Cheap Eats in Prague
Believe it or not, we used to be students, too. And just like any students, even we had tight living and travel budgets. Zuzi, for instance, saved some money by hitchhiking to and from Prague for university. Jan spent ten years doing his masters degree simply because he worked throughout his studies to make some money on the side (oh, and also because he was pretty lazy… and drafted, but that’s another story). But that does not mean we did not care about what we ate. We always liked good food, but simply did not have the money for fine dining.
We know that many Prague visitors who want to eat their way through the city are on a budget. While we do sometimes visit fine dining venues when we travel, we think you do not have to compromise on quality even if you have a tight travel budget. And many times going for the cheap eats in Prague actually brings you the local immersion travelers crave whenever they go. Because we want you to eat well in Prague even if you do not have a gold credit card, we bring you some tips for the best cheap food in Prague.
First a piece of general advice: if you are eyeing a restaurant in Prague that is a bit more expensive, make sure you look if it offers a lunch special. Lunch specials are a Czech classic associated with the concept of food vouchers. One of the most common employee benefits, food vouchers give an employee the option to pay a small amount (usually around USD 2) daily and get a food voucher worth twice as much (e.g. USD 4). Many Prague restaurants offer lunch specials that target the food voucher holders, thus putting fast food chains through some pretty tough competition.
Now, we can argue whether this is a good or a bad idea. Czech employees love the vouchers and the specials, but they have altered the way we see food in the Czech Republic: many employees with access to these vouchers have stopped cooking at home and have a hard time seeing the true value of food. But that’s beside the point here. While most of the food served as lunch specials is nothing to write home about, you can find a few high quality restaurants that offer the specials, too, giving you the option to try a restaurant where a dinner might be simply beyond your travel budget.
Take Aromi or La Finestra, for instance. Two of the best Italian restaurants in Prague, the former specializing in fish and the latter in meat, both offer a lunch special at reasonable prices: Aromi at CZK 225, just slightly above the EUR 8 mark, and La Finestra at CZK 495 for three courses with coffee. Pasta Fresca (pictured above), another popular Italian restaurant conveniently located just a few steps off the Old Town Square, offers a soup and three pasta or other Italian dishes a day, all well below the CZK 200 mark. Another great restaurant that offers a weekly lunch menu is Field near the Jewish Quarter, and Aureole, with arguably the best view of the city. The former offers three courses for CZK 350 while the latter charges CZK 490 for three courses. These are not cheap restaurants in Prague. They are great restaurants, but offer amazing value for lunch.
One word of caution for the truly budget-conscious travelers: make sure the restaurant serves tap water for free or a small fee. Bottled water in many higher-end restaurants may cost nearly as much as the entire lunch special. The same applies to wine. The two-course lunch special at Grand Cru, another restaurant listed in the Michelin guide, may cost CZK 335 as we write this, but a glass of wine may actually cost you more.
Budget Coffee Shops in Prague
Another way of finding some great cheap eats in Prague is to eat at some of Prague coffee shops. Muj salek kavy, the flagship cafe of the local Doubleshot roasters, serves great coffee and reasonably priced lunches and snacks during the day, some of them gluten free. Just a street away, the recently opened Proti proudu bistro combines cool design with really nice breakfasts and sandwiches (the pork belly is pictured below), soup and something sweet. We would just skip the coffee and still have it at Muj salek kavy. On the other side of the river, Cafe Lounge serves consistently solid coffee, a daily soup all day and popular lunch specials up until 3pm.
MASO A KOBLIHA
Probably the best “bistro” in Prague at the moment, Maso a kobliha is located literally ten steps from its older sister, the famed Sansho restaurant. Maso a kobliha is a winner because of two people: Paul Day uses the best Czech protein from his butchers of The Real Meat Society and combines it with the wonderful brioche and other breads baked by Julka, a.k.a. Maskrtnica, arguably the best baker in the city (she did leave the bistro at the beginning of 2016, but her legacy lives on). Our favorites include the Scotch eggs (CZK 110 per egg), the gravlax on toast or daily sandwiches and meat pies, all under CZK 200. Finish with the best donut in town! This is cheap eats in Prague at their best.
If you want to try Czech fast food in Prague, head over to the extremely popular Sisters bistro, which serves “chlebicek”, the classic Czech open-faced sandwiches. Unlike large Czech dishes, chlebiceks give you, according to Hana Michopulu, the owner, the opportunity to try, let’s say, three different meals on a piece of bread. Our favorite chlebiceks, ham and potato salad, pickled herring with wasabi mayo, or smoked mackerel with beet roots and potato salad, cost CZK 39 each. Sisters also serves delicious daily soup for CZK 59. You can combine the soup and two chlebiceks for a rich meal.
One of the best butcheries in town does not just sell meat to go. Nase maso also has a kitchen and serves simple, truly Czech meals that will not cost you an arm and a leg. For instance, three thick slices of the best meatloaf in town (and the world) cost under CZK 100, the same as three pieces of their delicious, juicy sausages. Their burgers are delicious and cost about EUR 5. If you are really lucky, their pork belly braised for hours with lager and onion is to die for and costs below CZK 150. Whatever Nase maso cooks can easily list among the best cheap eats in Prague. Just expect to wait in line, but the Czech beer on tap makes the wait that much easier.
A bowl of Pho is now one of the most popular Prague lunches and dinners. It is also a fantastic budget meal: CZK 100 to 150 buys you a huge bowl of wonderful, fragrant beef broth with ginger, noodles, pieces of beef, cilantro, soy bean sprouts, chili and lots of other delicious things. Our favorite place to have the Pho in Prague is Pho Vietnam with its two branches: the rather dodgy stand-up only branch at Jiriho z Podebrad square is the perfect addition to a visit of the farmers market at the same square (usually Wednesdays through Saturdays), while the 15 Anglicka street branch is a quieter venue with regular tables. If you haven’t had enough food with the Pho (and we would seriously doubt that), their spring rolls won’t break the bank, either.
Although some of the items on the menu may not be the cheapest food in Prague, the soups at Home Kitchen are great and the portions are pretty generous. You also get a bowl of freshly baked bread with flavored olive oil of your choice. They usually serve three soups a day and usually all of them are good. Home Kitchen now has four branches: the tiny branch in the Jindrisska street in the centre is more of an espresso bar, whitle the newer locations copy that in the bigger branch in the Holesovice district. They all serve the same menu and their soups are some of the best budget eats in Prague in our opinion.
Osteria da Clara
Osteria da Clara has been a staple on the food scene in the Vrsovice district for a very long time. You can clearly see that the English chef and owner loves what he does, turning the seemingly standard, Tuscany-inspired items on the menu into delicious dishes. Pasta dishes are their forte. The portions are huge given the price and we think you can eat well for a very reasonable price in Osteria da Clara.
A sister of our favorite Czech Restaurant, Na Pekarne in the Cakovicky village near Prague, Kastrol restaurant is still pretty far outside of the centre, but definitely worth it if you want to taste tranditional Czech food at its best. Big portions but the prices are still very low: the classic wild boar with rose hip sauce and potato gnocchi is less than CZK 200. Their lunch specials are a steal, with many dishes below CZK 100.
Las Adelitas is arguably the best Mexican restaurant in town with three branches: one, the original, in the Vinohrady district, the other, bigger one, in the very heart of the historical centre, and the third one at the border of the cool and fun Vinohrady and Zizkov districts. Their lunch specials that comprise food and their lemonade are terrific value for the centre at CZK 129. You can also watch the chefs at work while you eat at the more central location but the non-smoking section is laughable, so we still like the Vinohrady locations better. Their lunch specials differ from their regular menu. As a side note, they are also famous for their Margaritas. The central location is hardly a hidden gem: you may wait in line to get in.
Talking about Mexican food, the recently opened Mexicali Mercado is a true gem tucked away in a courtyard very near the O2 Arena, a venue popular for ice-hockey games and rock concerts. This place packs a lot on a fairly small footprint, combining a small Mexican grocery market and a taco shop. Still, this is Mexican fast food exactly the way we like it: full of flavor, happy, joyful and affordable. Yes, it's messy, but you literally want to lick the wrapping paper. The opening hours are fairly generous and the place can get packed for lunch. The only downside? Closed on weekends.
Bistro 8, which sometimes doubles as a reception for our rental apartment, is a great neighborly place and a popular hangout in the Letna district, namely in the uber cool Veverkova street. Eating at Bistro 8 is like eating at home: sometimes it’s delicious... sometimes... eh... not so much. But you have to love the easy-going nature of the place and the lovely staff. They have a huge selection of foods, all priced fairly low. That’s one of the reasons why the place is so popular among artsy students from the nearby Academy of Fine Arts and why it qualifies as a place that serves one of the best cheap eats in Prague.
BISTRO NO 19
Bistro and shop no 19 is a tiny, tiny bistro located just in between the National Theatre and the Charles Bridge. Did we mention it is tiny? It really sits ten at best and serves three dishes a day: a soup, a vegetarian dish and a meaty dish. On top of the food, you can buy something to go: the shop sells designer pottery, glassware, home accessories and designer aprons by young fashion designers as part of the owner's Zasterka project. And if you can't find what you like, there's always the Kurator shop next door.
First a disclaimer: we have been friends with Martin, the owner, since high school. However, this is not just a shameless plug. Polevkarna (also dubbed “Soup Opera”) in the Karlin district is a very popular yet tiny venue that focuses on soups and some Georgian-inspired Khachapuri breads. It may not be always perfect but we always leave satisfied and full.