitors to Prague may be on a budget and still want to eat well. Hey, we’ve been there. That’s what college is all about. Or you just have other priorities. Now, before you start readin’ (and hatin’), hear us out, because our definition of “cheap” may be different from yours, so we think we need to clarify our selection process:
First, it still has to be good. Sure, sausage croissants at Tesco may be cheap, too, but they will never make the list, because they are not great. Second, when we say “cheap”, we mean “great value”. So we are not hunting the cheapest of cheap foods per se, but dishes or experiences that will give you the biggest bang for your buck. So while some of our choices may be more expensive than other options, we still think they are “cheap”. Finally, we think global. This list may include things that are not cheap locally, but are cheap given the prices of similar foods and/or experiences abroad.
That said, we give our our selection of:
Cheap Eats in Prague
Beef consommé @ Kantýna
Oh, Kantýna. One of the most loved places on our Prague Foodie Tour, and an absolute local favorite that can be as packed as a popular Mexico City taqueria any given evening. A shrine of meat in a former bank, and the essence of what Czechs love in food: beer and meat. While not everything’s cheap at Katnýna (heck, the burger is USD 10, which is a lot by Czech standards), we think their beef consommé is an absolute steal.
Costing just over 3 EUR, you get a copper pan of beautiful, strong and rich broth that is full of meat (oh yeah, there’s slices of celeriac there, too). Sure, most of that meat is beef tongue, which is a cheaper cut, but our tongue pitch is “tastes like pastrami” and we don’t lie, people! This will fill you with energy for the rest of your day. For over three friggin’ euros. A copper pan full of top notch, honest to god beef broth. Full of meat. Nuff said, let’s move on.
Anything @ Lidová jídelna Tesnov
It is just absolutely amazing that somebody can actually cook a meal for EUR 3, and not just reheat deep-frozen stuff from Costco. Everything about Lidová jídelna Tesnov (which translates as People’s Canteen at Tesnov) should, in theory, turn us off. A fairly large menu. Self-service on trays. Communal tables. Zero wine list. And, most importantly, prices so low you will inevitably think something’s fishy here. This can’t be right.
Yet if you actually stand in the line on the street, you’ll find LJT is an incredibly well-oiled machine that knows its purpose and place in the world, and fulfills that purpose very well. No, this is not a place for dinner dates. This is unapologetically cheap fare for people who don’t want to spend big on food. Yet the food is perfectly fine, the service is kind and welcoming, and there’s an atmosphere of camaraderie nearly palpable in the place. Just put a spread one the tray and dive in. This is as cheap as it gets, and we guarantee it will be a memorable experience.
Kulajda @ Café Imperial
There’s no denying it. The Czechs are a nation of soups. Appetizers? Foggetaboutit. Soups are where it’s at. And the kulajda is probably the Czech-est of all Czech soups: a creamy potato soup with mushrooms, dill, vinegar and a poached egg, this is so good my mouth is literally watering as I write this. And the version at Café Imperial, run by one of the most famous Czech TV chefs, Chef Pohlreich (he ran the Czech version of Kitchen Nightmares), is a great, approachable one.
Now, at CZK 115, this is nowhere near being the cheapest soup in town. But it’s still less than 5 EUR (which is what buys you a mystery-meat, nameless Pho - more on that later), it’s delicious and proper, and you get a whole steaming bowl of it that easily feeds two. We do feel this is a full meal, it’s delicious and as authentic as it gets, and that’s why it deserves to be here.
The roast duck @ U Bansethu
One thing we love when we travel to Asia - and one thing we kinda miss here in Prague - are eateries that heavily specialize on - and eventually get great at - one thing only. It’s usually something very local, done for decades by someone who’s become an authority on the particular dish, and it’s just delicious and just feels right as you sit there, dive in and breath in the food and the atmosphere and look at the happy locals devouring the same one dish.
The roast duck at U Bansethu is the nearest thing to that we have in Prague. Roast duck with potato pancakes and sauerkraut is a fairly common dish, but this is a specific version where the duck is stuffed with the pancakes and sauerkraut. It’s salty, sour and sweet at the same time. Add a bitter Pilsner and you got yourself a comprehensive sensory experience in one of the most beloved places in the city. Five euros for the duck. Two euros for the Pilsner. Come on, this is a steal.
Chlebíček @ Zlaty kríz
We always wrote that the Zlatý kríz deli felt like a place where the time had stopped in 1974. Then it went through remodeling a few years back. The result: now it feels like a place where the time stopped in 1982. Yes, there’s something old-school and slightly Communist about this place. But that’s what’s made it an institution for one of the most famous Czech treats: the chlebícek, an open-faced sandwich that has made family reunions more bearable since the 1920s.
The above comments on the interiors apply to the chlebicek sandwiches, too: there is no attempt to modernize the classics or make them lighter. In Zlaty kriz’s thinking, modernizing the chlebicek is like putting pineapple on your pizza. Interesting, but wrong. Prepare to eat lots of mayo and cold cuts. But in terms of authenticity, value and experience, this is hard to beat. Our tip: get a few in a box and eat them all in the Franciscan garden “behind” the deli.
Onigiri @ Onigirazu
”A lot of YouTube, a lot of research, a lot of experimenting, and a lot of sh*t mozzarella.” That’s how Chef Puglisi described his process of working out the mozzarella that is now the star of his Baest restaurant in Copenhagen, Denmark. And that’s very similar to how the guys behind Onigirazu in the Letná district got their onigiri right. No, these guys did not travel to Japan to undergo some nigiri ninja course, Kill Bill-style. Nope. They watched a lot of YouTube and experimented a lot. (No word on the sh*t onigiri.)
Anyway, the onigiri at Onigirazu are fun, tasty and cheap. We were approaching the whole thing with caution, having travelled to Asia several times, but you know what? We like them. Will they blow your mind? Nope. But they are a fun, packable lunch to go. (Yeah, that’s really the only option there - no seats and you have to eat out, unless you want to stand by the counter and chat with the people as they make onigiri.) The bottom line: fun, tasty and sometimes vegan onigiri made fresh in front of you for less than three Euros? Yes, please.
Meatloaf sandwich @ Nase maso
Oh, the wonder of the meatloaf at Nase maso. When we walked in on the opening day, we asked Mr Ksana, the master butcher and the face of the business: What should we order? - The meatloaf. - The meatloaf? Really?!? - Yeah. So we did. And it was excellent. A famous rapper would say it’s a “game changer“. We say meatloaf should not be that good. Juicy and moist and tender, and reminding you of that imaginary meatloaf your mom never made. (BTW, here’s the recipe.)
Sorry, we got carried away here for a bit. Anyway, this is the king of cheap eats. The meatloaf comes in two flavors: either three slices on a paper tray with bread and mustard, or as a sandwich in a bun. Whatever you choose, you’ll be walking away satisfied and comforted, and only 3 EUR poorer.
Bun bo nam bo
We’re not sure if you’ve heard this, but as a percentage of total population, the Czech Republic has the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam. Thank you, study abroad programs under Communism and liberal naturalisation laws! Now, the Vietnamese have enriched the Czechs with a lot: the only non-white ethnicity in any substantial numbers, ubiquitous convenience stores with incredible opening hours and assortment of goods, keo gn…(the ginger candy Jan has a slight addition to) and Pho.
Now, we’ll recommend Bun Bo Nam Bo instead: a filling dish of bun noodles with stir-fried beef, lots of herbs, peanuts and sauce. This is offered in nearly every Vietnamese bistro in town, but our favorite has always been served fast the original Banh mi ba at Rybná. Other alternatives include Banh mi makers in the Dlouhá foodie arcade (accessible through Hradební), or the newest kid on the block that has quickly become our favorite, Pho Bar. In any case, prepare to shell out about EUR 6 and be stuffed.
Arepas @ Arepas de Lyna
Okay, we’re recommending South American food in Prague? This must be a first. That said, the Venezuelan arepas in Arepas de Lyna in the Vinohrady district are cool and cute at the same time. They are also delicious and even the most expensive option will not set you back more than EUR 5. Additional items include really nice empanadas and tequenos. Sure, there’s not a lot of (if any) competition in this area in Prague, but this is a great cheap option if you’re in the area.
The ideal soundtrack? The Sounds of the Venezuelan Gozadera by Los Amigos Invisibles, obviously. And hop on to coffee room across the street for your coffee fix after the meal. So good it made it to our Prague Foodie Map.
The Degustazione Napoletana @ Pizza Nuova
At CZK 385, this is by far our most expensive tip. But oh-so worth it. According to Jan. Zuzi can’t stand Pizza Nuova’s all-you-can-eat pizza and pasta. For her, it’s a shrine of gluttony. And it probably is. But hey, think about it: you sit down in a nice-looking restaurant and lean back as they bring pans and pots full of pretty delicious pizza and pasta until you pass out. What’s wrong with that?
Granted, all-you-can-eat places are usually horrible and serve food that is mediocre at best, but Pizza Nuova is different. (Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck fame called it the “best pizza (Napoletana) I’ve had outside of Naples.”) The pizza is actually really great if you subscribe to the Pizza Napoletana style, and the pasta dishes range from great to good. And all that for EUR 15 on weekdays before 3pm. So you just get there for lunch and eat away for three hours. (Let’s be honest: nobody lasts three hours there.) After you finish, you’re set for both lunch and dinner, and you ate well. (The wine list is surprisingly great for what essentially is a family restaurant, but that’s not cheap eats.)
Here’s the thing. We are not great fans of the lunch specials ubiquitous in Prague, based on the food vouchers Czechs regularly get from their employers. We think they distort the market through government subsidies, and have stopped locals from cooking at home on a larger scale. But hey, (1) most locals love food vouchers and eat lunch specials daily, (2) if you’re a visitor, you don’t have to care about any of this.
How does this work? Well, you basically walk into any restaurant around the lunch hour (think 11:30am through 2pm) and ask for the daily special, choose one, eat it. The mains usually don’t cost more than 5 EUR, and it’s a full meal. The soups don’t cost more than 2 EUR. Is the quality great? Mostly they’re nothing to write home about, bar some exceptions where the lunch specials cost more. Still, no matter where you go, you’re getting a great lunch deal, sitting down in a real restaurant. Sure, we’re not fans because of the consequences, but if the choice is a lunch special or McDonald’s, we’d choose lunch special every day. (But then again, the fries…)