Scrap the high-end stuff – if pierogi are your only love, then here's where to find the very best of them.
Start your day the Krakow way with a hotel breakfast with a twist. The self-service restaurant at Forum Przestzenie – an abandoned Brutalist hotel-turned-community centre on the south bank of the Vistula – offers the best brekkie your zloty can buy. Grab a triple Basque sausage sandwich, croque monsieur with local jambon, or a selection of puffy croissants, washed down with Krakow-roasted drip coffee or sweet orange and vanilla tea. Can’t get enough? Come back for sourdough pizza at lunch, or a 1-litre carafe of Aperol Spritz in the evening.
Marii Konopnickiej 28
Centralny Milk Bar
Despite the name, there’s a milkshake deficit in Poland’s Communist-era milk bars: the very contrast of outlandish American diners, milk bars are rough-and-ready canteens, where you can fill up on borscht and cutlets for a utilitarian price. Head to the Soviet-built suburb of Nowa Huta for Centralny, queue up with tray in hand behind the iron railings, and munch on a creamy plate of croquettes with cheese and 'shrooms. Or a little glass of kompot juice, just like babcia used to make.
Osiedle Centrum C1, Nowa Huta
Slap-bang in the middle of Kazimierz, the former Jewish district, is Starka – but don’t go thinking it’s an austere sort of place. Splashes of red and green pepper the pub-style dining area, and low beams and Heinrich Zille prints remind you of Starka’s refined age. Line your stomach with picture-perfect grub, like marjoram-y duck breast infused with beech smoke, before moving on to Starka’s USP: 20 different flavours of homemade vodka. Rowanberry makes a fine blend with cranberry juice, but you’re in Poland, so try and sip (yes, sip) your shot straight.
You don’t have to pull out your chair at Art – a white-shirted waiter will do that for you. In the heart of the Old Town on Kanonicza, elegant Art lives up to its name, as the presentation of dishes is out of this world: you won’t see a finer julienned carrot or pine cone-shaped, cocoa-dusted mousse in your life (probably). In between plates on the seven-course tasting menu, admire the blush-pink walls, where every alcove is filled with – you guessed it – a work of hand-painted art.
Featured in the Michelin Guide to Poland, offal has never tasted so good than at contemporary-carnivorous Karakter. Youthful staff zip past intimate yet industrial tables, ferrying plates of horse meat steak tartare, ostrich neck terrine with fermented garlic sauce, and for those looking for a safer bet, burgers and mussels. A generous side of chips will help you mop up the juices. If you’ve a second stomach for dessert, spoon into the pears poached in white wine and served with caramel cream.
Filipa 18 Food Wine Art
Another one for the art connoisseurs, Filipa 18 is a nouveau-Polish hangout with sociable seating, tastefully-chosen bric-a-brac (lanterns, lanterns everywhere add to the ambience), and pop art posters created by local art students on every wall. On warm nights, you’ll find cool locals stirring icy cocktails on the roof terrace. As for the food, French-trained chef Marcin Sołtys sources his products from the oldest market in the city, Stary Kleparz. If you want to compliment him on your homemade bread and lentil cappuccino soup, it’s pretty much guaranteed that Sołtys will emerge from the kitchen with a beaming smile.
Świętego Filipa 18
This is Galician food at its most gourmet – but don’t confuse this historic Slavic heartland with windy northwestern Spain. Pod Wawelem, at the foot of the Royal Castle, is a family-friendly bistro with unparalleled views of Krakow’s fairytale landmark. Kids and grown ups will both enjoy large portions of crackling pork knuckle, with piles of skin-on potatoes. Indulge your inner child with multiple scoops of ice cream for dessert, then see if the staff will let you into the on-site soft play area to burn off the sugar. How’s that for “fun for all the family”?
Świętej Gertrudy 26/29
Sitting pretty next to the Planty park is the vine-and-ivy draped Klimaty Poludnia, which is all neoclassical on the outside and fiercely indie on the inside. Check out the mural of quirky corkscrews if you don’t believe us. If you get an outdoor table in the summertime, and feel your soup could do with a little more seasoning, all you have to do is pick a sprig of fresh herb from the flowerpots. As for mains, think warm nights in Tuscany or cosying up by a Lombardian fireplace: we guess the klimaty of Northern Italy suits this Polish place down to the ground.
Świętej Gertrudy 5
If you like your food frozen in time, head to Stylowa in Nowa Huta for a taste of the Polish People’s Republic. Stylowa (meaning “stylish”) was once the fanciest restaurant in the neighbourhood, and everything still seems straight out of 1956, right down to the charmingly surly staff scribbling orders down on a notepad. Think vegetable and fish terrine piped with ribbons of sour cream, or Polish pancakes with ladles of spinach. If you really want to go back to the USSR, the restaurant can arrange a Polish People’s Republic themed party for you.
Osiedle Centrum C 3, Nowa Huta
We couldn’t finish this list without giving an honorary mention to Poland’s iconic pierogi. At Mirror Bistro, everything is made with love – right down to the heart-shaped plates and winning dumplings. Choose from 22 types, one for each course (think ten Greek-inspired spanakopita pierogi for your main, then Polish-grown apple and cinnamon-dusted dumplings for dessert). However, it’s the drinks menu that’ll take your breath away: warming mulled juices fight for space with iridescent (and, sometimes, incandescent) vodka shots.